SHARING FOOD A dear friend came to Shanghai to visit me. Over the previous couple of months, I had been seeing such fast development, not just in terms of buildings going up and coming down, but also in the choice of restaurants available. [ + ]
A dear friend came to Shanghai to visit me. Over the previous couple of months, I had been seeing such fast development, not just in terms of buildings going up and coming down, but also in the choice of restaurants available. Not only were international restaurants starting to appear but, more importantly, Chinese cuisine was becoming more prominent in restaurants. This made my life in Shanghai even richer. Although food unifies this country, the variety of options available in China is endless. Different food customs are passed down through the generations, whether regional cuisine or food associated with certain rituals. For every ritual and custom, there is something to be eaten at a specific time and in a specific place. In particular, there are daily rituals – the familiar rituals of day-to-day life. Sharing food, sharing the same food from the same plates at the same table, for instance. The moment when Chinese people eat together is a moment of joy. The Chinese will hold meetings with business partners around a dining table. The difference in the West is that we would often rather go somewhere for a drink. The Chinese, on the other hand, go somewhere to eat. Of course, you can drink while eating. But the importance of the restaurant must not be ignored.
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CONFUCIUS AND LEARNING I came to a Confucius temple, and a school. I understood, then, the link between the roots of beliefs passed on from one generation to another, in the spatial sense: the inseparable link between Confucius and knowledge in China. [ + ]
CONFUCIUS AND LEARNING
I came to a Confucius temple, and a school. I understood, then, the link between the roots of beliefs passed on from one generation to another, in the spatial sense: the inseparable link between Confucius and knowledge in China. When a friend of mine arrived, she had many items with her: incense sticks, paper, red silk thread, and a wooden panel. The transformation of these items then started to take place. On the paper, she told me to write all my needs and hopes concerning my studies. Then, by adding the red string to them, they would become “gaokao [university entrance exam] wishes”. The wooden panels became “prayer cards”, a tradition that is believed to have originated in this very temple in Shanghai. Together we then hung them in a tree, where other students’ prayers already hung, so that they would be received by Confucius . Before that, though, we paid our respects by kneeling in front of Confucius and lighting three incense sticks each, which we then placed inside a huge vase made for this purpose. After finishing our respective rituals, we went to one of the largest book markets in Shanghai, where an amazing array of rare books, manuscripts, comics, propaganda posters and other items from various Chinese eras were waiting to be discovered.
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喜 (xĭ) means « happiness ». 喜 + 喜 = 囍 (shuāng xĭ) – DOUBLE HAPPINESS Double happiness has a beautiful connotation in Chinese. [ + ]
Double happiness has a beautiful connotation in Chinese. It is the addition of single entities and its conversion into a double entity. Being double happy became a common expression symbolizing love, since love multiplies when it is shared. It can be found on nearly every kind of item: rugs, clothes, fabrics, matchboxes, ceramics, doorbells, invitations, teaware, jewellery, cigarettes… These items are placed everywhere, and are essential items for any weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and New Year celebrations. However, the moment when I really came into contact with this notion was when I solved my first dilemma on arrival in Shanghai, namely the question of what to smoke. At first, I tried the Western cigarettes, which didn’t taste the same as back home – too strong. Later on, I chose the packaging that appealed to me most: a golden packet with the Shanghai TV tower on it… it later proved to be a nice souvenir for friends, but not something to be smoked. Afterwards, I start asking others and observing what the Chinese would smoke. There were so many different brands, but one caught my eye: a white packet with two red stripes at the top and bottom, with this 囍 symbol in red – a symbol that I had seen somewhere before… the double happiness symbol. It was not as bad as others I had tried before, but after a long night I would lose my voice for a while; this double happiness seemed to be double strength, too. Indeed, it turns out it has 15 mg of tar per cigarette, compared to 10 mg for a Marlboro Red. After doing some research, I discovered that this cigarette used to be called “Happy Days”, and its literal translation “Red Double Happiness” is a truly Shanghainese cigarette brand created in 1906 by what is not only the oldest but also the biggest tobacco company in the People’s Republic of China.
