Category Archives: Life

A Journey Down Shanghai’s Memory Lane

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a commotion, the clumsy shuffling of heavy white tassel, the outstretched hand of a tuxedoed man, and the frantic flashes from a camera crew less than ten feet away. I was momentarily disoriented. I wondered who would have been more peeved: the lady in white, who found an unwelcome third wheel in her wedding photography; or me, who had my reverie unceremoniously broken into.

I raised my eyes to the backdrop, and realised the root of the problem. I was standing at one of the most photographed landmarks of “Old Shanghai”.

It was an unseasonably warm day in Shanghai, lending itself to a balmy evening. The perfect evening for a stroll. I had a couple of hours to kill in between my earlier appointment and my next obligatory family dinner. Feeling rather nostalgic that the Shanghai emblazoned in my childhood memories has more or less been overtaken by a labyrinthine concrete jungle, I set out to seek the comforts of the Old Shanghai.

Wukang Road (武康路)

And thus I found myself at the foot of Wukang Mansion, the cover girl of French Renaissance architecture in Shanghai and one of the most photographed landmarks. Bookending the southern aspect of Wukang Road, at the intersection of Huaihai Road (淮海路), the building was completed during the city’s heydays in 1920s and represents the first veranda-style apartment in Shanghai. The building is formerly known as the Normandie Apartments, a nod to the World War I-era battleship Normandie, with its structure protruding like that of a seafaring vessel.

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The iconic Wukang Mansion (formerly Normandie Apartments), Wukang Road & Huaihai Road
For those of us reminiscing the times of old (or exploring the city for its true colours), Wukang Road is sure to be a sentimental favourite. I grew up in a district not too far from here. Twenty-odd years have passed and it is one part of the city where, thankfully, not much has changed.

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Wukang Road streetscape

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Wukang Road streetscape
A relatively narrow one-way road centrally located in Shanghai, it largely remains true to its former western influences (predominantly French and Spanish) and is a leisurely 30-minute stroll from one end to the other. Well-preserved architectural wonders and the many Chinese parasol trees that adorn the streetscape have long underpinned the road’s popularity as a major (free!) tourist destination and historical open-air museum.

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Wukang Road streetscape
Venturing a little further, adjacent roads such as Julu Road (巨鹿路) and Hengshan Road (衡山路) also pay homage to the city’s rich European influences. On this weekday evening, I was as much a tourist in my own hometown as the next traveller, watching throngs of men rushing home to their wives and dinners, and tiger parents toting their kids to their next extracurricular.

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Julu Road streetscape
As if the residential streets of Old Shanghai weren’t enough to satiate, the next day dawned with explorations of lively commercial districts bearing the same cultured ambience.

Shanghai Tianzifang (上海田子坊)

Tianzifang, tucked away off Taikang Road (泰康路), is a small but vibrant, artsy precinct. Originally constructed in the 1930s with Shikumen-style (石库门) residences (an architectural style unique to Shanghai), it has been significantly revamped in the late 1990s and is now buzzing with bars, cafes and a maze of stores selling everything from traditional handiworks to DIY teddy bears…

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Typical Tianzifang storefront

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Liuli China Museum (上海琉璃艺术博物馆), Tianzifang 
Shanghai Xintiandi (上海新天地)

A neighbourly 1.5km away (~1 mile) on Madang Road (马当路) lies the stylish Xintiandi pedestrian / heritage / shopping / entertainment mecca. Xintiandi boldly boasts the perfect marriage of the Old Shanghai with its aspirational, modernist persona. Within the traditional walls and tiles of Shikumen-housing revealed a completely new world of internationally acclaimed galleries, boutiques and restaurants and bars.

