Woke before dawn. Destination: Zhongshan Park, out to the west of the hotel.
The parks don't get mentioned in Fodor's and other guidebooks. This may be the best for all concerned. Some people are born to shop. Others need their photos taken in front of landmarks, as proof they've lived. For me, in China, the neighborhoods have shown how people do live their lives, and the parks have shown me how they choose to.
Walking through the fringes of the French Concession west, I realized it was the wrought-iron fences which gave me the strongest feeling of New Orleans... the dilapidated mansions behind were the clearest marker to a shared heritage, but it was the nearness of the fences which made the view more visceral.
The park itself was thronged just after 7am, different groups of dancers right up next to each other. Slow Tai Chi next to faster fighting styles... some fan dancers with fluttering cloth beyond the ribs, others with crisper fans without that trailing edge, one group which used fans of various colors beside red... one group of scarf dancers, with hints of how it could be used as a weapon, as the cloth alternates between tension and relaxation... sword dancers with no tassles, some with long tassles which seemed like a second blade... ballroom dancing, Donna Summer aerobic dancing, dancing to Sam Cooke... lots of badminton, but in Shanghai I haven't seen the paddleball games common in Beijing, with either a bouncing rubber ball or a catchable beanbag ball.
Most of the groups have their own cassette recorder. It's rare to find a spot to stand where you don't hear at least three recordings simultaneously. No live musicians playing for any dancers, though... I wonder why.
Every now and then I'll see a solo erhu playing to a singer with a mike. They're often reading out of tunebooks. That's not a good combination, when you've got no steady pitch, rhythm, or tone as a foundation. Feels like karaoke, but I don't get the part about the single two-string fiddle for backup. Pattern has been in many parks, though. Some of the singers in old movies use that combination, but it's really hard for amateurs to pull it off.
Few musicians otherwise -- more people practicing their singing projection in the park than any other musicians. I saw an early clarinetist practicing once. I've seen men walking along the street with professional erhu cases, as well as a man carrying a cello case. I've seen women with Qins, in groups in certain areas. I saw an accordionist in Tiantan backing up a group of church singers. But bad cassette tapes are far more common than musicians, no contest.
I saw one guy doing some absolutely incredible staff moves... continuous single hand twirls, throws, catches, body passes... he enjoyed manipulating the weight of the stick. I have difficulty doing a continuous finger twirl with a three-foot cane, and he was doing it with a six-foot staff. Gave me a lot to practice.
Another group of staff practitioners showed the parry moves, how the hands shifted along the stick, the changing grips, the alternation of sweeps and thrusts, the way to use the legs to get body weight way, way down low. Inspiring.
One odd thing about Chinese martial arts in parks -- they use open-hand, sword, staff, short stick (fan), and rope (scarf, ribbon) -- all the "common weapons" used in Korean Hapkido -- but it's rare to see practitioners put any body weight behind it. When you entrap a limb with a scarf or chain, the next step is usually to fall or turn, using your advantage in leverage to bring the assailant down. But the motions I see in the park are a bit divorced from actual defense techniques. Maybe these are the secret teachings... you learn the forms, and then only later learn the key that makes them actually work.
In all these groups I try to figure out who the leader is, who has the most follow-through and intention in their motion. It can be difficult sometimes. I saw one woman with a sword who had absolutely wonderful followthrough in her wrist... a revelation, the way each limb expressed the basic motion of the body. In another group, it was only the solid ending of a motion which gave the leader away.
Left the park, got some noodles, then coffee, and walked back to the hotel. Slept, with the intention of finally getting out and seeing some nightlife. Didn't quite work out that way....
Headed south, on Huashan Lu, to hook up with the commercial zone at Huaihai Zhonglu and getting a nice meal. But I guess Huaihai isn't as commercial at that intersection, because I missed it and passed right by, and didn't find another street sign until Guangyuan Lu.
Propitious error. It brought me to the Orient Shopping Center, above Xujia Hui metro station, at the intersection of Hengshan Lu and Zhaojiabang Lu. Many immense buildings, all lit up... the feeling of Shinjuku, but in greater scale. Thronged with people.