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CHILLIES My friend arrived and I was keen to show her around: the street food first of all, available on every street corner, and then we decided to try a new restaurant located at the top of a tower. That way, we would be able to discover Shanghai from every direction. [ + ]
My friend arrived and I was keen to show her around: the street food first of all, available on every street corner, and then we decided to try a new restaurant located at the top of a tower. That way, we would be able to discover Shanghai from every direction. Steffi loves spicy food, so we went to a Sichuanese restaurant. In the entrance, we could see chillies hanging from the ceiling, all bright hues of red. Finally, her dish arrived: it was a bowl full of chillies, and not much else, as far as we could tell. We ordered rice. And then she went for it. It was magic; she didn’t go red, or anything like that, and she ate every last morsel. Shanghai is a metropolis that is very proud of the fact that embedded within it are all the secrets of this bountiful culture. Everywhere you sit in Shanghai, you have the opportunity to learn not just about the city, but also about China and the rest of the world. Shanghai is the head of the dragon, and it attracts anyone who wishes to discover it.
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WALLS AND PATHS Many books have been written about the typologies of the built space in Shanghai, in terms of form, in terms of function and even in terms of the absence of both. Many have dissected its built forms and subdivided them into many categories. [ + ]
WALLS AND PATHS
Many books have been written about the typologies of the built space in Shanghai, in terms of form, in terms of function and even in terms of the absence of both. Many have dissected its built forms and subdivided them into many categories. But we can all agree that Shanghainese walls are both impermeable and porous, solid and fragmented, opening and closing gaps in the city. In the Chinese tradition, it is written that ghosts cannot walk along paths that turn around corners. Furthermore, they have to take on the form of the bridges in Chinese gardens in order to cross the ponds they straddle. In Chinese philosophy, a walk through a garden should command all of a person’s attention, as there is only one time and one space: the here and now. The lack or presence in a given dimension of railings, which are more decorative than functional, is to exalt this dimension of being. Being lost in one’s thoughts can result in one falling into a pond… in the here and now.
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FAKE BUILDINGS The first long day in Shanghai was long in terms of time, but the more it passed, the more we tended to forget about it, being brought back to reality only by occasional biological reminders: hunger, thirst and the need to go to the toilet. At a certain point, it became obvious that I was not in fact a superhero, but merely human. [ + ]
The first long day in Shanghai was long in terms of time, but the more it passed, the more we tended to forget about it, being brought back to reality only by occasional biological reminders: hunger, thirst and the need to go to the toilet. At a certain point, it became obvious that I was not in fact a superhero, but merely human. The message my body was sending me was loud and clear: “Hey, it’s time to go to the toilet!” But where? Whom should I ask? How does it even work here?! I panicked. After seeing my pained face, a friend said to me, “Let’s go together; I’m bursting too.” We decided to go to the building that looked the newest, where we would ask to use the toilet. My friend assured me that “there’ll be a Western toilet there for sure. You know… one with a seat…” We both walked determinedly at a brisk pace. Then we saw it: a marble building, all clean and shiny, with a blue glazed façade. We were in the centre of Shanghai, after all. We opened the door, entered the foyer, and… well, there was not much to see. It was still a rough construction site. Despite this surprise, we still really needed to go. So we asked the porter. He pointed at a wooden box within this huge, empty building. It turned out there were no Western toilets after all, or indeed anything remotely similar. Since then, I have stopped trusting façades.
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DIRECTIONS I had many opportunities and means to escape my high-rise compound. I could use the metro below my feet or I could go through one of the four doors embedded in the walls surrounding my compound and its garden and swimming pool, allowing me to head in any of the cardinal directions to discover Shanghai and its ever-changing colours. [ + ]
I had many opportunities and means to escape my high-rise compound. I could use the metro below my feet or I could go through one of the four doors embedded in the walls surrounding my compound and its garden and swimming pool, allowing me to head in any of the cardinal directions to discover Shanghai and its ever-changing colours.
I might go towards the wall of a newly demolished lilong, adorned with an architect’s impression of the forthcoming compound to be built in its place. Or towards a lively existing lilong, with its restaurants and clothes hanging out to dry, a park full of people singing and dancing, or a busy street with its cyclists and mopeds transporting goods across the city.
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