Have you ever been trapped in a room and unable to get out until you solved a Rubik’s Cube? Well, that is how the night ended, but in order to solidify my memory of rest of the day, I need to trace back to the beginning.
The day began with a subway ride spent listening to the Moth. This episode featured a columnist telling the story of her correspondence based romance with an inmate named Grizzly. Our periodic laughter drew a few looks, but I don’t think there is a better way to spend the ride. We got off at People’s Square and found ourselves in a historic shopping district where Chinese Nationals typically come to buy holiday gifts for families. Indeed, with no holiday in the next month, there was still a line of people a block long queued up to buy cured meats. We passed by Shanghai’s first department store as we headed for the Shanghai Museum of Urban Planning. Highlights of the museum included an overwhelming, scale model of Shanghai and future developments, numerous models of historic Shanghai homes, and an exhibit about Shikumen housing.
The scale model included a mind-numbing amount of detail and even lit up at seemingly random intervals. A map or satellite image give you a sense of the great expanse of Shanghai, but this model added another dimension, emphasizing the incredible density created by Shanghai’s countless towers.
In school, I have yet to design anything at the scale of a family home. Looking through all of the models, I felt an intense desire to work on a project at a scale that would allow me to really get buried in the details and really consider how each space would function and feel to occupants.
The exhibit on Shikumen housing was interesting, and it is fortunate that after viewing it you can then walk into the streets of Shanghai and experience the lane housing for yourself. Though the style varies, Shikumen housing is similar to row houses and is characterized by a unique blend of European and Chinese styles. We would eventually see this style of building at Stacey’s apartment and later in Xintiandi.
After leaving the museum we walked to Yuan Gardens and Bazar to pick up gifts for family. The Bazar was a dizzying, claustrophobic labyrinth of tourists, trinkets, and street food. The highlight of the gardens was looking up at the traditional tiled rooflines and seeing the juxtaposition of the ancient aesthetic with the distant towers of Pudong.
Looking up at the traditional tiled rooflines and seeing the juxtaposition of the ancient aesthetic with the distant towers of Pudong.
At this point I need to take a moment to note that as I type this a child is wandering the cafe wearing assless pants. Cute.
Finally we arrived at the waterfront along the Bund and joined thousands of others as we made our way along the boardwalk. An equally large crowd sat watching the performance with the Pudong skyline making for a stunning backdrop. The whole thing felt rather like a horribly orchestrated parade.We paused for a bathroom break in the grandest hotel I’ve ever set foot in, and emerged into an equally rich landscape of beautifully preserved buildings. While the light show on the other side of the river draws much of the Bund’s crowds, the illuminated, Concession Era buildings along the Bund, are truly something to behold. Fortunately I have a partner who would rather pick up a bottle of wine and sit on the boardwalk, than buy $20 cocktails. We purchased a bottle of Family Mart’s finest Chardonnay, strictly based on its branding and found an open bit of boardwalk. The towers flickered to life, completely transformingthe skyline I saw earlier in the week. I’m still new to big cities, and it is hard to imagine finding stillness among the undulating masses, at the feet of these towering giants, but sitting there with the wine rapidly disappearing and Joyce’s head on my shoulder, the crowds melted away and I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
As the night continued we were joined by one of Joyce’s best friends, Cathy, and the three of us ended up at the Nest, a nightclub overlooking the Bund. Having never met before my trip to Shanghai, I’m sure Cathy and I already knew more about each other than either of us cared to admit. This was equal parts comforting and horrifying, because each time I meet one of Joyce’s childhood friends feels like I’m meeting the parents all over again. Fortunately, Cathy took it easy on me, and the hours flew by in a blur of stories, observations, and laughter. We were joined by Cathy’s husband Tony, an incredibly friendly guy who is nearly always wearing a handsome smile. The volume and tempo of the music seemed to increase at a steady 15 minute interval, and we decided to move on (but only after a surprise dance session with a random man from Switzerland.)
Our last stop of the evening was a puzzle room. And this is how we found ourselves in a room, quite intoxicated and unable to leave until we could glean the combination for a lock from posters on the wall and solve the red face of a Rubik’s Cube. This was the first room of six, and the objective was to make it through the entire series in under an hour. A room with a rusty old bike and a hand powered generator proved to be a be too perplexing, but successfully solving each of the rooms was not required to have a great ending to a perfect evening.