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Beijing – How much has changed in 9 years?

June 29, 2017

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It’s rare for a day to go by without at least one big story on China in the news. Beyond the usual toddler’s head stuck in balcony/couch/escalator type stories – we’re constantly hearing about the rise (or potential fall) of the Chinese economy, the Chinese buying up big, investing everywhere, their hands in everything (or facing a gigantic housing crash -the housing issues in mainland China making those in Sydney & Melbourne paltry by comparison).

But with a country that’s super-charging into the future, the number of wealthy and middle-class Chinese more than ever before, just how fast is the country actually changing?

The answer is – not much; at least, if Beijing is anything to go by.

I am sure beneath the surface there have been considerable changes I’m unaware of, but from an outsider looking in, the changes I saw in Beijing were minuscule. It was practically the same city I visited 9 years ago, albeit with sprinkles of modernization across the board. Despite these changes, it still looked and moreso felt like the Beijing of 2008, when the city was gripped with excitement for the upcoming Olympic Games.

The first thing I noticed were the new subway stations – or rather, I was made aware of them by a friend prior to arriving. Had I not been told, I would likely not have even known, so well were they integrated. Beijing like most other Chinese cities already had a pretty solid transport network, but if anything its now even more connected making navigating the city via subway a breeze.

But speaking of mobility – one thing that was definitely not there last time were these new forms of hire bicycles. These bikes are literally everywhere, rentable for a small amount and unlocked via a smartphone app. There were three specific colours or brands of these bikes, the most noticeable being black and yellow. Coincidentally, just this past week these same bikes have shown up in Melbourne and I read Sydney, delivered by a Singapore company whose  name escapes me. They work a treat in Beijing as they’re not only cheap, but the perfect alternative to the peak hour subway crush, or worse, the infamous Beijing car traffic. You’ll see the bikes everywhere, many in great tangled piles and in need of repair, but many more are on the roads. I saw everything from students to workers to even policemen using them. In China, anything goes. If its easy and provides mobility, then it’ll work. It’s the opposite in Melbourne where not wearing a helmet is a fineable offence – and of course there’s no such restriction in China, allowing you to literally jump on a bike, ride it to your destination and discard it. Piece of cake, and no helmet hair to boot!

I also noticed there were more public toilets dotted around – a benefit of the Olympic games. And in an amazing turn of events, many of these public toilets didn’t simply have lockable doors – but toilet paper dispensers also!!! For anyone whose traveled in China – carrying small packets of tissues in your pockets is essential (unless you have a magic, self-cleaning ass). I was in Beihai park, about to climb the mountain to the White Pagoda when I had this sudden rumble in my guts….then this horrible sinking feeling when I realised that I had completely forgotten to bring tissues with me……..ARGH!!! I turned around, beelined for the public toilets, my eyes on the bordering leaves and foliage (yes, it may have come to that) – and holy fucking Christ above, thank every god available there was a machine that dispensed  toilet paper beside the basins. So thank you modern China for this heavenly innovation – if only it applied to the whole country.

Travel in China protip: carry tissues with you – everywhere!

The last time I was in Beijing, Chinese mobile phones resembled the old Nokia, pre-iPhone era phones (although they mostly used their own brands). These have been naturally replaced by iPhones – or moreso, android equivalents – and bigtime. The Chinese *love* their mobile phones. If you think us western folk are obsessed with them, we aint got nothing on the Chinese. It’s no surprise then that paywave type payment is everywhere.

But beyond these few modernizations, a few new shopping malls here and there, more large buildings in the CBD area – the city is very much the same as I remembered it. And everywhere I looked it was the same old China. I couldn’t help but laugh when I watched the local Beijing life going on around me. The western world’s opinion of China is almost purely coloured by the media, and I get this feeling that many westerners fear the Chinese. There’s this underlying anxiety that they’re going to take over the world. They’re buying up anything and everything. Their rich are snapping up our properties. Their government buying up our natural resources. They’re buying giant farms in distant countries(including Australia), shipping food back to the hungry masses who have an insatiable appetite for clean produce.

But back in China, on the streets and down the laneways, life goes on, as it has for thousands of years but these days with a slightly more modern twist. The sidewalks are still cracked. Everything is dusty, like it’s been there forever. Empty storefronts will be a new restaurant tomorrow, a florist next week, empty again next month.

