It was with some melancholy that I bid farewell to the Rui Jin Guest House, my first residence here during my vacation days. It is located in Luwan, in the former French Concession region from the old days when Shanghai was divided up into zones that were completely free from Chinese rule and belonged to their respective Empires. The neighborhood may have a dubious history, but it is still the loveliest I’ve yet seen here. The tree-lined streets must be just luscious in the spring, summer, and fall. Even in winter they have a nice minimalist look. Many of the old buildings have remained, though now instead of being inhabited by one rich family they are split up into tenements housing several (likely poor) ones. The streets have tons of shops, restaurants, cafes, even a French bakery or two. I loved wandering around this neighborhood, occasionally happening upon an art gallery here, a park there, and magnificent old villas on every block. One of them is now the Shanghai Hall of Science, and it’s open to random wanderers (though I suspect they don’t get too many of those; when one of the workers saw me in the garden with my camera, he laughed and pointed at it and seemed pretty happy I was there). I later found this building in a book on the Quarter that says it used to be a French college. There’s even a Russian Orthodox church that became a restaurant, though now is closed altogether.
This is also the neighborhood where my family lived. It’s hard to say exactly where—all the street names have been changed (they used to be called things like Avenue Joffre and Rue Lafayette but are now names like Huahai Lu and Xinle Lu). Plus, without my aunts and uncle, there’d be no way for me or my cousin (who was showing me around) to definitively locate the old places. But at least I got a sense of the neighborhood relative to the rest of the city. I even saw the building my uncle used to own. My cousin said if he could get it back today, he’d be a very rich man. Luckily, that uncle is very happy with what he’s got. Though having recently bought a house myself, I can’t imagine how I would feel if some government took it away and never gave me anything back.
On that note, however, I must sleep. On the 75th floor of the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai’s tallest tower, and the fourth or fifth tallest building in the world. Luckily, I do not suffer from la vertige.