| BNE November/December 2016
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
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