In this installment of China Through My Lens, we'll spend a few minutes looking through the viewfinder of ex-China expat Shanghai, a city she called home for over two years. Now based in Atlanta, she spends her time drawing, designing and taking photographs (she also happens to be a snappy conversationalist), and we can keep up to date with her projects on her blog, Artwood Lane, and at her store on Etsy. Now let's hear from Amanda....
I've traveled to many cities throughout China, but I can't say I have been anywhere I've enjoyed more than Shanghai. First as a study abroad student in 2008 and then as a teacher/tutor/artist/young twenty-something looking for new adventures and surprises from 2009-2011, I made various pockets of the city my home over the past few years. With my trusty Forever bikes, I traversed the city's streets to find new alleyways, tiny shops and markets that only won my heart over more.
I just moved back to the US this past November, and while I must admit it's pretty damn comfortable living back at home, I truly miss Shanghai. I've tried to compile some of my favorite memories of living in the big city, but there are just too many! Here are just a few snippets….
The day before I moved home I had Jiang Qin, the infamous Avocado Lady, pose in front of a poster I designed for her storefront. Inspired by the food stalls and stands of Shanghai, I often sketch line drawings of food. On the poster you'll find some of my favorite snacks from the Avocado Lady including (but certainly not limited to) gouda cheese, mangos, Nutella, and of course, avocados!
One of my favorite surprises in the city was probably biking over to Fuxing Park on a Saturday afternoon to take pictures and finding a group of Han Chinese men and women dressed up like Xinjiang dancers. I'd seen numerous groups of middle-aged and elderly couples ballroom dancing throughout the city but never anything as lively and colorful as this. The men even taped thick, black mustaches above their upper lips!
After being broken into only a few months after moving to Shanghai, my boyfriend and I decided to take it up a notch and settle into a new, shiny high-rise. With ceiling-high windows that wrapped around our corner studio, we could not only see Jing'an Temple's golden pagoda while sitting on the toilet, but we also watched an entire office building go up over the course of one year. The building was only five stories when we first moved in, and within months had surpassed us on the 18th floor. I literally watched a piece of Shanghai grow right in front of me each day. If this isn't the epitome of China in the 21st Century, I don't know what is.
After living in a high-rise our first year, my boyfriend and I moved into an old compound of lane houses down in the French Concession. Despite feeling like we had moved into a village of elderly Shanghainese who humped trees for exercise and walked around in their briefs in the heat of the summer, the quaint compound actually provided a unique, local mixture of families and glimpses into daily Shanghai living. One of our neighbors periodically made noodles from scratch and would leave them to dry in the bushes.
Nothing beats a home-cooked Chinese meal. My old friend and broker, Cindy, invited my friends and I down to her new apartment for an authentic lunch right before Mid-Autumn Festival. The trek past the last stop of line 1 to get to her neighborhood was an adventure in itself.
Most people I know hate mooncakes. I just look at them like New Year's surprise balls, or Russel Stover chocolates—you just have to be lucky enough to bite into the right ones. The savory meat-filled ones are absolutely horrendous, while the coconut stuffed cakes are delicious. But if you want to spare yourself the surprise, go buy a voucher at Häagen Dazs.
Who said lunch at the noodle stand couldn't be classy? I took this as part of a photo shoot for a Shanghai-based textile company, LuRu Home. They craft beautiful home products using a Chinese dyeing technique, known today as Nankeen, that yields shockingly vibrant blue hues in intricate patterns. The ancient dyeing process has a history of over 3,000 years, so here's to keeping art alive!
My favorite thing about Shanghai is the ease at which one can find delightfully weird phenomena around just about any corner. Cotton candy-colored dogs… so wrong, but so stunning.
After being closed for quite a while, the Rockabund Art Museum (RAM) reopened this past fall with a small Zhang Huan show featuring a few of his ash paintings and a large installation alongside a huge breathing bust of Confucius. While the show itself wasn't one of my favorites, I love the architecture of RAM, especially its upper floor café and connecting patio area overlooking the Bund as well as a few construction sites. Definitely check out the museum's top floor—a free cup of coffee or tea awaits you, as will an amazing view of the city.
Okay, Yiwu isn't Shanghai, but it's a quick day trip away. Hop on a train, and head over to see one the of world's largest concentrations of small commodity goods, a.k.a. junk! The markets of Yiwu not only produce three billion pairs of socks annually for Wal-Mart, but they sell thousands of plastic toys, buttons, costume jewelry and cheap paintings, among other things. Most vendors aren't adverse to photos either.
Thanks Amanda! May you take many more pictures and share them with the world.