CatSynth in China II

Well, for the second time in only two months, I will be visiting China. More opportunities to explore and hopefully build on the experience of the previous trip.

And this time, I will be performing a show in Shanghai at an electronic music event. Stay tuned for more details.

The unfortunate part is of course leaving Luna behind. This time, we’re past the construction, so things should be more peaceful for her, albeit a bit lonely.

Fun with Highways: Chinese Edition

Well, it has been a while since I have done a “fun with highways” post here at CatSynth, so why not visit some of the highways I traveled while in China?

Shanghai has a series of highways, most of which are designated with the letter “A” followed by a number:

A20, (12) A2 to Donghai Bridge Exit 2km and A1-Pudong Airport overhead signage
[photo by ramonyu]

During my trip, I became quite acquainted with the A11 (Huning Expressway) that connects Shanghai to Suzhou and beyond. However, one cannot really view either city from the A11. Nor can one really see the details of the delta region. It’s just a big highway traversing sprawling suburban development like one can see in many parts of the U.S.

By contrast, the A9 extends into the center of Shanghai as the Yan’an Elevated Road. Shanghai makes a distinction between “expressways” and “elevated roads”, though I don’t really see much difference.

The elevated roads are multi-lane freeways, and the Yan’an cuts right through the downtown of the city, closely paralleling the pedestrian thoroughfare Nanjing Road and People’s Square, before ending at The Bund along the river.

Yan'an Elevated Road Next Exit The Bund 1.5 km and Tunnel overhead signage in Shanghai, China
[photo by ramonyu]

Essentially, it parallels a major part of my walking tour only a few blocks away.

Photographer Liao Yusheng has a fantastic series of architectural and landscape photos along the Yun’an Elevated Road, along with this description:

Yan’an is part of a sprawling elevated highway system in the heart of Shanghai that epitomizes the gung-ho mega public-works projects that are going on all over China at the moment. This is a six-lane highway that is literally jammed into the middle of a densely packed modern city. Hundreds of thousands of families were displaced and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to make this happen. In forcing this monstrosity onto an already fully-developed (yet still evolving) megalopolis, Shanghai has created a conduit with which to examine the multilayered texture that makes up this city.

I only discovered his work in preparing this article, but it was a great find and reminds me of my own urban and architectural photography. I encourage readers to check it out!

The story does remind me of the highway development in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, where entire neighborhoods were demolished to build, among others, the Cross Bronx and Bruckner Expressways. Somehow, we often end up back there.

I did also find that China has it’s own highway enthusiasts, including the blogger Wang Jian Shuo.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Cats of China

This weekend, we visit the cats of my recently concluded trip to China.

Suzhou is renowned for its silk. The climate is particularly suited to silkworm cultivation (though one would not think so given the freezing temperatures during this trip), and the city has long been a center for both production and craft. Cats are a common motif on the “two-sided” embroidered silk paintings of Suzhou:

Outside the Suzhou Number One Silk Factory, I encountered this stray cat running through the parking lot.

Cat in Suzhou, near the Number One Silk Factory

In Shanghai, I saw this cat in a clothing shop on Dingxi Road:

Dingxi Road is a commercial street in an outer neighborhood, not far from Zhongshan Park and completely devoid of foreigners. The shops that line the street cater to local residents, and the clothing shop where I encountered the cat was no exception. I think the shop’s owner was surprised and delighted to encounter a foreigner – and more surprisingly, a scruffy “white guy” – who was interested in cats. On the other hand, I think the cat was a bit annoyed by the attention and would prefer to sleep:

Some things are the same everywhere.


We are spanning continents, as Weekend Cat Blogging #190 hosted by Kashim at Paulchens FoodBlog in Vienna.

In the far away state of Florida, Pet and the Bengal Brats host the Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos.

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this weekend by the House Panthers (of which Luna is a member).

