Buy my photos!

Notecards for $2.40

Monday, July 25, 2011

Naked Retreat

Maybe it's the hot sticky summer weather, but I've been feeling a little uber-urban lately. All this glass & concrete & noise & hustle has me on edge. For the last few weeks, I've been taking little day trips away from the city in an effort to regroup.

Last weekend, a local wellness group organized a trip to Naked Retreats in Moganshan, a village about three hours by bus from Shanghai. Moganshan has long been a weekend retreat for expats living in Shanghai. Many of the buildings were built by Europeans in the late 1800s, & you can see the Western influence in the architecture there. The mountain used to be covered in pine trees until the local farmers discovered that bamboo was much more profitable. These days you can see green bamboo & tea fields for miles & miles.

We spent the weekend hiking, swimming, yoga-ing, eating wholesome food, & generally enjoying the surrounding green-ness there. We saw frogs & birds & butterflies - & stars. Stars! In the sky! It was absolutely delightful. It was so nice to get out of the city - away from the daily mad dash that is Shanghai - & breathe.

Naked Retreats Lodge
Wholesome feast
The view from the top
Swimming hole

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chinese-Style Yard Sale

Parks are where people hangout here in Shanghai. Families go there to relax on the weekends, engaged couples go there to take wedding photos, middle-aged men & women gather there in the evenings to dance the cha-cha or the waltz. Parks are bustling hubs of social life.

As I was walking around near the center of the city over the weekend, I stumbled upon what I might call a bird market. There were all manner of little tweeters for sale in handmade bamboo cages. Along side the bird sellers, men were selling wiggly worms by the kilo - bird feed.

But birds weren't the only attraction. The sidewalks were lined with cloths covered with all manner of mostly second-hand goods - from shoes to knives to tiny little teapots. Several of the vendors had one-of-a-kind items - a tibetan bowl, a wooden cricket cage, a porcelain figure painted in blue. It was the closest thing to an American yard sale I've ever seen in China.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thames Town: Surreality

Last week I went on a self-guided tour of the Xuhui District of Shanghai, where I saw Longhua Temple & the Xujiahui Catholic Church on the same day. I had so much fun that this week I took another itinerary from the Travel China Guide & went out to Thames Town, an English-style community on the outskirts of the city.

I had heard from others that Thames Town was an empty carcass of a tourist community that was built & then abandoned just as quickly - a veritable living ghost town - but I wanted to see it for myself.

Songjiang District is situated southwest of the Shanghai downtown area. One of its main attractions is the famous Thames Town on North Sanxin Road of Songjiang New City. This imitation of a British traditional old town is actually a community and was completed in 2004. It offers a tranquil oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city, and is worth a visit whether one has been to Great Britain or not.

Tranquil is a good word.

Subway No. 9 has stops at both Songjiang New City and Songjiang University Town. One can get off at either of the stations and take Songjiang public bus No. 14 or a taxi to the town, which is 4 kilometers away.

From where I live it took me an hour & a half to get to the Songjiang subway station. There I found plenty of taxi drivers waiting in a queue outside. Of course none of them understood me when I asked them to take me to Thames Town. I didn't have the Chinese name for it, so I called it the English-style town. That worked.

Thames Town has an area of about 1 square kilometer. It is equipped with everything that the residents need. Lakes, rivers, and trees surround Georgian and Victorian style villas and apartments.
There is a 4 star Liston Hotel (Tel: 021-37721998) by the lake, a Gothic church, advanced kindergarten and school, supermarket, clubs, and clinics.

It's really a beautiful town & could be something wonderful - if there were anyone there. In Shanghai, no matter if it's day or night, you're pretty much guaranteed to bump into someone every few yards or so as you walk down the street. But here in Thames Town, you're free to wander collision free.

Walking in the community, it is like being in a wonderland and many newlyweds like to have their wedding photos taken here.

One of the few shops open for business was a photography studio. It was easy to see why - the town has become a humongous backdrop for deep, meaningful glances.

Even with the lack of activity in the town, I spent a good two hours walking around, entertained all the while. Thames Town takes up a mere one square kilometer, so I ducked in & out of every nook I could find.

Tucked away where no one would find it was the Songjiang Art Museum. I love museums anyway, but the cool breeze of the air conditioned interior was irresistible. I saw more people in the museum than any place else in town.

