MOGANSHAN LU AND A VIBRATING HOSTEL
22.11.2010 - 06.12.2010
I spent a day in Moganshan Lu on my third day in Shanghai. This was another art district. But this time it was more like an enormous warehouse mostly full of commercial galleries. It was possible to meet the artists here but there was again the question of the language problem. Or the question of yet more apathetic staff gawping intently at computers rather than informing visitors about the artist, his stuff or his inspiration. In fact these bods were largely just sales people and I lost interest fairly quickly in most of the galleries. A contrast with Hong Kong where in even the most mundane gallery the staff were more than informative, chatty, you felt like they were your mate and were really sad to leave.
However, it was well worth a day here and I came back another two times. Partly because I found a housing enclave being destroyed behind the gallery space and I got some great photos of the graffiti some artists had thoughtfully made there. And also because to really see everything you need to come a few times. Two artists really stood out for me. The first one can be tracked down at miaowang.jimdo.com and his name is Xiang Dong Chen. Him and his wife were what I felt to be real artists. A rare breed in China. She certainly looked the part in a beautiful silk pink coat with gorgeous Chinese designs on and a jaunty peaked cap. He was at work but stopped to try to converse a bit with me in his limited English. I felt them both humble in the extreme and they tried so hard to convey the themes of their art to me. It was spiritual stuff and I presume they were both Buddhist from the subject matter. It was a lot to do with man's struggle for awakening the consciousness. I have noticed, when visiting ornamental ponds with lotus flowers, the symbol of an enlightened consciousness in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, that the lotus blossoms look a tad battered. The nature is speaking China government man. In a country like China maybe this theme is neglected when it could be a bit more prominent. Materialism and rampant consumerism is not necessarily the way forward. This artist was on the case. One picture was of what looked like an enormous stone heart floating in the ocean with tiny men trying to climb up it. Upon this heart was this poem:
Our body may be compared to the bodh tree
while our mind to a case of bright mirrors
Carefully we sweep them hour by hour
and let dust fall on them not
By nature there is no bodh tree
Nor a case of bright mirrors
Since intrinsically it is void
where can the dust fall on them.
It was written in Chinese characters and this was copied from an English translation that was very thoughtfully placed alongside the painting. You can see the picture on the website mentioned before. Make of it all what you will but it moved me.
The second artist that wowed me was not there and the language problem prevented me from getting any info. Sadly, I lost the card with his name on. Twice. I'm a twat. Here are his pictures. This is what China can produce.
Pudong district is a must see for anyone interested in high tech, high rise, high priced shopping centres. Or over priced high rise monstrosities to go up the top of and look at the Boring Bund on the other side of the river. Not my thing really and Cecilia told me that the Pearl Tower windows are so mucky you can't see the view anyway. And it costs a tenner for that lot. The shopping centres in Pudong were mostly glitzy plazas full of designer goods produced by the likes of Dolce and Gabanna, Prada, Georgio Armani and Jean-Paul Gaultier is coming soon. Its all so bleeding eighties. I came here one evening after spending an afternoon in the Lanes with the proletariat. What a contrast. I preferred the latter. Its probably better to come here around sunset and walk down the river to check out the flashing buildings show. Oh yes and the flashing boats show. In the daytime its just concrete looming and boat loads of crap going by. I have to say though the atmosphere was very gentle all round and it was a thoroughly pleasant stroll.
There is a market in Pudong that you will find very easily if you get off the metro at the Science and Technology museum. (Futuristic building that beggars belief) This market is aimed at ferrangs and you're assaulted and harangued before you even get there by kids prematurely trying to sell you stuff. Now I'd been to Qi Pu Lu the day before and had noticed none of this full on kind of approach there. “Hey Lady, you wanna buy a bag?” Screeched at me in a high pitched voice that went right through my noodle. As it was I did want a bag, The first price was 150 RMB for something that should be about 45. Cheeky fuckers. Go to shops that don't harangue you and tell them you came there simply because you weren't harangued by a screeching salesperson. Loads of pearls on sale if that's your thing.
On the subject of markets in Cecilia's district there was the Xiaononmen Fabric market. There were two parts to this I discovered. One totally touristy part that tailor made clothes for people and another part in the Lanes that just sold the fabric. You could also find a tailor easily in the Lanes but take a sample of what you want or a good picture. The Chinese are very very good at copying and you wont be disappointed with your final product. The fabric was mostly good quality and a great selection. Cashmere was in abundance as was silk and all manner of shirting and suiting. Prepare to haggle here. Fur traders lurk about in the streets here so don't bring anyone with you who belongs to the ALF.
It was time to check out of the Couch Surfing venue and get myself into a hostel. I wanted to meet fellow wayfarers and although Cecilia was wonderful, voyaging types just didn't pass by the 28th storey of a Shanghai high rise block. What about Ludo you may be asking. Well, we had a major argy bargy at Cecilia's one morning. I knew he'd got a date planned for that evening with one of the queens he'd found on Gay Romeo. He told me he was chronically constipated and had taken a laxative and was scared to go out in case he shit his pants. I told him this was ridiculous and the idea of couch surfing wasn't that you hung about someone's pad all day long larging it up whilst they were at work. This was taking the piss in my eyes.
