Shanghai Diary

Shanghai: an overcast Pudong

The Jin Jiang Hotel in the former French Concession

The doorman was tall in his long coat, like the columns round him, and I marveled at his splendor while he removed my bags with the languor of the confident. The driver wasn’t so impressed and he started to leave with one bag still in the boot and the doorman lifted the bag and banged the lid without ever pausing his regal flow.

He did peer a moment into the taxi to check if the offense he had returned had hit its mark.

The Presidents of America and other great leaders have been in the hotel, and their portraits hang in the lobby. The Grosvenor Residence in the grounds is a major landmark from before the War.

The Former Residences

From Sinan Street, and from other establishments near it, they oversaw the revolutions that founded the Chinese republic and made it communist. Just when I arrived they closed the entrance to Sun Yat-sen’s former residence to let in a long VIP convoy. I walked on down the street to Zhou En Lai’s, which they say was his residence in name only, but his close comrades and other comrades who dealt with foreigners and the press, and visiting comrades from everywhere—all lived there. In the basement reposes his black car, registered 00070 in its time, a lovely beast with a lunging snout and hollow cheeks. Its antenna rises from the brow and falls backward, like hair slicked back.
That beast is a Buick and is restored by GM of Shanghai. Inside the house a picture “exposes the fact” that America worked with KMT to widen the “civil war”. Learning a little of olden-day affairs, of western people in Shanghai’s Concessions, I thought maybe the Maoists didn’t do wrong to unite their nation and restore its dignity.

When I returned to Sun Yat-sen’s the convoy had gone. My grief for the Last Emperor (persistent from when I watched the movie) melted somewhat, seeing the simple life of Sun Yat-sen. Now, writing, my remembrances are of Soong Ching Ling (her picture on the wall, at a table with a book, pensive) and the grace in her letters, written in a flowing hand. Their marriage lasted ten years, ending with his death when she was thirty-two, and he was fifty-four.
In her later residence the aura was not the yin of the wife, but the yang of power. Indira Gandhi greets her in a picture, young, proboscis prominent on the lean face, yet most charming, aristocratic. In the dining room the central piece among the mementos hung “personally” by Soong Ching Ling is a bronze plate given her by the Indo China Friendship Association. The refrigerator was a clunky Westinghouse; in the study, her typewriter was from Royal.

Huai Hai in the former French Concession
Off Huai Hai StreetWhen the seventh tout asked to sell a watch to me I raised my voice. His aggression vaporized at that minor inflection, but after I’d gone ten steps he hurled at my back all the English he could muster: “fucking!” I forgave him later over a cappuccino. Near here, touts once sold fakes comfortably in an informally designated fake market, and now the market is pulled down and those who have only fakes to sell must try other methods.

Cyber Mart: In the small area of a booth all Mac hardware, customers, the owner, and his assistants were crushed together. For a car charger for the iPhone he typed ¥260 into his calculator; I asked for ¥100. In less than a second he said: “Okay. Final price.” I was disappointed at this immediate capitulation. Downstairs they had the envelope-sleeve for the MacBook-Air for which he keyed ¥500. I said ¥300 with a choke: the sleeve was so sleek, and the young man said, “original,” just the way Truth would. Again my offer was accepted instantly; a brisk walk alleviated my distress.

I hadn’t packed a jacket and they had terrific ones on the street at 50% off and still they seemed terribly expensive. The Cerruti store had a half-wool-half-silk jacket that was stitched like they knew I was coming, so perfectly it came round me. “I’ll take it,” I said with the poise of the owner of such a jacket, and learnt then that it was a new arrival, no discount. Nothing else looked good anymore and, anyway, none looked right for a manufacturing guy (one who is merry among machines). They smiled when I said sorry; and held for me my coat.
In the Emerald City mall in Suzhou where we went for dinner, our Finnish customer swept his hand across the aisles and told us branded clothes are expensive in China. “But they have money and like to pay $100 for a T-shirt to show it off.” I’d have made an awful impression on him with that Cerruti.

Pudong, and Penis Envy

Shanghai: Pudong towersA Chicago firm has teased a pagoda out of a tall block and when light strikes and the serrations show it is quite a sight. You take the lift to the top from the basement where the food court packed with businesspersons (some of them Indian) tells you to go elsewhere if yours is a spiritual quest. The charge to go to the deck on the eighty-eighth floor is eighty-eight yuan. From there you can see its neighbor, a Cyclops with the arms chopped off, and the eye shot through, and the body gaunt and green from (probably) detesting local food. Cyclops pipped Jin Mao to the list of the tallest last year.

It is only towers all round the Jin Mao, but the clouds rule and they tell if the neighborhood should be dim or dazzling—for me, they kept the lights low. But the heft of the Huangpu I could see below and it refreshed my spirits which had been struck down by all the erections. Here’s unspent libido baying for release even after business is done and subsequently continued at the plazas and the clubs and the KTV.

Don’t tell anyone, but turtle blood and rhino horn seem to work.