We had a relatively leisurely 09:00 start for the walking tour today. Since we did the walk to the Bund last night, we took the subway this morning and strolled on along the river enjoying the breeze in the warm humidity. On the south side the architecture looks quite European-Colonial, despite all the buildings flying Chinese flags. On the opposite side, the Bund is all shiny skyscrapers. It was a contrast we saw in different forms in all the areas of Shanghai we visited today.
Next, we cut away from the river front, through a more commercial district with lots of shops open to the pavement and most having a pavement counter to attract passing business. Then through the small attractive “Ancient City” Park into the Yu Yuan district. In the centre of it all is a formal garden, but it’s surrounded by a modern-build, retro-styled shopping centre designed to cater to tourists. It was pretty enough, with ornamental lakes, ponds and bridges and all the buildings done with curved rooves done in bamboo-style tile, so I got some nice photos, but I’m not much of a souvenir shopper, so all I spent money on was ice cream.
While that was the end of the official walking tour, Neil and Arpie wanted to go on to the optional Propaganda Museum visit – which Peter (our tour leader) wasn’t aware was mentioned on the itinerary. I was ambivalent, but went along with the group and am really glad I did.
It took us a while to find; we had to take a couple of metro trains to the area of the Shanghai library and walk maybe twenty minutes on from there. This area of town was completely different to the ones we had seen so far; it looked like an ex-pat or diplomatic suburb with lots of gated apartment buildings and boutique shops with only English signage. It took us a while to find the museum; for something exhibiting state propaganda, it was completely inconspicuous: in the basement of an apartment building and with only the smallest sign beside the door.
The collection was quite fascinating. Tracing the development of the propaganda poster from the Shanghai Calendar Girls of the 1900s through the wars to the communist and anti-western posters of Mao, right up to the 1990s and posters opposing US Imperialism in places like Grenada. Even in the later years, they were all graphic work. Photographs were included in only a very few of the later ones, but they were all the more impressive for that; the imagery always delivering a stronger, more memorable message than whatever text accompanied it.
We saw two prints that we really liked. We bought the one promoting “Brotherhood with our Soviet Allies,” and would dearly have loved to buy “The Red Detachment of Women” too because it was so striking, but in the end we didn’t; we don’t have anywhere to hang it.
After lunch I headed down to the nearby China Post branch to send our poster home (travelling light, we don’t have any way of packing it without it getting squashed.) Despite me having no Mandarin and them only having one person with basic English, we got along famously; they admired the poster while wondering how to protect it, eventually slipping it inside a flat-packed storage box and taping up the ends. I filled in forms and discussed with the guy about whether it should go air or land and, in no time at all, it was on its way home and I was on my way back to the hotel.
In the evening the group took another metro and a walk through the bright lights of the designer-brand district to the Shanghai Centre, a large hotel/retail/entertainment complex, to watch the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. While it was a great show, the energy was rather sapped from it by the size of the audience; we were around 150-200 people in an auditorium built for around 2000. There was no energy from front-of-house and I felt quite sorry for the performers having to push through and still deliver the energy of their show. Some of the juggling I could have done without, but the tumbling was impressive and the real gymnasts had several mind- (and body-) bending routines which deserved more applause than we could give them. I was mildly amused by the tumblers’ costume and stage presence. A comparison with Power Rangers doing the Haka kept springing to mind.
Because we’d had a late lunch, no-one had eaten before the show, so we stopped at a food court on the way home. My Bing Translator app came in handy for the Mandarin-only menus on the counter and I successfully ordered dumplings and spring rolls without having to point to pictures. There were some glorious-looking pastry counters, but I limited myself to ice cream as we’d had some delicious ones so far. My mistake was in not realising I wasn’t buying Chinese ice cream but Italian Gelato – and hence paid a premium for the privilege. The ice lolly cost more than the rest of the dinner put together.
Ah, well. Such is the life of a tourist. Chalk another one up to experience!