It’s changing, there’s no doubt about that. The quality of life for millions of Chinese has improved significantly. But ultimately, I don’t think China will ever change. Not the true China that you see there on the streets. The thriving chaotic China that just somehow works. The China that I love and the China that to me feels like a second home.

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After 9 years, I’ve reunited with an old friend, China.

June 12, 2017

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Well I’ve been back for several weeks now and been meaning to make a post about the trip ever since. I’ll probably post several as there is a lot to talk about as usual.

It’s been some 9 years since I last visited mainland China, a brief visit to Hong Kong for my 40th a few years ago the only break in that particular drought. On that trip I came close to taking the train to Shenzhen – not because I have any real interest in that city, but I wanted to return to that crazy place I had grown to know and love and to see whether after all this time, I still missed the place.

You’ve probably guessed from the infrequency of my posts that I’d sort of moved on from China. It was like a second home to me and so ridiculously interesting that for a long time after returning home I wanted to keep a solid link to the country – a link which became this blog. The more time that passed, the harder that link was to maintain and real life flooded in to fill that particular void.

Of course I’ve maintained a deep interest in the culture and tried to capitalize on it multiple times through my work. I’ve tried and failed to keep my study of Mandarin going – while I do study it in fits and starts, living in a non-Chinese speaking country is a real prick when it comes to motivation – despite our giant Chinese population here in Melbourne, but that’s another story. I still watch as many Chinese movies as I can, read Chinese books where possible (the awesome Three Body Problem being one), and listen to Chinese music. It all helps.

But damn, being in Beijing just a few weeks ago…it already feels like it was forever ago and I’m rearing to go back. Sadly that’s not going to happen – possibly not ever, but it felt so good to be back. Not wanting to sound clichéd but it was like I had never left, and travelling solo overseas for the first time proved to be every bit as intoxicating as I’d predicted.

I’d wanted to travel overseas for the longest of times. Like many others, I wasted my 20’s working shit jobs I cared nothing for and basically doing nothing with my life. Oh for the gift of hindsight then! By the time I was devoured by the travel bug, I was bogged down in commitments of the monetary variety and then  part of a long term relationship, spending the money solo just wasn’t an option. Not that I really wanted to at that point – travelling with my partner in crime, my wonderful wife is one of the highlights of my life. But I still had this nagging thing in the back of my mind, urging me to do it.

Then along came this bloody amazing Qantas sale where I picked up return tickets for a measly $499 return and on my wife’s suggestion, away I went.

As much as I love travelling with her, I still wanted to experience the unpredictable nature of international travel – but only relying on myself. I wanted to prove that I could do it, that I could get by with my rusty mandarin and get around relying on my own sense of direction and ability to navigate the various public transport systems.

There’s also two big differences between the way my wife and I like to travel. In addition to exploring unfamiliar cities and dining out, much to her annoyance I’m always bringing up the rear, stopping to read each and every inscription in its entirety. I’m always interested in the who/what/why when I visit historical sites. I like to know what was there and what happened while she couldn’t give a toss! Well that’s not completely fair, she can appreciate something for what it is, but you won’t find her googling the backstory when we return to the hotel that night like I will!

It still fazes me to this day that I found this awesome old Samurai cemetery in Kyoto, a place high on a hill that was being visited by elderly Japanese, and I still have no idea what it was or who was buried there. Something that fazes me even more because I have a good knowledge of feudal Japanese history!

The wife just doesn’t share this same passion, a good example: one afternoon in Copenhagen – she went to a modern Danish furniture exhibition while I spent mine in the Viking museum J

But getting back to China – damn did it feel amazing to be back. Almost immediately it was like I hadn’t left. Everything was familiar, from the hazy, yellow night lighting on the freeways to the scent of deodorizer in the taxi covering cigarette smell. Even the taxi was identical to those we’d used back in 2008 – one of the newer variety of Volkswagen’s that begun to roll out and replace the older models while we were there, I was expecting them to be newer this time around.

I had forgotten that the Chinese drive on the opposite side of the road to Australia, but not how they pay little to no attention to the road markings and duck and weave around other slower moving vehicles. I’ve always found Chinese roads interesting in that it feels like you’re on a never-ending freeway with exits constantly peeling off towards other freeways in other directions so that you never truly know where the hell you are. I remember looking at the signs as I did back in 2008 – clearly marked, but in Chinese and Pinyin and couldn’t for the life of me imagine navigating these roads.

