Category Archives: Wanderings

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.

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.

Wukang Road streetscape

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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The Great Australian Christmas – The Great Nature’s Retreat

Many of the blogs I follow are based in the northern hemisphere, where the air seemed to be abundant with festivities of the Christmas markets at this time of the year, not to mention all that snow. Whilst it is highly lamentable that we shall never have a white Christmas in our part of the world, the classic long summer days with endless possibilities for great outdoor retreats make me happy indeed to call Australia home.

I like my seas; but I’m drawn to my mountains. There have been studies done – personality studies of sorts – to determine who you are by the degree of your affinity with mountains or the seas. There are no prizes there for guessing where my heart belonged. And the verdict? Well, apparently mountains are an introvert’s best friend.

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Rays of Anticipation

We all have our “comfort” shots – those we cling to when all else seems to fail – whether they be landscapes, objects in motion, portraits or macros. For me, I have discovered an affinity with Lego photography (which you may have stumbled across elsewhere in my blog), and landscapes that feature one of the only constants in life. Under its rays I feel a heightened sense of emancipation and anticipation. And admittedly, a good dose of nostalgia, too…

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Chaotic Hues of Spring

It just so pans out that my first post using the WordPress Mobile App will be on the Photo Challenge of Chaos.

Fitting then, that I should be sandwiched between two burly Aussie men on the peak hour commuter train to work and feeling more than a little chaotic about the week that looms ahead…

But spring is firmly here (thank god for small mercies), and beauty is all around!

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Trust – The Underpinnings of Scandinavian Happiness

For those of you whom have followed my journey through Scandinavia earlier this year, you may already have an inkling of my long-held fascination for the people of the north and their enviable way of life. What started out as a childhood adulation for all things Lego (i.e. Denmark’s gift to the world) has grown to so much more since then.

Despite my personal curiosities, very little seems to be known about Scandinavia compared with the rest of Europe, or the world for that matter. (Ask a Scandinavian and they would probably prefer to keep it that way, as a nod to their deep-rooted stoicism and utter inability to flaunt their unique heritage.) Search France or Italy and you will be spoilt for choice with a staggeringly long list of travelogues, cookbooks and biographies fuelling the collective fantasy. Search Scandinavia and you will be scratching your head in dismay at the relatively slim pickings. For a self-indulgent contrarian like me, however, having the opportunity to discover the collective blind spot for myself proved to be too tantalising a calling to ignore.

From Denmark’s cosmopolitan dynamism, to Norway’s scenic wonders and Sweden’s architectural charms, it hits me almost instantaneously why various polls over the years – from the spurious (Oprah Winfrey hype index) to the serious (UN’s World Happiness Report) – have consistently ranked the region as one of the happiest, least corrupt and most egalitarian societies in the world. So, armed with little more than my own experiences and Michael Booth’s hilariously insightful “The Almost Nearly Perfect People”, I will endeavour today to unmask one factor which I believe single-handedly underpins all forms of Scandinavian happiness and prosperity: Trust.

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