Yunnan Road: Local Flavors Meet in Shanghai

1621yunnan

Brick and mortar buildings brushed with an early 20th century flair were crowded together with reflective glass facades.  The sidewalk by the metro was grossly uneven, probably laid down in a rush and worn down by urban life over the years.

A long stretch of road left me feeling dwarfed, yet intrigued.  Weighted down with bags, my gait was slow, a balancing act of viewing and receiving.  Not a western face to be seen, but a flurry of native Chinese waiting in nonsensical lines for that day’s duck or chuànr (lamb kebabs).  Steaming metal pots of huǒ guō (hot pot), cafeteria style or hearty street food became my first introduction to Yunnan Road.   With each step or turn of my head, a new sight grabbed me, until another overtook that one.  This smelled like adventure.

A Shanghai excursion tends to focus on the cosmopolitan aspects of the city, like the European flair of Xintiandi or trendy Jing’an, but Yunnan Road thrusts you in the pulse of this city.  The BBC describes Yunnan Road as a “mecca of delicious and authentic local food.” [1]  I wholeheartedly agree, yet it’s more than that.  I am completely the foreigner as I walk down a narrow street and observe a child at play, or a housewife hanging laundry from a fire escape.  Even the darkened shops where purveyors sell fruit, tobacco or tools borders on the forbidden.  In a perverse way, it’s being granted special access to a world that I shouldn’t be allowed to see.

What also draws me to this area is a hostel, the Shanghai Phoenix.  I’ve become a creature of habit and stay there every time I visit.  I’m the Norm Peterson of the Phoenix, I walk in and the staff recognizes me, accepting my clumsy Chinese and tendency to ask too many questions.  It’s the only hostel on this street and that gives an advantage to the traveler, a window to that special access I just mentioned.

Modern Art Galleries in Shanghai

I last left you with street art in Wuxi and Shanghai, promising to write about the commercial art galleries in Shanghai.

Known as 50 Moganshan Lu or M50, I had expected a small collection of galleries.  After rallying her and her to join me for a wander, it became obvious M50 is an extensive creative park.

How apt that the map of the property also calls it a ‘creative park’.  The art galleries that were once factory spaces are a labyrinth, offering a variety of artistic styles — from oil paintings, to mixed media, pure photography or sculpture installations.

I sunk back into this environment with surprising ease, after being permanently scarred all those years, carted around by my ex as his art ‘wife’.

For a change, art and I were alone, without the pompous airs.  We lit candles to set the mood and held hands, which allowed me to make new discoveries about modern art in Shanghai.

Contrary to misconceptions about Chinese censorship, there seems to be a lot of freedom to express oneself.  M50 is accessible by taxi (not really metro) and prepare to spend a few hours walking and unearthing some hot and happening work.

My friends and I searched by instinct.  If an exhibition seemed worth a look, we went in.  You can also gauge a map for what might interest you when you arrive or research online.  There’s certainly no correct way to savior art, no matter what those pedantic art critics say.

Vibrant Street Art in Shanghai

“You have to look at it as a piece of artwork.” — Twist, on graffiti

In art, there’s nothing if not drama.  After I revealed my tale of art woe…  The great love, the loss that tore my heart to pieces, until I finally recaptured the flame.  The time came to move towards bigger waters.  Shanghai.

I ventured on a rainy Friday afternoon to 50 Moganshan Lu, or known as M50, to feast on more artwork.

If you’re unaware of M50, it use to be an industrial area along Suzhou Creek, in the downtown district of Jing’an.  As the millennium unfolded, several Chinese artists found the large factory spaces and cheap rent appealing.  Today, the quarter of M50 is flooded by international visitors and locals, and was named a must-see part of Shanghai to visit by Time Magazine.

However, before I got to explore the commercialized art of M50, my curious nature couldn’t help noticing a series of spray painted walls.  Some of these walls housing nothing more than junk, replete with junkyard chickens.

Droplets of rain didn’t deter me from walking for several yards back and forth capturing some inventive street art.

You wouldn’t think such a nondescript street would have this, but as usual, China continually surprises me.

The street:

IMG_5026

The chickens:

IMG_5006

Shades of a Shanghai Marriage Market

One of the big draws of Shanghai is People’s Square and People’s Square Park.  Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, People’s Square served as a course for horse racing, appropriately named the Shanghai Racing Club, open to elite members of Shanghai society.

When the communist government was established, horse racing and all its charms were considered decadent, so the area was converted into the municipal government’s headquarters.  Over the years various attractions have been added to lure visitors.   The Shanghai Art Museum is worth a glance and some fanciful, ultra-modern buildings like the Shanghai Grand Theater or the Hong Kong New World Tower will stimulate architecture buffs.

A longstanding event has endured among the glittering towers and lush gardens of People’s Park, attracting unwanted tourists and the curious.  The “Marriage Market” gathers every Saturday and Sunday, where parents flock to the north end of the park from noon until 5:00 pm to get their daughters or sons matched.

It was an unexpected sight to stumble upon as I walked through People’s Park with friends one November weekend.

Shanghai: The Bund

You could accuse me of being a cynic  A big, fat one.  See, I’ve seen a lot of amazing things.

Huge, spectacular, memorable and life-altering.  Maybe I’m at the point where a monument of beauty and historical significance really has to move me.  To tears. Or ripples of joy.

When I was in Shanghai, I sampled a few things.

Dumplings.

Soooo good!

Hanging with Unbravegirl over a weekend:

Ain’t she adorable?

Travelers try to pack in a week’s worth of sights in Shanghai.  Me?  I’m slightly pickier.  My gut told me steer clear of Old Town.

My hostel mates warned me about Old Town: It’s cheesy and overdone.  China goes overboard again.

Considering their fashion choices, how is that surprising, backpackers?

Do you think it’s my color?

I’m lazy now, relying on other people (mostly locals) to tell me what to see, so when several said I should check out the Bund, I did listen (with skepticism).