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Suzhou Humble Adminstrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill

In addition to its many canals, Suzhou is famous as one of the major centers of classical Chinese gardens. Perhaps the largest and best known is the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

The garden is about 13 acres and about 500 years old (at least one site suggests it is exactly 500 years old, having been built in 1509). The “humble administrator” was a government official Wang Xianchen, who clearly could not have been that humble with a spread like this. It is interesting to note that gardens such as these were almost always private, and the idea of maintaining them is relatively recent.

The elements of the garden include the plants, water, architecture (much of it the more minimalist and geometric Ming Dynasty style) and rocks, such as the lakebed rocks in the photo above. The natural and geometric elements fuse in a way that seems very fresh and modern, and one can see where many twentieth century artists, architects and designers may have gotten their inspiration.

This is the sort of place where I could easily get lost in the visual elements for a long time.

But of course we had to move on. We next visited one of Suzhou’s other well-known landmarks, Tiger Hill. The highest point in the city, Tiger Hill was originally the site of a king’s tomb, and later a Buddhist monastery and temple.

Although this photo makes the pagoda at the top of the hill look perfectly straight, it is actually leaning quite strongly to one side:

Supposedly, it is the many attempts over the years to locate and excavate the tomb in the hill that has led to the weakening of the ground below the tower and its severe tilt. The entrance to the tomb was finally discovered in the 1960s in pool lower on the hillside during a sever drought. However, it has remained unexcavated, lest the tower tilt even further.

The top of the hill supposedly provides a spectacular view of Suzhou, but with the dense winter fog I was not able to see very much.

Close call

One final and rather scary note from my Weekend in Shanghai. On the way to lunch on Sunday, we passed through a large bank of food stalls, apparently part of a regular weekend event. We had just talked a girl at a stall and were leaving when all of a sudden there was a loud explosion. We turned around to see that stall had burst into flames. Even though we were already some distance away, the heat was rather intense. Along with many others, we immediately left the area for safety. I sincerely hope no one was badly hurt, though I am especially worried for the girl who was inside the stand. It also hasn’t escaped me how things would be very different right now had that explosion happened only a minute earlier…

Weekend in Shanghai (updated)

This weekend included a 30-hour but still too brief visit to Shanghai. Shanghai is of course a massive city, and an increasingly vertical one, and probably reminds me more of New York than most cities I visit.

This photo captures both the old and new of the city. In the background is the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. In the front, we see a high-rise building on side, and one of the tenement buildings that line many streets, with five or more stories of clothes (and the occasional cooked duck) hanging to dry.

It was taken while walking east from a downtown neighborhood towards The Bund, the riverfront in an older part of the city One can look across the river and see the new Pudong district that is most visually associated with Shanghai and features it’s tallest, newest buildings.

Visibility was relatively poor on both days, and I did not cross to the other side of the river to see the view of the Bund.

Food was a major part of day (as it has been throughout my stay in China), and Saturday featured both a snack of “soup buns” at small hole-in-the-wall shop where the upper level was barely tall enough to stand in, and an extraordinary Japanese-fusion meal at which my friends and I over-indulged for a couple of hours. After that, we headed to a local jazz club called the Cotton Club (I wonder where they got that name from?), where we heard what I would describe as a “typical jazz-club combo” that wouldn’t be very memorable except of course that it was at a jazz club in China.

The night concluded with brief stops at a few of the dance clubs. One featured two sections, an upstairs with a mixed-crowd of foreigners and locals, and a downstairs that was almost exclusively local. The latter definitely had better music (deep synth trance and beats). Of course, one of the main attractions of the nightlife (which continues well beyond the hour when almost every city in the U.S. closes down) is the people watching. Without dwelling upon it too much in this article, Shanghai did afford great opportunities for people watching, starting with our walk along the extremely crowded Nanjing Road and concluding as we departed the last club well into the morning.