Given it was after 11pm by the time I was on the way to my hotel, there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads – a good thing given the congestion that often afflicts Beijing. I struck up a conversation with the taxi driver in broken Mandarin and was surprised at how easily it came back. We spoke about Wang Feng – a singer I like (and who married the awesome Zhang Ziyi), who coincidentally came on the radio. He had no idea what I was talking about until I gave him a lyric or two from ‘Flying Higher’, in which case he immediately understood and ended up playing me some music that he liked from his phone through the car stereo. I didn’t feel overly bothered by him pissing around with his phone to find the music as we drove at night, moving through other vehicles, at speed, because shit – this is China.

I’d booked a cheaper hotel – Beijing 161 Wanfujing Hotel, about half a block from the Dongsi subway station, and several large blocks from the Wanfujing shopping street. I picked this area as I thought that being solo, a somewhat close proximity to Wanfujing would mean guaranteed western comforts if I needed them but it was also a different part of Beijing to explore. I’d previously stayed just north of the Bell and Drum towers.

I’d also picked a hotel that was specifically amongst the hutongs as I knew this was a much higher chance of being near street food (specifically spicy skewers!). And I chose a hotel that had a decent common area for being solo I had a completely different agenda than when travelling with my wife: I had no agenda at all!

Each day I only did precisely what I felt like on that particular day. I’d get up, have a nice lazy breakfast in the hotel’s café, read for a while, dick around on my phone and look at the local map on the Apple maps app. I thought with google maps being blocked by the Great Firewall that getting around would be annoying, but lo and behold the apple official map app was fantastic, particularly for navigating the subway. I’d look at this app, look at a few locations I wanted to visit and determine how annoying it was to get there. And that was it!

I’d either hang out for the morning and head out in the afternoon, or head out for most of the day. In short, I wanted to live the expat lifestyle as closely as possible within that 10 day period – not unlike being back in Wuxi. And that’s exactly what I did.

Next time I’ll tell you exactly what I got up to and just what I thought about Beijing, 9 years later.

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Last day in Beijing 

May 6, 2017

It’s been a blast! 

Beijing Friday!

April 25, 2017

I can’t believe that this time next week I’ll be back in China. I’ve gone through all the fun and games of re-obtaining a Chinese visa and I have to say, the process has improved incredibly since the first time. No longer is it a case of jumping into a moshpit of middle-aged mainlanders, crammed into a tiny building built alongside the palatial mansion in Toorak. Now there’s an actual centre – similar to getting cashback from medicare – with a good 10+ counters and 2 dedicated to paying. And amazingly – the form you download from the Chinese visa centre’s website matches the form required! The future!

After much indecision, I’ve settled on a cheapish hotel not too far from Wanfujing street – just east of the Forbidden City. It’s in a different part of the city than I was in last time but still in one of the primary hutong (traditional chinese courtyard homes) areas. In fact, I am keen to return to where I stayed last time as that area was also primarily hutong but I read after we left that much of it was earmarked to be bulldozed. This was extremely disappointing to read as they’re beautiful areas, but unfortunately the reality is that the quality of living within the hutongs leaves a lot to be desired.

It reminds me of these large blocks of residences in Shanghai – just a block or two back from the Bund as you head inland. These were wonderful places on the outside – at least 5 stories high and jam-packed with tiny homes. Clothing hung from wires, neon signs extended up their outsides. When you walked past them, you’d see bicyles and old Chinese characters painted on the walls – literally as if plucked from a movie scene. But like those in Beijing, the quality of life in these places was abysmal. The last time I saw these, I remember looking down on them from a neighboring apartment which we had rented for the weekend and could see only a few lights inside. As is typical in China – there’s always a few stubborn residents unwilling to move until the place is literally falling down about their ears. I suppose if you were that person, forced to leave your home of decades only to be moved to  some non-descript highrise far from the city, far from the place you know as home, you’d feel pretty much the same.

This time next week i’ll be in Beijing, and man I cannot wait.

I’m heading back to China! (briefly)

March 13, 2017

Well after 9 years I’m finally heading back to China! Technically there I was there 2 years ago to celebrate my 40th in Hong Kong, but this time around I’ve picked up some ridiculously cheap tickets and am going to Beijing for 7 days on a bit of a solo travelling mission.

