Touring the French Concession and Screening Down: Indie Rock in the PRC

What a Saturday!  I awoke around 7 am, still groggy from the Bob Dylan concert of the previous night and a night of tossing and turning to some sort of intestinal infection, and readied myself for my alternate job as tour guide.  I had a 9 am appointment at the new Peninsula Hotel on the Bund for a tour group called the International Collectors Forum organized by a locally based tour guide agency called Shanghai Far East Expeditions.  I caught a taxi to the Bund and had the driver stop at Suzhou Creek where I took this morning shot of the iconic Garden Bridge (外百渡桥) overlooking the Pudong Skyline.

I met the group at the Peninsula Hotel.  The tour group consisted of around 20 people, half of whom were from Switzerland and the other half from the USA.  It was a very distinguished group, and many of the members were into their golden years.  I had done the same tour with the same organization, though about half that size, the year previous and it had been well received.  I was happy to find that the group leader remembered me fondly.  It's always nice to know that one's efforts and accumulated knowledge of the city's past and present are appreciated.

We began the tour at the Garden Hotel, the site of the former French Club, where I showed them the ballroom with its beautiful stained glass oval design on the ceiling and talked about Shanghai's Jazz Age.  I reminded them as well that this was a terrible age for the country and the world, sandwiched by two World Wars and a vicious series of wars within China.  Indigent Chinese people who had flocked to the city to escape wars, floods, and famines were dying by the thousands on Shanghai's streets, and those who lived the high life had to walk around dead bodies on a daily basis.  No wonder these people spent so much energy and money building their fantasy palaces.

After that we got on the bus and headed to the corner of Nanchang and Maoming Roads where we toured the Joffre Terrace, an old longtang neighborhood that once housed several famous artists and writers from the 1930s.  I also pointed out one of the great Deco facades of the 1930s, the Astrid Apartment building across the street from the longtang, a posh apartment where many affluent foreigners lived in that era.  I've always thought that the design on the face of the building looks like a cross between an elevator and a rocket taking off into the sky.  

We then headed down Route Vallon (Nanchang Road) which I call Revolutionary Road, since so many revolutionaries from the 1920s lived there or made it their base of operations.  After checking out the editorial office of the famous 1910s-20s journal La Jeunesse (新青年) we took a stroll through the French Park (Fuxing Park), stopping at the statue of Marx and Engels for a group photo.

The French Park, once the magnet for some of the city's wealthiest and most influential residents who lived in mansions surrounding the Park, was beginning to show signs of spring.  Tulip trees and cherries were in bloom and old folks were basking in the warm sun.  The rose garden had not yet started to bloom but the trellises were full of people relaxing and enjoying what I declared the first official day of spring.  In one area near the rose garden several posters were set up to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and many of the people I discussed and whose residences we saw during the tour were represented in this exhibition.

We ended the tour at the Sun Yat-sen mansion on Sinan Road but didn't enter the museum.  Instead we continued down Sinan Road to the area known as Tianzifang, a commercialized cluster of longtang neighborhoods, and had lunch at a Thai restaurant.  

By that time my gut infection was getting the better of me and my whole body felt exhausted.  I had to go lie down somewhere--fortunately my friend LK lives in the neighborhood and has a nice opium bed in his living room where I could rest for a while until it was time to head over to the new Mao Livehouse to coordinate the screening of our rock doc.

Somewhat refreshed I arrived at the Mao Livehouse (also in that neighborhood on the third floor of a building on Chongqing Road) and spent the next two hours trying to sort out various details in preparation for our screening.  It turns out that the person who organized the screening, who I'll call Vixy, wasn't around (she was dealing with a sick cat), and the management who were there weren't really clued in on this event and were busy dealing with the sound checks for the two bands that were performing that night.  My filmmaking partner Jud arrived an hour later with another version of our film and we loaded it onto their computer's hard drive.  After the bands stopped playing we were able to test it out and it looked and sounded great.  Then there were two more issues to deal with.  One was the supplying of chairs for the screening.  The management was being lax about this and Jud used his own unique style of gentle persuasion to get them to line up around 30 bar stools for the semblance of a theater environment.  We also had to deal with the issue of some of our friends who we'd invited to the screening not wanting to pay entrance tickets to see the bands who would perform later that night.  Apparently some of the communication channels between us, Vixy, the management, and the bands had not been entirely clear.

The main reason we'd chosen this venue and this night (actually it was Vixy's idea, and a great idea at that) was that the SUBS, one of the main bands featured in the film, were slated to play that night.  Here's a shot of them warming up with a familiar image from the film playing behind them.

Long and short is that we finally got these issues sorted out, and the screening went on without a hitch.  A lot of friends showed up (maybe around 60-70 people), the audience was attentive, and the reaction was positive.  After the film ended, Jud and I went up on stage and said a few words of thanks to our friendly audience.

After that, a few of us headed back to Tianzifang where we had a wonderful meal at the Lotus Land.  By this time I was utterly exhausted and unfortunately had to miss the SUBS concert.  Seeing a SUBS concert takes a tremendous reserve of energy.  I felt that I was on the verge of a more serious illness and knew I had to head home and sleep it off, even though it pained me not to see one of my favorite bands in China perform.  But Kang Mao assures me that they will be back for another show at Yuyintang on May 5, so I'll try to keep well for that.