Friday, May 29, 2009

Non-tourism: Tiakong Road Art and Silver Market

In word this is exactly the kind of thing I would normally spend a day off doing so as part of the master plan it worked out beautifully. A cab dropped me off at destination of Greek restaurant but I discovered sadly there was no Greek restaurant, so I got into another cab, hoped destination two was not to far away, and settled for Moroccan.

The ambiance of the place was beautiful, white stucco on blue. Not Greek, but I'll take the medi-middle eastern feel. I had a lunch of couscous and vegetables in sauces in a blend of saffron, cinnamon and ginger. I arrived at the restaurant just before lunch so it was empty but for me. I read my book for a bit enjoying the quiet and the music and as I was pulling out my map to plot my next destination a Chinese business man comes in with a business partner, the latter obviously Moroccan. He sits down at a table not far from me and breathes deep and exclaims "I'm home!" I sympathize with the feeling.

Before leaving I asked the waiter if he could tell me where I was on the map and he helped me find it. I marked it off and then asked which way I should turn when I walked out the door to head in the proper direction for the next location. He told me to turn right and so I did. I walked through this section of Shanghai which on my map was marked as the essentially Middle Eastern, Mediterranean district. On the streets I passed Turkish men eating kebabs on the street, I could smell the heady scents of spices in the air all about. I walked in silence enjoying the change as I went further down the street until finally I came to where I needed to turn. The roads were conveniently marked for with directions like N S or W E. Sadly however my map failed to contain a compass so I was not sure which way I was supposed to turn. Finally I stopped a Chinese couple walking down the street who I was fairly confident was going in the direction I wanted to go.

I showed them the map, I pointed at the street sign, and the map and said in Korean and English "Here." We are here. Here. This is us. This is not an existential question. I can place us quite clearly on the map and this is where we are. I pointed to where I was going, essentially straight down the main road in one or the other direction. I pointed again to the street and then left and right and made the universal sign for "which way do I go, George?" The looked at the map and argued in Korean and finally said to me "No English."

"Okay, but the map is in Chinese." I pointed to the Chinese words over the place I was going. A man bicycling past stopped to listen to the conversation and came over to see if he could help. The young couple was fluster, the older man confident, and between them I learned I should go left or right. Helpful.

Finally after further discussion and examination they all agreed I should turn right and so I did. I started walking again and about an hour after leaving the restaurant I found the road I was looking for. I was starting to feel disappointed as there were a few art galleries but very little else. I remembered from reading the description to look for an alley so I started walking looking for an alley. I was excited when I came upon the first alley and ducked down it only to come out to a dead end.

I walked on a little further and stumbled upon a little art shop and went in to watch as an artist flung painting at a canvass to create a landscape. Lined against the wall were Warhol like renditions of Marylin Monroe, Chairman Mao, and Barrack Obama. Something tells me Warhol would laugh himself into a tissy were he alive to see it.

Losing hope I walked on a bit further and found a second alley which looked much more promising, and indeed, turned out to be the place I was going. The alley was packed lined at the beginning with art gallery after art gallery. I ducked in and out looking at contemporary Chinese work from various artists. I walked past a shop whose main attraction seemed to be naked dolls for drawing on. There were several silver shops and eventually I spent too much money on jewelry. I kept walking there were streets and alleys connecting inside the alley and shop after shop, cafe, restauraunt, bar, and a hundred or so ex-pats out for the afternoon. I walked until I was lost and turned around half a dozen times. Lost in a little world of eclectic traditional Shanghai and throbbing market district. A little hold lady opens her freezer in her dark home. Chinese lanterns are strung above us blowing in the wind. Bikes are piled together all along the streets.

I catch a bride who has come for a candid photo shoot. In the bustle of the market her non-moving posses seem oddly out of place. I walk until the sun falls down behind the sky and the lanterns blaze overhead and I feel myself being hungry. I wander a dozen times trying to find something to eat at a reasonable price, but being in ex-pat longing-ville there is nothing reasonable. Finally I pack myself into a cab, point to a random place in my menu book and hope to find something to eat. My feet are sore by the time I get back to my room, but I have found good food and have a head full of sights and sounds and satisfaction to keep me happy until I fall into dreams and sleep.

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