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Xintiandi streetscape

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Shikumen-style architecture, Xintiandi
It was the old charm that continued to draw me back to the city that reared me, and I was grateful for this journey down Shanghai’s memory lane. To remember what was, and to welcome what will be.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Insignificant

Ever since I embarked on the WordPress journey in earnest, I had vowed to maintain a blog that exudes positivity and grace. I catered to what the Internet desired, namely, servings of impeccably crafted words garnished with glossy, curated photography. SoMuchToTellYou was thus underpinned by this very premise, a premise which I am about to turn on its head with what I intend to share. I’m not a deceitful person by nature (can never put on an act to save myself), and yet it would be terribly deceitful of me to say that I am impervious to the darker recesses of a runaway mind.

The truth is, my mind is constantly struggling with the unbearable lightness of insignificance. After all, isn’t every step in life a desire to be felt just a little more?

Remember when our pliable minds of youth were fed with many untruths, chief amongst them being that the world is our oyster, and that we ought to dream big and live bigger? Well, I was forever an easy target for such propaganda.

Armed with such grandiose and quixotic instincts, I blindly charged forth in life feeling I could change the world. There would have been a time, long ago, when I wanted nothing more than to exert my influence, make my mark and repay the society that played its part in raising and nurturing me.

Needless to say that I have achieved very little of my once lofty ambitions. I can’t change the world. I can barely bring about change in myself…

At the end of the day, this is the real reason for blogging. It provides a ready outlet for my garbled streams of consciousness, and has made me feel – if only momentarily – expressive and significant again. Who would have thought that the very soul whom has apparently renounced all conventional forms of social currency should thus crave for attention, for validation, and for meaning?

So here I am, back to my inner sanctuary. Writing. Although who will read, I do not know.

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Dear Reader, I will be MIA for several weeks as I roam distant lands in search of Meaning. I shall miss you all!

Jolene

Spreading the Love – Liebster Award & Blogger Recognition Award

The blogosphere is a tight-knit community; this much I have learnt over the past few months. There is something warm and fuzzy about being appreciated and remembered, especially from friends afar whom I have never met. So, it shall be my absolute pleasure and great honour to accept my first awards, and I do wish to take some time to thank my fellow bloggers. (True to my “Queen of Efficiency” namesake which I am known for in real life, I have decided to consolidate the awards into one post, so please bear with me if the mash-up becomes no more than garbled thoughts.)

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There’s No Place for Regret in Heaven

The ability of Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma (founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba) to make headlines around the world is no longer news. Just as the world extols his latest act of kindness – a USD20 million donation to the University of Newcastle as a tribute to his Australian “father” and mentor – it brought to mind a story even closer to home, a story I have been meaning to share.

Almost a month ago today, as Sydney woke up to a toasty mid-summer morning brimming with hopes of a new year, I woke up to the chill of my own consciousness. A man known locally as Sydney’s Shoeshine Brian has died in his sleep. In the grand of scheme of things, the event itself was uneventful (albeit tragic). Sydney Morning Herald dedicated its front page, but its ripple effect was confined to those who remembered him, as the article was soon buried by other worldly news of the day. News of his passing nonetheless sent shockwaves through me, for reasons or sentiments which were not immediately obvious, even to myself that day.

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The Lunar New Year Recycling Project

28 January 2017 marked the first day of the Lunar New Year. As many families heralded the Year of the Rooster with bountiful feasts, I tucked into a feast of a different kind (and granted a few of my poultry friends a well-deserved reprieve). With the new year came the decision to give a fresh lease of life to those lacklustre household items; and the great recycling project began…

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Going Rogue & Chasing Shadows

I stalk a number of weird and wonderful bloggers out there, quite shamelessly I might add. Whilst their blogs provide endless hours of laugh-out-loud entertainment value, it does make me wallow in self-pity at my own clinical, sanitised and generally abysmal attempt at entertainment, and I wonder what the heck those kindly folks could possibly see in me.

So today I am going rogue, all in the pursuit of some dark, cool, funky ambience which might not be readily identifiable as my style. That is because – wait for it – I’m a closet karaoke singer… Luxuriating in delusions of grandeur, I spent my first twenty years prowling the night scene and prancing around in drunken dens. Recently I returned to where it all started, chasing nothing but the shadows of my dreams.

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