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Shanghai

Guest Editors: Jellymon

November 1, 2011

Satellite Voices's favourite Shanghai creative collective and agency guide us through a month immersed in the city's culture

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Guest Feature by Josh Atkin

Welcome to the Jellymon Shanghai column. Every month we'll be providing you with an inside scoop into one of the most exciting cities in the world. Whether it's unusual and tasty food, the latest cultural influences about town, people's wild and wacky fashion styles or some of our own weird and wonderful pleasures, we hope our column will accumulate the smells and sensations that this city emanates and convert them into bite size paragraphs for your reading pleasure!

It’s a Sunday night, the last of the current month and I’ve just finished watching “Midnight in Paris,” the latest film by Woody Allen. It deals with the subject of nostalgia and claims that our fondness for looking back on things from the past and in particular defining “Golden Ages” is reliant on both existing in and having trouble with the present. 

The film brilliantly captures one man’s rose tinted fondness for 1920s Paris. Following this, my thoughts drift to Shanghai, as I try to consider this city’s own “Golden Age.” One often hears of the 1930s, when Shanghai’s Art Deco skyline reflected a booming economy, housed a cosmopolitan society and provided them with all manner of vices. Surely this was the defining period for the city. Or was it?

As I prepare for bed, I think back to the month I’ve just experienced. Once again, like the months previous, I’m left with this overawing blur caused by the conflicts of past and present.

October started with a welcome break: National Day Golden Week. The holiday was a great way to enjoy a more tranquil Shanghai. The streets were less crowded, the cafes, bars and restaurants all accessible and a general sense of calm instilled itself in the city so often acknowledged for its chaos.

It would however have been slightly wasteful to limit the week to long coffee breaks and back-to-back DVD sittings, so Sam, Maromi and I decided to venture to the suburbs to visit Nanxiang. Amazingly only a 20-minute metro ride out of town, it felt like we were transported to another era. Famous for being the home of Xiao Long Bao, a delicious steamed dumpling filled with soup and meat, Nanxiang not only provided us with ample nourishment, but also an opportunity to visit some traditional Chinese gardens, stroll along a peaceful canal and be gawked at numerous times by the naturally inquisitive locals. It was a great day, immeasurably different from many of my Shanghai experiences and another reminder that there is so much to discover of this city outside of downtown.

As the month progressed, so did our workload, and after a shower of continuous late nights in the office, those acceptable moments of holiday complacency felt like those from an unobtainable dream. Fortunately, the hard work came with a rich reward. We closed the month by joining our friends from cocktail bar Southern Cross on a daytrip they had organised to Yangcheng Hu, a lake famous for being the bearer of one of the most sought after Autumnal dishes: Hairy Crab.

A 90-minute coach journey saw us dropped off on a quiet residential street leading to a small harbour. A speed boat wriggled through a narrow estuary, and then zipped across the lake to take us to Lian Hua Fang which was to be our port of call for the day. What followed was a banquet of extraordinary quality. First came the peanuts, pickled radishes, steamed vegetables and chicken. Then came rounds of fish, river shrimp, snails, pork belly and a wide variety of greens. Prior to the main event, we were served a rich, clear chicken soup, complete with a whole bird simmering in the broth. The elation of our party was however saved for the serving of the crabs which was met by cheers, rubbing of hands and licking of lips all round. Enjoying this all, on a crisp autumnal day, at a restaurant whose fields harvest their crops, allow their animals to roam freely, whilst being appropriately positioned next to the lake to fish their crabs, hit me with an overwhelming sense of elation.

Which leads me to now, the actual present. I write this piece in a reflective sense knowing that as accurately as I try to reimagine the past month in written form, it is ultimately the glow of nostalgia that might give heightened warmth to my recollections. However, let me conclude by referring back to where we started. Woody Allen suggested that “Golden Ages” were born through an individual’s discontent with the present, giving an exaggerated glint to what came before. Yet I find myself today living in a cosmopolitan city, one whose skyline grows by the day in tandem with its booming economy. I can’t attest to the amount of vices available, but I’m told there are many. Is it therefore possible we’re experiencing our “Golden Age” now? I’ll leave that for some hapless romantic of the future to decide. 

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