I can’t wait to see how China has changed in those 9 years. Had I a choice I would have gone back to Shanghai – which would have made it easy to then jump back to Wuxi and/or Suzhou, but Beijing was a really chill city and one I had fond memories of.

My mandarin is rusty but still pretty good as I have never really stopped studying it. I’m keen as hell to walk around and just hang out rather than hit up the tourist sites, but in saying that I’ll likely return to the Forbidden City and maybe even back to the Wall.

This time I’ll be taking an SLR rather than the crappy point and shoot compact camera I had in 2008. Can you believe I lived for just under a year in China and only had a shitty little camera to document it?! I suppose technology has changed a lot since then – hell, I remember drooling for my return to Australia to pick up the first iPhone.

Good times.

The mysteries of Mandarin

April 21, 2014

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I’ve been going through a bit of a wuxia phase lately, basically devouring any wuxia-based movies I can get my hands onto. Things such as the brilliant Dragon (or its Chinese release name – Wuxia), Reign of Assassin’s – which wasn’t too bad, and Young Detective Dee – which while not bad, was not as good as the original. Oh and the Grandmaster – which was – *awesome*.

Wuxia for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to Chinese martial arts. I won’t go into the exact meaning, as that’s a post unto itself, but look at it along the lines of wu = martial, xia = most translations sum it up as chivalry – but it’s more than that. It’s more of a loose translation into ‘doing the right thing.’ Think superheroes and their typical mentality.

Anyhow, I have been meaning to watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for a long time. I think I’d only ever seen it the one time – the original time at the movies, where I loved it. How I have not seen this movie since its 2002 release is beyond me, however it was a very different experience this time around.

My appreciation and understanding of Chinese culture since originally viewing the movie have completely changed. And moreso, I now understand Mandarin to a certain degree. I take pleasure in watching Mandarin movies for the language recognition above all else, and to watch Crouching Tiger with a degree of understanding was a great experience.

Learning another language to me is so much more than just remembering all of these crazy new and foreign words. To me, it’s important to understand the mechanics of the language – and so it’s at this point in my language learning life, that I come across things that utterly boggle my mind.

Mandarin is known as an incredibly different language – and it’s true. However, not specifically for the reasons you might think. On one hand, the 4 tones are utterly alien to your every day English speaker – and the character based language also couldn’t be more different. But Mandarin as a language has considerably fewer words than English, and much of the language is simplified – think very basic grammar. Much of the language is implied – not spelled out word for word. The English language for your information, has upwards of a million words…a *million words*! In comparison, they say if you can master around 3000 of the most common Chinese characters, you can effectively read a newspaper.

Anyhow – it’s this simplistic sentence structure that often stumps me, and I found a perfect example in Crouching Tiger.

There’s a scene where Jen (Zhang Ziyi) is visited by her desert lover, Lo. Just after he leaves, one of Jen’s handmaids calls from outside the window, “Madam, I heard a noise, are you alright?” (or words to that effect).

Jen’s reply in Mandarin is: Méiyǒu, shì māo (没有,是猫)

Now in English, the sentence was, “Everything is fine, it was just a cat.”

The Chinese on the other hand: Meiyou = literally, ‘have not’, referring to there being no noise – there is no noise. Followed by ‘Shi (is) mao (cat).
So her literal response in Chinese was, “Is not (noise), is cat.”

Now that to me, is baby speak.

So much of Mandarin translates this way. I asked my former Chinese teacher about this and she said that its true, so much of the language is very simple, however it’s because most other things are implied – ie the have not referring specifically to the lack of sound, the ‘is cat’ referring to the reason for the noise.

Things like this don’t necessarily confound me when it comes to understanding the language, but I simply can’t imagine how it feels to speak fluent Chinese – from an English point of view. Oh god how i’d love to just magically develop the skill for even just a day, and listen to it with my current perspective – but alas, that’s foreign languages for you.

If you’re a fellow Mandarin learner, or even any language, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The air quality in China – oh dear.

March 29, 2014

In my regular web rounds I came across an article over at Kotaku which allows you to compare the air quality in China with the rest of the world. The article links to Air Pollution in Asia, a website which offers real-time data of global air quality. Having lived in China, I was more than aware that the air quality was terrible, but this website clearly shows just how bad it is – it’s horrendous.

