Tai Chi & Calligraphy

Our days of roaming Shanghai were coming to an end, but we still had time to experience a few more adventures. As always we took the subway into the city, where we allowed ourselves to be subverted by the advertisements along the seemingly endless underground walkways.

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After some random city hiking, we took a break at a tea shop with the most captivating brewing system, using a BKON Craft Brewer. I had never before encountered such a thing, being obviously hopelessly provincial. The white disks in front of the barista are wrapped tea cakes. Compressing tea, either leaves or powder, into bricks was the traditional way of preserving and trading tea. Today, it’s only done with Pu’er, the fermented tea from Yunnan Province and for souvenir purposes. The TAE Tea or Menghai tea factory is one of China’s most highly respected Pu’er producers. [Btw, I am annoying you on purpose with all these links to “Tea” related sites. As Westerners, we have absolutely no idea about the intricacies of these crumbly little leaves we call tea and the wisdom derived from them.]

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Nicely refreshed and fortified, we took a leisurely stroll through People’s Park.

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A solitary t’ai chi ch’üan practitioner

As soon as we left the serenity of slow-paced martial arts behind, the fast-paced city rhythm engulfed us again with a vengeance.

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Whereupon we fled into the contemporary stillness of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, a museum owned by and about the municipality.

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A large gallery in the museum was dedicated to the last one hundred years of urban development. The framework of the exhibit consisted of many period photographs, augmented by CVs of architects and community leaders.

The photograph shown below rang a bell with me. Earlier during our Shanghai visit, we had walked along this Suchow Creek, also called Suzhou Creek or Wusong River. Until the Huangpu River was dredged and became an important commercial waterway for Shanghai, the Wusong River was the busier of these two tributaries flowing into the Yangtze River.

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I realized I had inadvertently taken pictures of the General Post Office Building at the head of Sichuan Road bridge as shown in the 1930’s photo. When China joint the UPU, the worldwide postal system, Shanghai became the postal center for the entire country creating the need for a large administrative facility. In 1924, the classical-style Postal Headquarters were inaugurated. It is now a museum, wedged between residential quarters and shopping centers, its former grandeur displaying a façade of three-story-high Corinthian columns overpowered by looming, soulless office towers. Yet the baroque clocktower decorated with a grouping of classical sculptures consisting of Hermes, Eros & Aphrodite has remained a landmark for almost one century.

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The creek looks so blah and boring now compared to 1930!

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Another historical gem was the picture series of the Shanghai Concert Hall, with which one could trace the significant cultural changes China has undergone during the 20th century.

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In the 1930’s, when Western influences were still strong, the Nanking Theater was bi-lingual in both its decoration and offerings. The photo even shows which film was advertised! It was the 1934 release “Tarzan and his Mate”, the second Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan Tarzan adventure. In contrast, by 1950 the now Beijing Cinema was wholly Chinese and has remained thus ever since.

The Exhibition Center houses many diverse exhibits centered around the urban development of Shanghai, ranging from architecture to geology, to culture and art. There are many beautiful ancient maps on display and other artifacts to be admired. The museum is also an educational facility and it has galleries dedicated to regional natural history and technology and local art & science.

Our most amazing experience, however, was the scale model of the City of Shanghai.

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My late father designed and built a model train layout of epic proportions in the late 1950s. It featured train stations, villages, an alpine landscape complete with lake and working waterfall, buildings under construction, a quarry and a power plant, most of it constructed in minute detail with matchsticks and spray-painted shampoo bottles. He would have dearly loved this cityscape!

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Creating a little bit of contemporary art myself, I captured this stylish young woman engrossed in her selfies. Oblivious to her surroundings, she stood near the projection screen of a continuous loop slideshow, inadvertently incorporating herself into the ever-changing imagery.

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At the museum, we also stumbled across an art exhibition of several very large canvases. The artist was called Jing Zaiping, well known for a style of calligraphy he invented. More precisely, the artist is the physician Professor Dr. Zaiping Jing. As a museum docent explained, the professor, a vascular surgeon at the local military hospital, raises funds for his indigent patients on the surgical waiting list through the sale of his paintings. Not surprisingly, his work struck me as very organic, biological even. The image below clearly mimics a histology section of the cerebellum, wouldn’t you agree?

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It was another beautiful day in Shanghai for us.

 

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