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16

| BNE November/December 2016

ESCAPE

real

SHANGHAI

A

fter the Wendy Deng affair I decide against claiming

I’m related to Rupert Murdoch and go with saying

I’m the son of Kerry Packer. Mrs Wu smiles politely

but I doubt she has any idea who James Packer is and I don’t get much

more than a cursory glance up and down.

I’m taking a walk in Shanghai’s People’s Park just past noon on a

Saturday and have stumbled into one of the world’s oddest markets

– it’s called the marriage market or “blind date corner” and already a

gaggle of pensioners has gathered near the main entrance of the park,

each sitting behind an umbrella with a card pasted on it listing details

about their son or daughter in the hopes of making a marriage match.

Typically those with sons list their age, job, salary and that he has an

apartment and car – considered prerequisites in modern, materialistic

Shanghai. For the girls the details are more scant, listing age, job,

educational background, personality and height. Each also has a list of

the requirements for a potential match.

It has been estimated that by 2020 as many as 24 million men in

China will be unmarried and unable to find a wife so it’s a competitive

market and 200 or more umbrellas can be displayed each Saturday and

Sunday afternoon. At one umbrella a mother is grilling a father about

his son. “Which university did he go to and was it full-time?” “How

much money does he make?” The father wearily replies; some of the

parents have been coming for years and chances of success seem slim.

Mrs Wu admits that her 28-year-old daughter, who works in a

bank, has no idea that she is there but, like many parents, she has given

up waiting for her daughter to find a husband and decided to take

affirmative action.

Nearby across a lotus-filled pond another pensioner is playing a

Nagoya harp accompanied by a warbling lady. With limited space in

most people’s apartments parks offer an extension of the living room

for most Shanghainese, particularly the retired. Early in the morning

they gather to do tai chi, while the days are punctuated by impromptu

musical performances. Finally at night they, along with any available

square, are taken over by the so-called dancing aunties. Middle aged

and older, they dance to loud music ranging from traditional ballroom

melodies to Lady Gaga.

Sights by sidecar

Andaz Hotel is a brisk walk away in the Xintiandi area, now a

fashionable art and entertainment precinct behind the facades of

traditional shikumen buildings. At the modern hotel I await my ride –

a sidecar which can trace its vintage to the 1930s era BMW R71. My

Shanghai Insiders guide, 26-year-old Abi Li, pulls up on a China Post

green Changjiang 750 sidecar and seems at home on the motorcycle. “I

grew up in a sidecar as my godfather was a policeman and had a police

sidecar. I remember from when I was about 5 until age 12 spending

time in the sidecar going here and there,” she explains before we set

off. It’s an exhilarating ride low down on the road, zipping through

busy Shanghai traffic – well, the actual speed is only about 25km/h

but it feels faster with the engine barking loudly as we go and the wind

whistling around my head – helmets are available but not compulsory

to wear, adding to the thrill of the ride for anyone used to stricter

western road rules.

Our first stop is the 1933 Old Millfun building which hides a

gruesome past behind its Art Deco façade. Today its five levels are a

labyrinthine web of concrete bridges, stairways, cloisters and massive

halls that house galleries, creative spaces and contemporary art that

have erased any sign that this once was the city’s main abattoir.

Back in the sidecar we continue on through southern Hongkou

and the area where Jewish refugees found sanctuary during WWII in

Shanghai then across the iconic Garden Bridge to the Yu Gardens old

town. Instead of going to the tourist-swamped centre we dive down a

back street of traditional houses where locals are busy going about their

lives. That’s the trademark of Shanghai Insiders tours, guides aim to

take visitors off the beaten path.

“I enjoy showing foreigners the big contrast of modern and

traditional which can easily be found in Hongkou and the old town