“But she gave me a key.” He wailed.
“Not a written invitation to hang about her gaff all the day too though. You're supposed to be checking out one of the most up and coming cities in the world.” So we had a big argument that was very long overdue about him following me about contributing little to the trip and not really even taking any interest in any of it. I went off for the day whilst he dealt with his douche bag and I never saw him again. He stayed with the Chinese Queen he met and left China for a Goan beach shortly afterwards. I was once again a happily solo transglobal navigator.
One of the problems with China is that cheap accommodation is not found lounging about willy nilly. In places like Yangshou someone will be lying in wait for you at the bus stop. But get to Shanghai and for budget rooms you deffo need to forward plan. This eventuates as a hostel. This means Youth Hostels International as they are usually cheap,and cheerful, the staff are friendly and helpful and the info of other hostels is always available. Get a membeership for discount. Usually they will book you in to the next place free of charge too. You have the choice of a room or a dorm. Now I don't mind a bit of dorm dwelling. So long as you go equipped with an eye mask and ear plugs its not too bad. Forget these articles and you're fucked. You have the snorer, the farter, the I'm getting up at 4am to see the sunrise merchant, the door slammer, the locker meddler, the mobile phone ring tone pain, the listener to shit music off a mobile phone fan, the plastic bag rustler, the piss heads rolling in at 3am, the early morning cleaners etc, etc,. All this in a bunk bed situation normally. This means unless your bedmate is a catatonic accident victim in a coma your bed may be the type that moves about every time they do.
Dorms are a great place to meet people. Of course they are. You're in very close quarters with people so what are you going to do? Ignore them? Course not. And the Chinese are so friendly and hospitable, even if you get a combination of the aforementioned you'll never be Billy No Mates. This Shanghai hostel was in a good location up Suzhou Creek. Near to a metro and not far from the centre of it all. The corridors were lit with UV lighting and there was a pool table upstairs and a bit of a cafe. I made friends immediately with a kid called Zhou on the desk. Anything I wanted to know he sorted it out. And with a happy smile too.
The only problems with this dorm was the lack of a window and the metro ran directly underneath it. So every five minutes or so your bed vibrated. It was in fact the early morning alarm shudder. It was here I met Mrs Tao Bao. She liked lying around until 12 noon. No window means what time is it? She bought stuff off this famous Chinese internet shop and sold it in her own shop in Fuzhou. Her boyfriend was called Eric They both went about done up in the most insane articles sourced from this site and for me they were the epitome of Chinese Chic. Explained to me all about the internet in China. They have qq for example which is their version of Facebook and every single Chinaperson under 40 is on it in their spare moments. Facebook is unobtainable in China, as is You Tube, as is Internet Movie Database and many other sites. This is all part of the Chinese government's quest to keep their people in the dark. But the internet is a www. The young Chinese kids probably have more ability to use it to their advantage and are streets ahead of the government with various methods of getting through the barriers. It wont be too long before the Chinese get their freedom and a lot of it will come from access of information, the knowledge that out there people speak their minds and express themselves without fear of the world coming to a standstill.
Zhou told me about Qi Pu Lu. This is a cheapo clothes market very close to the hostel and to get there you walk through more of old soon to be demolished Shanghai. I went up there just to see what it was like and it was a hell. Most of the clothes were in small shops in a low ceilinged warehouse with a chronic lack of light. The clothes were cheap but I'm not really a shopper and I didn't need anything. I just felt like I was going to have a panic attack from the claustrophobia. I was more interested in the surrounding neighbourhoods. This was the first place I saw some kind of organised begging drama. There was a tramp lying on the floor dressed in a patchwork outfit of rags and another young bloke going through a proper performance of pleading for money next to what I presume was an ancient dying relative. The Chinese seemed sympathetic and the cash was slowly coming in. If you're up that way go and check out this vicinity, especially the Lanes. It wont be there for much longer more's the pity.
I made rakes of Chinese mates in this hostel. The girlies in the female dorm went through such a rigmarole going to bed with potions and lotions it was quite fascinating to watch. They use these Phantom of the Opera face masks. Quite frightening when you turn round and a late nighter is sitting on the bed with one of these strange masks on. I screamed out loud the first time I saw one. A constant proffering of foodstuffs was nice too. Eve if it was a bizarre chewy meat or strange green powder you mixed with hot water. I liked to hang with Eric and Mrs Tao Bao the best. He was adorable and she was spoiled and sulky, but both on the ball. They told me about Xi Tang and it was to there I was to adjourn as my first port of call on the way South. Shanghai was getting colder and it was time to hunt the sun. The update will follow soon and will tell the tale of my experiences both hideous and wonderful as a tourist in what turned out to be an increasingly frigid dystopian China.