Shanghai, Whore of the East

I went to Shanghai fearing the worst.

21 years ago, of course, the city was a true wonder of hovelage, of the beyond Dickensian kind. You could see the history of Shanghai etched on those buildings as clearly as if they had been showing newsreel on them.

Afterwards money happened, and now the Expo. Would there be even a tiny bit of hovelage left, I wondered, or would Shanghai have gone the way of Beijing; not a sliver of history left and what little there was, disney-fied to death?

Fortunately, things weren’t as bad as I had feared but also not as good as I had hoped. There were some old neighbourhoods scattered here and there, in which you could still feel feather-light touches of the Shanghai of yesteryear; a place of coolies, courtesans, rickshaw drivers and florid taipans. It was easy to imagine people (in black and white, naturally, they didn’t have colour in those days) hurrying to and fro while in the background could be heard the excited “Kill! Kill!” from the execution ground. Bound feet, opium, secret societies … oh yeah, baby!

Then came the Japanese and ruined everything.

Then came the communists and pulverised the rest, sodomising the corpse. Sic transit!

So I was almost glad to discover, in a wonderful hovelage visible from our hotel (never stay in the Bund Riverside! It’s overpriced, the service is terrible and not a single taxi driver knows where it is) that what I had explained to my friend was spittoons (even that word carries a whiff of debauchery I think) was in fact chamber pots which people take to the nearest public toilet in the morning. Yoo-hooooo, all is not lost.

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4 Responses to Shanghai, Whore of the East

  1. gweipo says:

    HKU is holding a very interesting lecture I think next week on Shanghai during the occupation and the role of women if you’re interested I’ll try and get the details.

  2. cecilie says:

    Ah, thank you but I don’t have time right now. You go la! Busy girl.

  3. Odresel says:

    I was first in Shanghai in 1990, and I agree, it was unforgettable then. I went by boat from HK, which you could do in those days. Today it’s only tiny pockets which have survived two decades of HK-style anilhilation. The area around Dongjiadu Lu and the mid-19th C Cathedral still has a bit of its old charm (I was there in March) but it is a far cry from the time I walked there from the Chinese City, and people would bring their kids out into the road to stare at the foreigner.

    Have always enjoyed your writing, by the way.

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