Six years ago this week I was in Shanghai. I don’t remember why, but I do remember wandering some of streets of the old city where I spotted these little chairs lined up outside a business. Just sunning themselves on a warm Spring day.
Two things have always puzzled me: who put them there and why?
22 years ago, in an effort to improve the social environment of Shanghai, the city government issued a list of 7 “Don’ts” — behaviors that the citizens were to avoid. It was an attempt to eradicate the bad habits of Shanghai citizens. They included things like spitting, smoking in public, and cursing.
Earlier this month the office of the Shanghai Spiritual Civilization Construction Commission (what’s not to love about that name?) issued an updated list, one designed to address more modern bad habits.
Here the are:
Don’t let pets disturb neighbors.
Don’t cut in line.
Don’t park vehicles in a disorderly manner.
Don’t waste food.
Don’t make noise.
If you’re heading to Shanghai in the near future, you might want to keep this list handy!
Perhaps you have heard of nail houses in China–dwellings whose owners have refused to move in defiance of demolition orders. As Chinese cities continue to expand, they are swallowing up villages and land in the countryside.
The Boston Globe’sBig Picture blog recently published a photo series documenting a nail neighborhood in Shanghai. In this case it isn’t just one homeowner that has refused to move — it’s an entire neighborhood.
Last week, China staged a huge parade to commemorate the end of World War II. While everyone was focused on the pomp and ceremony in Beijing, there were a couple of events in Shanghai to honor the city’s role in taking in Jewish refugees during the war. In fact, on September 6, the city opened the Jewish Memorial Park.
Beginning in 1938, as Jewish persecution by the Nazis went into high gear, approximately 20,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai, one of the few safe havens in the world that did not require a visa.
On Sunday, a Jewish Memorial Park was opened at the Fushouyuan cemetery in that city’s Qingpu district in their honor.
Israeli Consul-General Arnon Perlman, speaking at the dedication, said it is very important “to remember the friendship between China and Israel and between Shanghai and Israel.” On a patch of newly laid grass, a Star of David made of stone forms the centerpiece of the park and serves as the base of a sculpture of interlocking stones with another Star of David, and a menorah, at its center.
One of the stones pays tribute to Dr. Ho Feng-Shan, the Chinese consul general of Vienna during the war, who defied orders and issued over 3,000 visas to Austrian Jews to allow them to travel to China (while visas were not required to enter Shanghai, they were required to leave Austria).
The mostly German and Austrian Jews who came to Shanghai in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s joined another several thousand Jewish residentswho had made the country their home in the previous 50 years, either as merchants or to escape Russian pogroms.
The Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai released a video thanking Shanghai for being a safe haven for Jews:
The World Jewish Congress had a story about the reopening of a cafe that had once been a gathering place for the Jewish community in Shanghai:
On Wednesday, an iconic café in the former Jewish ghetto of Shanghai, which served as a meeting place for Jewish refugees during World War II, was re-opened in the presence of 300 dignitaries, including a representative of the World Jewish Congress (WJC).
At the time, the White Horse Café (‘Zum Weissen Rössl‘) was a café where the Jewish refugees met.
The White Horse Café first opened in 1939. It has been rebuilt in a new location opposite tothe Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum with its original look. The three-story wooden and brick structure that combined Western and Eastern architecture served as a popular shelter for Jewish residents living nearby.
The owner sold the café to a local after the war. It was demolished in 2009 to make room for a subway. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum collected the building’s blue prints and key components such as beams and some wooden curving on walls for the rebuilding.
Among the guests at the ceremony on Wednesday was Ron Klinger from Australia. His grandparents, who had come to Shanghai from Vienna in 1938, had opened the inn. “A lot of people visited, Jewish people and non-Jewish people. It was like cafe, bar and nightclub. It was very popular,” recalled Klinger.
The new coffee house was rebuilt in accordance with the original style. It displays some old photos donated by the Klinger family.
Two interesting stories on a little-known part of Shanghai’s past.
During my first year in China, one of my teammates was from California. When the weather got warm, she bought herself a bamboo chair so she could sit outside in our courtyard and work on her tan. Our students were horrified because they valued lighter skin; they couldn’t understand why she would try to make her skin darker.
“Please, Miss Barbara,” they would plead, “don’t sit in the sun.”
“I can’t not do this,” she replied. “I’m from California.”
That preference for lighter skin has led to a booming industry of skin-whitening lotions and creams, as evidenced by this giant billboard in Shanghai.
I love Shanghai, but I’ve never seen it from this perspective — a backwards walking tour. This short film, “Walk in Shanghai” by JT Singh, will mesmerize you AND make you want to drop everything and head to Shanghai.
Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to the film on Vimeo:
With its futuristic skyline and sprawling network of streets, subway lines, and highways, Shanghai represents not just China’s unbridled dynamism, but also the rapidly maturing global economy. The bustling city of Shanghai, however, holds a further, complex and equally exhilarating narrative nestled at the feet of its towering skyscrapers. ‘Walk in Shanghai’ tells the story of the lively, multifaceted and above all else, very human experience unfolding at the street level of this massive city.
To guide you through the streetscape is JT Singh. As he leads the viewer on his curious adventure through central Shanghai, he glances around corners, weaves through crowds, and with a barely perceptible pause here or an impulsive turn there, stumbles into the unhinged entropy that flows through the hidden alleys, accidental views, and captivating scenes embedded in the city’s vibrant street life. The peculiar reversal of the city’s movement against his own distinguishes his story from that of the other 24 million people taking 24 million walks in Shanghai. It’s through a heightened focus on one man’s seemingly unstructured journey that we discover the ultimate protagonist of this story: the transcendent power of using your legs for discovering a city.
‘Walk in Shanghai’ is only an introductory tour of Shanghai’s urban streets. The remaining story of Shanghai’s suspense and beauty can only be experienced in person, and through using your legs as the main mode of transport.
But here’s the question that I can’t seem to shake: who’s really walking backwards? Singh or the crowds?
What happens when you find yourself with 20 American university students in a pricey Shanghai office tower and in need of a quick and cheap meal before heading to the next appointment? Find a Muslim noodle shop and persuade them to set up tables and stools on the sidewalk and serve us delicious plates of freshly made noodles.
I used to have a colleague who suggested that one of the main roles for foreigners in China was to provide entertainment for the locals. We certainly did our fair share of that today!
And as an added bonus, we got to watch the chefs making fresh noodles right beside us.