Cultured / Day 20 of 64 / 29 May
Day 2 in smoggy Shanghai: we woke up at 8am today to make the most of our little time left in this city. By the time we left the hostel, it was already 9.30am. Our first stop of the day was Fuzhou Road, which I thought was also known as the Yuyuan Old Street District. However, it turned out that these were two completely different areas (thank you so much wrongly tagged TripAdvisor photos). Fuzhou Road is known for its books and its importance in Shanghai’s print media industry, while Yuyuan Old Street is a conservation district filled with old style Chinese buildings and a traditional Chinese-style park. After almost 30 minutes of walking up and down Fuzhou Road, we realised we weren’t any closer to finding ancient Chinese buildings. That was when we realised our mistake. So after some intense Googling, we found Yuyuan and headed towards it. We eventually reached at 11am.
That’s more like it.
The Yuyuan Old Street District [上海老街, Shang Hai Lao Jie] is eye-opening: revealing just how urban pre-modern China already was. The buildings are all multi-storeyed, and are packed rather densely in a complex grid system. The buildings originally served as dwellings for local residents, but they have been repurposed to house shops of all kinds: selling everything from smelly tofu to imported Japanese toys. There really isn’t an overarching theme when it comes to shopping in the Lao Jie District. The District is also home to Yu Garden: a conserved park built in traditional Chinese style, typical of parks from that era. Admission to the park is not free (40 CNY/8 SGD), unlike admission to the Lao Jie District.
Our next stop was the Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The Site is the “birthplace” of the Chinese Communist Party: and inside, there’s a museum explaining the formation of the party and the history of its key leaders and founders. We reached around 12.30pm, and we entered the museum behind a large Chinese tour group. The moment you enter the Site, you are greeted by a large metal wall sculpture depicting the faces of the founding members of the CCP. On the left, an oversized party flag reminds you that China is still a communist country. The rampant capitalism from neighbouring malls is almost entirely quashed the moment you enter the Site of the First National Congress. Ironically, capitalism manages to wiggle its way into this “sacred” communist site in the form of a gift shop at the museum’s exit. The Site, together with the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center, are must-sees if you are the slightest bit interested in understanding the inner workings of the Chinese state.
The gift shop. I wonder what Marx would have to say about this.
After our indoctrination, we left the museum and had our lunch at a small eatery selling noodles. I got roast beef noodles, while Sam ordered mala noodles. I think Sam’s face was numb after our meal. Mala in China is way spicier than mala in Singapore: order at your own risk!
Our final stop for the day was the Shanghai Museum [上海博物馆, Shang Hai Bo Wu Guan]. We arrived at the museum at 3pm. The museum is a large four storey building that houses all kinds of exhibits. Most of the permanent exhibits, however, are somewhat relevant to Chinese culture. Although only four storeys tall, the sheer number of artefacts and exhibits mean that a detailed exploration of the museum calls for a visit of at least half a day.
I see Sam is a man of culture.
The first floor houses the Chinese Sculpture Gallery, which comprises mostly stone sculptures of the Buddha. On the second floor, there was a joint-exhibition with Tate Britain, showcasing British landscape art and its different evolutionary movements. The Ceramics Gallery is also on the second floor: showcasing the craftsmanship of early potters in China.
On the third floor, we checked out the Calligraphy Gallery. The gallery allows you to explore not only the evolution of Chinese penmanship but of Chinese characters themselves. Older scripts seem completely alien when compared to modern Chinese script. The Currency Gallery is also on the third floor. It features coins from different periods in Chinese and Silk Road history, and there is an informative video presentation explaining how ancient mints would’ve mass produced coins. On the other floors, you can also find a gallery dedicated to China’s many ethnic nationalities, a jade gallery, and a Chinese painting gallery.
We ended the day with dinner at Dong Tai Xiang, a restaurant famous for their Sheng Jian Baos. This place was recommended by Wilson, who insisted that we try it since we were in Shanghai. The baos were great, but the other dishes were only alright in my opinion. Still, a meal at Dong Tao Xiang is worth it for the baos alone. After our dinner, we headed back to our hotel to pack and get ready for our high-speed train to Beijing the next morning.
Baos are on the left, but they’re oh so right. Yum.