I didn't go inside... too overwhelmed. Nothing in the guidebooks, and even a Google search this morning on "zhaojiabang hengshan orient" turns up nothing meaningful. They both do mention the Xujiahui area, but seeing the current level of development was a shocker for me. It's on the #1 subway line, and I may travel out here next week to see it more clearly. Just amazed me, stumbling across it on a Friday night.
Came back up Hengshan, avoiding the hustlers outside the ladybars near the consulate area, hunting for my last meal in Puxi.
Was hoping for Hairy Crab, but the places where I saw it weren't all that approachable. Often very well-lit and with a higher dress code than I could support.
Ended up in Shanghai Wanchai chain. Got a 500 ml bottle of Wangbaohe Shanghai Wine, black label, aged eight years, established 1744, 20% proof. I like this Shanghai-style aged rice wine, and will hunt for it back in San Francisco. But that was the easy part of the menu.
They were "mei you" on many items, but I got some seafood dumplings, Shanghai Eight Treasures and Slivered Eel, and just some plain steamed rice. The wine cost 48rmb, the dishes 28 apiece, maybe 18 for the dumplings and rice... maybe a $20 meal. Not bad for a potential feast.
Ordering in a restaurant in China is hard. The menu is the easy part. But a lot of stuff listed may not actually be available. Then, it may be different than what any translation says... I've gotten noodle soup when the translation said "noodles", and rice soup when the translation said "steamed rice".
After that, the dishes arrive as they happen to be cooked, rather than the order in which any rational person might wish to eat them. I got wine first, which you might expect, but then eel, and later the other main dish, and later rice soup (which I had to ask what it was), and then dumplings. By the time they all arrived the first were cold.
And then... napkins are hit and miss. Washclothes are fairly commonplace, but I should ALWAYS wear a bandana as a bib around here... I've stained more shirts and pants than I ever have before, with this oily stuff that even portable laundry wipes have trouble removing.
The meal had good spots, but there was no balance to it. The Shanghai dishes were unctuously oily, but well-balanced individually. Having some starch to balance that oil would have been good, and the timing was just offkey. A potential feast, but not a good memory.
Almost got into a fight tonight. I was finally going to visit a bar, but gave it up after seeing the hardsell bargirl scene outside once they opened. Stopped at a convenience store to get a beer and some juice, and was walking back to the hotel.
Four-way intersection, six-way lights (cars had a turning light). I waited it out, and at green looked around again before starting across the two sixty-foot segments. As I got past the bike lanes and into the near car lane, a car came up at speed to his red light, no turn signals, so I kept on walking. He cut me off to make a turn, and I stopped, gave him a poke of the cane in the side as he passed, and continued across. As I waited at the next corner for the light to go kitty-corner, I look back and see he pulled over, stopped, and was coming across. Wasn't sure it was the same guy, but kept an eye on him anyway. He came up just outside of arm's reach and yelled a sentence short enough to be "you hit my car" (Chinese). I kept the cane down, and said in a loud, uninflected, strange voice "You almost hit me!" (English). He repeated, and so did I. Meanwhile I'm waiting for the light to change, but these are long lights.
He was on my cane side, and had already seen me use it... I had gained some disincentive advantage, but now he was quite aware of the cane, and I wasn't in position to counter a grab, barely in position to counter a sucker punch. Fortunately I had a 500ml bottle of beer grasped by the neck within a plastic bag in my left hand... if he made a move on me I could have taken him out with a head shot. Didn't want to do that, but that was my reserve option.
Fortunately he decided he didn't want to mess with a foreigner who spoke like he had mental problems. He circled his temple with his forefinger in the universal "you're crazy" gesture and turned away. I said "*Ni* feng le!", and he was, because he was now walking into traffic against the light... guess he left his keys in his open car across the intersection. I kept hoping some other driver would act on him like he had on me, but no such luck.
I don't like altercations, but was already in the intersection, committed, and had a short span to finish the light. He didn't signal, he didn't slow, he just acted unpredictably and dangerously. Then when he got a tiny bit of harmless feedback he almost got a whole lot of more serious feedback. Guy was nuts.
I don't like being put in the position of being the feedback conveyer for morons. Until China grows up, I don't want to come back here. I decided this while in Beijing, and tonight's needless agression just strengthened my resolve.