My last day in Shanghai began with a visit to Peoples’s Park. On the way to the Metro we passed a remarkable Art Deco building the Metropole Hotel and stopped to observe a training drill for firemen which was to say the least amateurish. Once at the metro the very clear number 2 arrow directed us to the right platform and the relatively short journey to People’s Square. We took coffee from a densely uncommunicative McD’s employee crossing over the main road to embrace the Tai Chi. As usual only the elder members of Chinese society embrace this calming discipline. A gentlemen was showing unbridled concentration whilst another lady sat in a tree alongside the remnants of lotus flowers in the shadow of Barbarossa. Barbarossa is a Shanghai iconic institution: a Moroccan-styled lounge, in the middle of a lotus pond in the middle of People’s Park. It attracts a glamorous crowd to its three floors for cocktails, hookahs, dinner, DJs, and its serene, oasis atmosphere. It’s one of Shanghai’s most romantic spots for a date and has a popular ladies’ night as well.
Further along we came across some archaic online dating club known as the “Marriage Market”. I thought it was a protest against human rights atrocities in China but the reality is wildly different. The market is fuelled by an increase in the busy schedules of young adults, and a discrepancy between male and female populations created by China’s one-child policy. Also the social pressure to marry on young Chinese before 30 is immense. Many of them just don’t have time to deal with it…….but their parents do!
Shanghai’s Marriage Market began in 1996 and facilitates parents in advertising their offspring children in categorically low-tech, ink-and-paper dating profiles. They post children’s educational statistics, work history, age and other demographics, parents try to match their children with partners worthy of them. It is said that they are quite picky when choosing mates for their children, who are ALL certainly imbued with supernatural greatness so as to possibly be future members of the Illuminati. As a result, parents often post too-demanding achievements, including exorbitant earnings, and exceptional good looks. Needless to say, not everybody finds dates.
The Marriage Market hearkens back to a more traditional time when parents arranged their children’s marriages. At the Market, like in traditional Chinese dating cultures, parents often meet each other before the dating couple does. In quickly modernizing China, traditions are often discarded.
Nothing is more indicative of this trend than the younger generation’s views about marriage. Children are often uncomfortable with their parents meddling in their love affairs, but they usually don’t need to worry about their parents’ success. Although the market has become hugely popular, drawing more than 1000 people each Saturday and Sunday most parents have to return, month after month, year after year to find the proper match.
Adjacent to the market the lotus flowers had reach their end, old Chinese men gathered in groups fanning themselves and playing cards. Some fellow photo addicts with much more expensive gear than I have, tried to suck some image heaven from the remaining lotus’. Frank was just glad I was watching them because it gave him an excuse to park his bum! The park is fine antidote to the hustle and bustle of a metropolis the size of Shanghai.
Leaving the park we took a stroll towards the Creek passing construction works who were being sustained by meals cooked and delivered at a frantic place by two vendors operating small restaurants. This area behind the Bund is choca with old Art Deco and colonial buildings, some apartments, some former banks and other struggling to find a purpose. Families relaxed in the narrow alleyways with washing providing shades from the heat, a man clung stoically to a window ledge as he prepared to repair and air-con unit. We stopped at a craft shop to look at some exceptional pottery before reaching Suzhou Creek which runs at right-angles to the Bund and the river.
For most of the 20th century, as Shanghai grew with rapid urbanisation, so did its main sewer, yes! the Creek. In 1996 the ‘Economic and Social Development Plan for Shanghai’ was adopted, in which the rehabilitation of the creek formed an important component. Due to this 12-year plan to clean up the waterway, Suzhou Creek is no longer an embarrassing, smelly black river. Suzhou Creek is no longer the Huangpu’s stinky little brother. It’s been cleared of lichen and dragged of garbage and drowned dogs and is being rebranded as the “Seine of the Orient”, at least by the doggedly optimistic PR company that’s promoting its new Suzhou Creek cruises. We had limited time as we wanted to visit Qibao water village so we trekked along the bit that meets the Huangpo. It was unfortunate as I had a well-planned tour of the Creek taking in the art and the cultural venues that have sprung up as it became gentrified. The former industrial corridor is now home to swish modern apartments and its only a matter of time that the undeveloped building are spruced up and sold on to the nouveau riche. We crossed the bridge that carries Sichuan North Road, adjacent to the Broadway Mansions Hotel. This afforded us magical views of the Pudong re-development. We now passed along colonial buildings converted into hotels and design emporiums: Prada, Armani and Vuitton came into view but were passed without hesitation.
By this time FOBY had no idea where he was but my radar suggested right, left, right, lefu until we met our friends the pimps and the Apple store. Before finding out if this was true we were offered Dragon fruit by a vendor whose hands suggested he’d grown them in a coal mine, FOBY declined I just walked on towards what proved correctly to be the Apple Store. From here we took the metro to Laoximen and No.302 Madang Road, Huangpu District, the site of Former Provisional Government Site of the Republic of Korea. Frank, as a Korean just wanted to view it and read the external paraphernalia. We didn’t hang around we decided to hold lunch until we reached the water village.
It’s a 25 minute metro journey to Qibao, one of Shanghais peripheral water villages. Qibao is hard to beat for convenience, located as it is on metro line 9. As we emerged it was obvious that the signage was of Korean quality, that is, it didn’t exist, at least for overseas visitors. One positive was at least, the absence of foreign visitors and tour buses. We took a smoothie break and a very kind student, although shy, managed to point us in the right direction. Qibao dates back to the Northern Song dynasty (AD 960–1127), reaching its zenith during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The old town occupies about two square kilometers, crossed by two water lanes. Around the water lanes, stand a large number of well-preserved traditional houses, gardens, temples, shops and restaurants which define the place. We sampled some delicious dumplings on the main thoroughfare. Qibao is awash with historic architecture, threaded by small, busy alleyways and disected by a picturesque canal. Vestiges of village handicrafts survive, including traditional wooden-bucket makers, a traditional distillery and a remarkable miniature carving museum. If you can ignore the crowds, it’s a throwback to old China. We strolled around before taking a walk away from the crowds towards a tall pagoda that was enclosed in the grounds of a not so old Qibao Buddhist Temple. Before reaching the temple we passed through a modern area of single story dwellings dissected by small narrow alleyways which were awash with Ladies of the Day and also presumably of the Night. We crossed over to the temple.
The ancient temple I’d expected (and supposedly from which the town got its current name) appeared to be no more. Gutted, we left the main hall and people-watched in the wide courtyard. The modernity didn’t affect the worshipers made clockwise rounds of the halls, lighting incense and bowing before the statues of bodhisattvas. Out at the edge of the temple grounds, we found the giant metal bell that had, along with the pagoda, led us to the temple. We wound our way back to and through another area of the village before returning downtown.