I did have an opportunity to explore more on my own Sunday. I began in some of the quieter neighborhoods near where I was staying, and experienced a more local view of the city.
A walk through Zhongshan Park was in some was a more aural experience than visual. The park was already relatively crowded, with numerous groups practicing traditional Chinese exercises, dance lessons, and band practicing for the upcoming New Years celebrations:

The “music” of the park would change every few meter, as one moved from the metallic percussion of the band to a group dancing to disco from the 1970s. A few feet later, the disco and 1950s pop is overtaken by slower more meditative traditional Chinese music that serves as the background for exercises. Finally, a small portable player of low quality provides something akin to circuit bending.

Regular readers of this site know that I am fond of urban side streets and alleys, so I spent a few minutes in the narrower side streets of the neigbhorhood:

This alley reminded me of a photo I took not far from home in San Francisco last summer.

Along Ding Xi Road, I met the proprietor of a small boutique clothing store and her cat. Look for them to be featured in the next “Weekend Cat Blogging.”

After lunch together with friends again (one really cannot dine alone here), I headed back downtown via the Metro. I pride myself on being able to get around a city when I have a good subway system, a map and a general sense of direction. I was able make my way back to the Bund and Nanjing Road to see them during the daytime. I think the one word description of this area would be “crowded.” And I mean crowded on a level one rarely would see even in New York, and with far more dangerous street crossings. Plus, unlike my earlier walks, people expect foreigners in this district and are constantly on the look for sales opportunities. It is relatively easy to simply ignore them, but the crowds and constant interaction did become a little draining at times. It’s something to consider, I am a “city person” and I don’t mind crowds, but I do need breaks.

At Peoples Square, I did brave one last round of crowds to arrive at the Shanghai Art Museum. Even though it was only a block from one of the busiest open spaces and transit hubs in the city, the courtyard was a remarkable oasis of calm. After taking a moment to relax, I went inside to see the current exhibition, a retrospective of Wu Guanzhong. His work, which includes both oil painting and ink painting, and often focuses on Chinese scenes and themes. Many of paintings are of clearly of landscapes, animals and architecture of China, with an impressionist quality but also more minimal. However, many of later works were more abstract, although with Chinese themes. This was especially true of his ink paintings, some of which were quite large in size and reminded me of the “Autumn Rhythm” series of Jackson Pollock. One of the abstract in paintings called Entanglement relates back to the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, which I had the opportunity to visit before heading into Shanghai and will be the subject of the next article…

Suzhou Grand Canal at Night

So far most of my touring has been at night. That will change over the weekend, but meanwhile here are some nighttime images from the Grand Canal in Suzhou. The city is crisscrossed by a network of canals, one of many things for which it is famous.

The architecture of the bridges and buildings along the canal range from very traditional, as in the above photograph, to more modern. In all cases, however, things are always brightly lit with colored lights here. Even the trees are bathed in a green glow.

The Grand Canal forms a loop that circles the old city, and one can observe segments of the old city wall and the towers just beyond it.

Here is a more modern building along the bank of the canal. It blends the geometric modern features that regular readers of CatSynth know I am fond of with more traditional elements.

Daytime will provide different view of the city entirely. The large buildings and their lights which are so prominent at night fade into the background, while the more modest homes that come down to the edge of the water become visible, as do the city’s famous gardens.

Blog about dinner

Well, we at CatSynth took Jacksin’s comment not to blog about lunch as a bit of a dare, so here is a brief post about last night’s dinner 🙂

Pictured above are (from clockwise left), a local root vegetable, jellyfish, and smoked fish. Dinner every night has included a wide variety of dishes, and this was only the first round. We also had a wonderful local small fish cooked in a stew – it had a very rich and buttery texture, and a mild, sweet flavor, one of the best fish I have had in a while. Additionally, there was another fried fish and an interesting pork soup. This particular meal featured local food from the Suzhou and Shanghai area. Previous nights focused on other regions, including famously spicy Szuchuan Cuisine.