幸福 Happiness

Inside were woodcut prints commemorating the 90th anniversary of the communist party, elaborate watercolor paintings on long silk scrolls, and a whole room dedicated to local photography.

After a few hours of walking around I sat at one of the few establishments open for business & drank a German beer. Europe's Europe, right?

Getting to Thames Town was easier than getting back - no people means no taxis - so I walked about a kilometer to the main road where I caught the bus back to the subway station.

Even though the town was quiet, it still held that China charm, & was well worth the visit. 

Not Harry Potter - No glasses or lightning bolt
Random bus dressed up like a dragon
Making a movie about rain

Monday, July 11, 2011


I read a lot. Books are like food for my brain. I especially enjoy reading in bed before I fall asleep. There's something about curling up with a good book that comforts my soul. I love the feel of a book, the smell of a book - new ones, old ones, musty ones, crisp photographic ones. I love them all.

I love browsing through stacks of books at the secondhand shop - stumbling upon titles I never knew existed, shelling out 25 cents each & carting them all home. I love passing them on to friends once I've read them & talking about what we liked & didn't like about the story, the plot, the characters. I love everything about a book.

But a couple of years ago, I decided to change my lifestyle - to minimize my possessions so that I could move toward a vagabond life. I reluctantly got rid of three tall shelves of books, saving only a handful to take with me when I left the US.

My first stop was Vietnam, where I was naively surprised to find that reading material in English was a rare luxury. It wasn't long before I began to feel desperate. Friends & family started sending me care packages of books to help feed my need to read. I coveted a neat little e-reader stocked with thousands of titles at a single click.

When I moved to Shanghai, my reading horizons happily expanded. There are a several cheap sources for books in English here, including Shanghai Secondhand, expat cafes and the copy book carts that appear in the foreigner neighborhoods after the sun goes down. I had an endless supply of read-feed again.

Even so, I still thought from time to time about getting an e-reader because it fits well with my long-term goals of reducing my material possessions. Besides, books are heavy & difficult to lug around as I move from place to place. Having them all in a neat little digital package would be a load off. 

So when I got a Kindle as a birthday gift earlier this year, I was delighted & excited to start exploring the world of e-books. Since then - in just a few month's time - my reading life has completely & irreversibly transformed into an almost exclusively e-reading life.

Before the Kindle, I used to spend hours browsing the shelves in a bookstore. Now I browse Amazon, where I've created an ever-growing wish list. I used to buy five or six books every time I saw a copy book cart. Now I don't even stop to see what's on offer. I've gotten rid of almost all of my physical books & downloaded the e-books that replace them, plus hundreds - not kidding - hundreds more, cheap or free (one of the perks of living in China).

I never thought the change would be so quick, so complete. As I said, I love the feel & smell of books, turning the physical pages, perusing the spines on my shelf, the beauty of a well-rounded home library.

You don't get any of that with a Kindle, it's true. But what you get instead is infinitely better. I carry a full library in my pocket everywhere I go. When I hear of a book I'd like to read, I can download it instantly. If the book I decide to read on a long flight doesn't grab my interest, I can simply forget it & switch to the next title on my list. It's like the doors of Pergamum have been flung wide & I can take anything I want any time I want. It's a traveling reader's godsend.

(Full disclosure: I do not work for Amazon, nor do I sell Kindles. I *do* get a few pennies in commission if you click on one of the books in the little box in the left-hand sidebar. Over the past year, that commission has amassed to the lofty sum of 35 cents.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tourist-ing in Shanghai

While surfing the internet recently, I came across the Travel China Guide. As I clicked through their pages, I discovered quite an extensive list of do-it-yourself tour routes for places all over China.

On the Shanghai page, the first five tours have prices & are run by Travel China Guide, but if you scroll down, you'll find 23 more routes with instructions for doing them on your own. I haven't done much tourist-ing around Shanghai lately, so I decided to give one of their routes a go.

I chose tour number SH16, the Xuhui District, which includes Longhua Temple, Xujiahui Catholic Church & Library, & the Xujiahui Shopping Center.

To prepare, I looked up all the addresses on Google Maps, & made sure that I had the names of the roads & the attractions written down in Chinese. This is useful for communicating with taxi drivers as well as asking people on the street for directions.

