This line from the movie the Wizard of Oz can sum up many things I have experienced in China. Old and new traditions and affluence intermingle on the streets as opportunity has blessed some, and others continue with what they know and can do to sustain life. Shanghai has been very modern and a few extra quai (slang for money) can buy many of the western creature comforts I have become familiar with. Sometimes a $12 box of Pop Tarts or Golden Graham cereal just need to fill the palate as something familiar. Generally we do without, but it is nice to know it is there is we really need a ‘fix’. 🙂
Living in PuDong is easy. Many western expats live here, shops and restaurants cater to us and with a little Chinese and English we can get by. The streets are wider, more green space and it is quieter. A good place to have called home for 3 years. For others in the search of real China, you will not find it here. The bright lights, and big modern city feel rival other major cities around the world. Seeing flash cars drive by on a daily basis really clouds your view of what lies behind the curtain.
Last spring as you may recall I went to the Magda Danysz Art Gallery. It used to be along the Bund, a popular tourist ‘must see’ as it lines the river, many hotel chains and big beautiful buildings are all within easy reach. The view of the World Financial Tower (Bottle Opener), Pearl Tower, JinMao and progress of the soon to be tallest building in Shanghai, Shanghai Tower is awesome, especially at night. The Amazing Race TV program just filmed here recently and the first few episodes of this season you may have seen this incredible area as teams ran along the Bund looking for the abacus and pit stop. It stretches as far as the eye can see and is usually wall to wall people out taking a stroll. The gallery decided to move to another location, away from the tourist area. As promised I finally will post our adventures to the gallery.
Magda Danysz is a small gallery with free admission. They host many local artists as well as have small accommodations so visiting world artists may come and stay and be inspired in Shanghai. Their art can then be put on display and for sale. We really enjoyed the show and you can read that post by visiting here. Today’s post is not about the gallery, so let’s get back to the adventures.
My Chinese co-teacher helped me write the directions for the taxi driver in Mandarin and our group of 3 jumped in a cab and set off for the gallery. A short ride over the bridge we turned off the highway into a small neighbourhood. We glanced at each other and thought there may be some mistake as this looked residential and not artsy or business like at all. We passed carts selling various items, animals, fruits and vegetables… all very interesting to look at. A short moment later the taxi stopped. We looked blankly at him so he pointed to an abandoned looking building. With limited communication between us he showed us the paper and the only recognisable symbols were the numbers which matched what was on this building. We got out of the taxi and felt like Dorothy when she left the house and realised she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. We looked around and there was no sign of the gallery and our taxi has sped off. Nothing looked like the photos of the gallery from the website. We were stuck. We decided to wander back down the way we came and look at the interesting wares the locals were selling, so all would not be lost. If nothing else today would be an interesting photo opportunity and blog. 🙂
The local sellers had cages and inside were fluffy cute bunnies and chicks. Another held crickets! Looking around us the streets were narrow, dirty and crowded with things. Everything was so dull and grimy my senses were overwhelmed with what I saw. Buildings were not in the best repair and there was not another westerner in sight. We didn’t feel uneasy as we were ogled by the locals, as they were as curious of us as we were of them. I kept thinking is this Shanghai? This is certainly not the Shanghai I had become accustomed to. It was like we went to another city, or part of China. Was I dreaming? Had we been transported back in time? This is what pictures of Shanghai looked like maybe 20 or 30 years ago. It certainly was surreal.
We decided to walk back towards where the cab had dropped us off and see if we could find this gallery. As we approached from this angle the empty building where we had been deposited had a small sign on its left side with a MD and arrow pointing back into the alley/parking area. Should we dare? We walked back and after a few hundred meters we saw something that looked like a gallery. We went inside and sure enough it was the right place. Explaining our misadventures to the people there they laughed and said the photos were from the opposite side of the building, which has no street access! Maybe finding the gallery was part of the art adventure they planned… only the brave and clever were lucky enough to enter.
Anywhere else I think I would have worried and panicked being dropped in an unfamilar, poor looking neighbourhood, but this is Shanghai where adventures await and no matter where you are you are safe. In a city this size crime is low and the occasional scam or pick pocket seems juvenile compared to other big worldly cities. Shanghai offers so much and even after 3 years there is still so much to see and do. More adventures await. Stay tuned for more…