We had a smoky day in Melbourne the other day, where smoke from planned burnings out East (a bushfire preventative) had the city so smoky it was like a thick fog. That kind of condition is abnormal for a place like Melbourne, where we’re blessed with very good air quality, but is normal for China.

I remember a few weeks into my stay in China, driving along with Pan Zilli (a good friend), and commenting on the haze. It was very smoggy – with visibility down to a few hundred metres at best, and I said to him, “The air is pretty bad today, huh?”

And his reply, “Oh no! Today is clear, the air is good.”

Wut!

Sure enough, he wasn’t kidding. That kind of air became normality. Upon my return to Australia, I couldn’t believe how crisp things looked. From the airport to the trees beside the road as we drove home, everything was crisp and vividly clear. Why? Because almost everything in China is hidden behind the almost permanent blue haze. Buildings 10-20 metres away, would still have this haze before them, never crisp and clear.

There was a tower several blocks away from the school we lived which I referred to as Dongting’s Eiffel tower (we lived in Dongting – or was that Xishan district – that never became clear), and it was always in a state of semi-visibility, despite being so close.

For much of the time we spent in China (during 2008), we had coughs and sore throats, particularly my poor wife who spent much of the year sick because of it. Looking at the map – Wuxi (just southwest of Shanghai) has poor air quality – but nothing compared to what you can see around Beijing.

Seriously – that’s a capital O.M.G. Look at that map – it is a *disgrace*. At what cost are the Chinese paying for their rapid progress? The total destruction and pollution of their formerly beautiful countryside? Or at the cost of their citizens.

Years from now, when the people who are living and breathing this air begin to die from various forms of lung cancers, there’s going to be a reckoning. China is trying to do something about it, but the real question is – have they already gone too far

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A bridge at Tian Yi school where I lived – note the haze between the location of the shot and the building in the distance – and that’s a somewhat clear day.

Remembering China # 6: Suzhou

July 21, 2013

Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China

Suzhou is one of China’s most popular tourist cities, and because of this, you’re either recommended to go…or stay away. When we think of cities as being magnets for tourists, we generally think of westerners, but the Chinese love to travel, and while increasingly many can now afford to travel overseas, due to the high cost of exit visas, most are still limited to traveling within China itself, and for famous cities such as Suzhou, you’re going to encounter thousands of them.

Suzhou is known as being the Venice of China, due to the numerous waterways that intersect the city (specifically the older inner city). These waterways vary in quality from quite beautiful bands of water amongst the buildings, to stinking polluted and stagnant mosquito homelands.

But more than the canals, Suzhou is most known for its ancient gardens, of which there are many still in their original forms. I was lucky enough to explore several, from the most popular Humble Administrators garden, to the Lion Grove garden with its interesting rock formations, to the one pictured above, the Garden of the Master of Nets, which supposedly once belonged to a fisherman.

Each garden is quite different from the next, but one thing they have in common is they are all crawling with Chinese tourists – and worse – tour groups. For the Chinese predominantly travel in large groups led by a leader –  the one waving the coloured flag and speaking into a megaphone – yes, a megaphone. There’s nothing like enjoying the beautifully sculpted gardens to the sound of a distorted Chinese voice yapping incessantly.

The Chinese tour groups are also highly excitable. Happy to be away and enjoying what their 5000 year old, rich culture has to offer, they like to get off the paths and onto the the gardens themselves, ignoring the ‘keep off!’ signs and climbing onto the base of ancient trees to have their photos taken with their victory pose.

To be honest, in many cases it was intolerable. Attempting to photograph some of these gardens minus the people was a feat in itself. I would recommend skipping breakfast and heading to the gardens super early, or possibly during winter where catching them beneath a coat of snow would be mesmerizing.

As for the rest of Suzhou, well it was nothing special really. In many regards, it was a very typical Chinese city, though the whitewashed buildings are somewhat unique to the area. It was a mere 15 minutes by train away from Wuxi, on the way to Shanghai, and is also on located alongside lake Taihu.

Due to the predominance of old buildings and gardens in the older part of the city, the roads are narrow and holy crap are they busy. There’s a abundance of bicycle rickshaws in the area, which tends to be the best way to get around, but be prepared to be clenching your butt-cheeks the entire trip as the way they cut in and out of the cars and pedestrians alike has to be seen to be believed.