Today's city tour leads you to Xuhui District which is in the southeast area of Shanghai. This self paced tour starts suggests starting from the Longhua Temple in the morning. Longhua Temple is located at No. 2853 Longhua Road and can be reached by public bus No. 41/ 44/ 73/ 87/ 104/ 734/ 809/ 864/ 933, Hushen Line or subway No. 3. The opening hours are from 07:00 to 16:30 and the admission fee is CNY5.00. Longhua Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Shanghai with a history of about 1700 years.

It took one hour to get from my apartment near Shanghai Circus World to the Longcao subway station on line 3. The temple was a 20-minute walk from the station. That's pretty typical for Shanghai - it's such a big city that it takes a while to get from A to B.

In the bell tower, there is a 3.3 ton bronze bell which is used on the Evening Bell-Striking Ceremony every 31st December to welcome the New Year. Spend CNY10.00 and you can strike the bell three times to dispel all bad luck and wish for good things. Everyday from 08:00 to 11:00 and from 13:00 to 15:00, you can watch the monks praying for souls of the deceased in the Grand Hall (Da Xiong Bao Dian).

The entrance fee at the temple was CNY10 (about US $1.50) instead of 5, but the rest of the description is accurate. I didn't ring the bell in the bell tower, but I was able to catch the monks chanting their prayers.

The vegetarian restaurant in Longhua Temple is very popular. Many people regularly come to pray and have lunch. Remember all meals are vegetarian. 

The restaurant had one thing on their menu: a very yummy bowl of noodles & mushrooms for CNY10. You buy a ticket out front, then take it to the window where the cook scoops a ladel full of delicious into a bright orange bowl.

After lunch, take a taxi to the Shanghai Xujiahui Church at No. 158, Puxi Road. The public bus No. 15/ 72/ 42/ 43/ 126 and subway No. 1 all have stops there. The church was built in the early 20th century. It is the biggest Catholic Church in Shanghai and the birthplace of Shanghai Catholicism. Now there are tens of thousands of conversus in the parish.

It was a ten-minute taxi ride between the temple & the church (CNY18). I'm not sure what a conversus is, but there seemed to be only a handful of them at the church when I arrived.

There are several masses held each morning. If you are not a chiliast, you can only visit inside the church each Saturday and Sunday. The opening hours of the church are from 13:00 to 16:30 and you will be led by the conversus. If there is a special occasion, the church will not be opened so it is better for you to make a call in advance to confirm this. The telephone number is 021-64382595 and there is no admission fee. During the visit patrons are asked not to speak loudly and to refrain from eating.  Visitors are encouraged to wear conservative clothes to minimize exposure of the body.

The church is a beautiful European style building with high arched ceilings & stained glass windows. These particular windows depict the life of Jesus, from the angel's message to Mary up to the crucifixion, with a mixture of Western & Chinese imagery. There were several people inside praying while a few tour groups gathered around their guides in the back.

Keep heading north along the Caoxi Road and you will soon arrive at the Xujiahui Shopping Center. Supermarkets, shopping malls and office buildings make it the biggest underground shopping center in Shanghai. It is said that one can get everything you need here. Your Xuhui District tour ends here so take your time to have a dinner, watch a movie or do some shopping.

I decided to skip the shopping center & instead went grocery shopping at Feidan, an imported food store a couple of subway stops from the church.

Longhua Temple was by far the highlight of this tour. I love temples - the ochre yellow buildings, the smell of incense, the chanting monks, the Buddhas with blue hair - & the vegetarian restaurants.

Xujiahui Church was interesting in that most Chinese people are not religious - it's unusual to see prayer ribbons with Chinese writing & stained glass scenes with Chinese images in a catholic church. Otherwise it’s your basic European style cathedral.

I'd say this experiment was a success. The directions given in the route description were easy to follow & the stops were rather interesting. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I think I'll go ahead & try another route next weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's Official

It's official: I've signed a new work contract as content editor, which will extend my stay in Shanghai another six months. I'm hoping to use the time to shmooze the appropriate people at my company for a position that is better aligned with my long-term goal of living & working independent of a physical location. I want to work remotely so that I can freely travel from place to place without having to take a vacation
to do it. 

That has always been the goal since I started down this path, & based on the research I've been doing, there seem to be plenty of people out there who are location independent - web designers & bloggers seem to be the most prominent groups - but I haven't quite been able to figure out my own strategy for working independently yet.

I guess I'm still in the learning period. Maybe I haven't discovered the right formula yet, but I have found a few ways that won't work for me, which means that I'm that much closer to the goal. The most important thing is that I keep trying.