Old Shanghai Revisited: Touring the Bund and the Shanghai History Museum with my NYU Shanghai History Class

Last Friday I took my Modern Chinese History students on their first field trip in Shanghai.  Originally I meant to start at the Astor House Hotel just north of the Garden Bridge.  Yet when we reached the Bund, I made a sudden change in plans and took them to the new Waldorf Astoria instead.  We ended up going on an unplanned tour of the Waldorf Astoria, Shanghai's newest elite hotel.  Guided by a young 20-year old Chinese hotel clerk, we toured the hotel, taking in the ballroom, library, several fancy restaurants, and the famous Long Bar.  Sometimes the best part of these field trips is what happens outside your plans.

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Another Sign of Old Shanghai Vanishing

This morning we were surprised to find blue skies instead of the usual rain.  My mother and I took advantage of the weather and headed out for a walk.  Our mission was to find the former address of an acquaintance of hers in the Boston area.  Her friend, a 70-something year old man named Rolf Wetzell, grew up in Shanghai.  He left in the late 1940s on the eve of the revolution, and never returned.  He wanted my mother to find his old house, which he said was located at lane 189 on Kinnear Road. 

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Strange Cities: A Multimedia Site on Old Shanghai

Three years ago, while researching the history of jazz music in Shanghai, I discovered that one of Shanghai's most famous bandleaders from the 1930s, a White Russian named Serge Ermoll, had migrated with his family to Sydney.  It turns out that his son, also named Serge, is a very accomplished jazz pianist and quite well known here in the jazz community.  His granddaughter, Tatiana Pentes, has taken her family history and constructed a wonderful multimedia website incorporating some of her own original collection of photos and documents from her grandparents. 

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Resurrecting Old Shanghai: The Peace Hotel

I just read a news article stating that Swatch, the Swiss watch company, is joining with the Jinjiang Hotel Group, owner of the Peace Hotel, to renovate it.  This is interesting news because the Peace Hotel, from what I've heard, is rated quite poorly as a hostelry.  I recall that it was renovated in 1997 by the same New York firm that renovated the Park Hotel (guoji fandian).  They did a decent job with some features such as the 8th floor ballroom (though one questions whether or not all of the features in that ballroom today are genuine 1930s Deco), but apparently not so with the majority of rooms.  I've also read in online travel blogs that the service is appalling.  Whether or not the next round of renovations will change the software as well as the hardware of this fine historical building is another matter.


Shanghai's Art Deco Riches Revealed

Recording his city's rich architectural heritage has been a demoralizing task for Shanghainese photographer Deke Erh. While Art Deco buildings in Miami, New Zealand's Napier and even the Eritrean town of Asmara are lovingly tended, Shanghai has demolished scores of equally historic structures in its headlong rush for modernity. "I've been taking photographs of old Shanghai for 20 years, and I've continually seen these things torn down," says Erh. "But I still have hope. Even today, Shanghai has more Art Deco buildings than any other city in the world. If I didn't have hope, I'd have to give up."
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Shanghai Risen, Shanghai Falling Down

 The Shanghaiese, whether rich or poor, have always believed themselves to be more rational and efficient than people from the rest of China. They’ve always reproached the Beijingnese for wasting time talking about politics, while they themselves get things done.  They are especially proud of their trademark way of doing things the grand haipai style.

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Beijing vs. Shanghai

A question that people often ask me is:  which is the better city, Beijing or Shanghai?  This is such a loaded question I don't know where to begin.  Of course, the answer depends on one's perspective, background, and interests.  I always reply with the hazy but useful phrase 各有千秋 (ge you qian qiu) which literally means "each has a thousand autumns" but translates more accurately as "each has its advantages..." 

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