But all in all, Suzhou was a fun city to explore, and if you’re visiting Jiangsu by all means check it out.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons review

July 4, 2013

The nature of Stephen Chow is irrepressible. With his latest movie – his first movie as director where he’s not starring, Stephen Chow has once again produced an amazing movie. For those of you who don’t know who he is (and shame on you) – go pick up Shaolin Soccer and jump on board the fanboy wagon.

This latest movie is a reimagining of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. I grew up enjoying Monkey Magic, and as an adult, formed a deep appreciation for the entire story, having previously posted about Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey here

This movie goes back, before Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are followers of Tripitaka, to when these famous three heroes were in fact demons themselves and needed to be subdued.

Opening with a village being plagued by a fish demon, we’re introduced to Tang Sanzang, a super scruffy (and very reminiscent of SC) Buddhist monk whose attempting to subdue the demon using children’s nursery rhymes. Though his intentions are good, his methods are seemingly useless, and despite the fact he’s returned the demon to human form, it’s the martial arts wielding Miss Duan who dispatches the demon properly, winning the praise of the village.

From the onset, the movie is Chow’s typical slapstick comedy, exhibiting a unique subtleness that is one of the primary reasons I enjoy Asian movies so much. If you’ve seen Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, you’ll feel right at home.

One of the things I love about Stephen Chow’s characters is that they’re often ordinary people. From the filthy Tang Sanzang, to the band of eastern mercenaries that travel with Miss Duan, they’re some of the most piss funny characters you’ll find anywhere. My highlight had to be the scenes where these eastern mercs banded together to fight the pig demon – that entire part of the movie was hillarious.

And just like in his previous movies, there’s a love story running through it which becomes really quite touching yet completely comical all at once.

The movie is natively in Cantonese and while a Mandarin dub is available, you’re best to avoid it.

But beyond that, watch this movie!

Remembering China # 5: Shanghai

June 27, 2013

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Shanghai. Wonderful, amazing Shanghai. I truly love this city, and when I think about China, it’s here that I miss the most. I would give anything to go back there, to live and work.

Shanghai is a city that’s rapidly changing – and not necessarily for the better. This formerly European concession was unlike any other place that I experienced in China. Of the 10 or so cities that I visited, Shanghai had the most distinctive personality.

The thing that makes Shanghai so special, is the old vs new. Beyond the amazing skyline, full of some of the most amazing buildings you’ll ever see, lies a facade of 18th century style European buildings that are truly beautiful. As I walked along a street that ran behind the tourist infested Bund, when I squinted my eyes and the people became just people, and not Chinese, I could have easily been in Melbourne. At night, when the Bund is lit up to the nines, and the old style buildings are glowing yellow with the snapping Chinese flags above each of them, it truly is an amazing sight. Across the river, the Pudong is also aglow, with the famous Pearl tower with its distinctive shape taking centre stage.

But what I loved most about shanghai was its feel. When you really get in there among the twisting roads and lane ways, it’s an amazing place. From the French concession, with its twisted trees stumps before old colonial style buildings, to the older streets lined with alleyways that could easily have been movie sets. There’s power lines and washing hanging above dusty bicycles and old Chinese characters painted on the walls. It’s simply intoxicating.

But unfortunately much of the old Chinese charm is also disappearing. Great blocks of old Chinese houses are being torn down in favour of skyrises. It was among these districts where you would find those amazing laneways, and snapshots of what the older city would have been like. The reality unfortunately is that while these places are visually amazing, the living conditions inside them are the opposite. Many old Shanghai citizens have been relocated out of the central city district into the suburbs, and relocated into high rise apartments.

But i have found that among people who have been to Shanghai, it is a polarising place. Some people love it, others, not so much. I think that it can come down to how you view the city, and what efforts you make to really get in among it. I had the luxury or visiting it on a quite regular basis. Compared to Wuxi, Shanghai was the closest ‘big’ city (they’re all big in China, really), and had the highest prospect of finding foreign goods such as English language novels and various other products. But beyond that, I also had a chance to walk around it like a local – with no agenda, and i think that made the difference. From simple tasks to just going in search of good coffee (which rocked in the French district incidentally) to finding a decent hairdressor, to enjoying watching all the locals do their tai chi and folk dancing in one of the many parks.
I hope to return to China in 2014, and it’s Shanghai that I am most excited to return to, and this time photograph with a proper SLR.


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