So I’ve swapped my normal hillside for a very Bohemian cafe in Shanghai. My lips are still recovering from an outrageously spicy noodle salad and the coffee is OK. It’s all a long way from home though.
The Bandu cafe sits in a leafy corner of a former textile factory complex, now Shanghai’s capital of contemporary art – M50. The cafe itself is a relaxing haven away from the crowds of German and American ex-pats and the more curious Chinese browsing the 60 or so gallery spaces. The music in here is contemporary Chinese folk – something I think the Chinese do so much better than visual art on the whole.
Shanghai is, in the context of China, a new city. It is mostly only around 100 years old and throughout it’s short life it has just expanded at a silly speed.
Nowhere more so than in Pudong. The Shanghaiese will all recall how only 20 years ago it was just green countryside on the other side of the Huangpu river. It’s not quite true, but certainly Pudong was mostly marshland.
Now it is the financial heart of new Shanghai where buildings spring up on almost a daily basis. A succession of iconic buildings have created one of the worlds most iconic skylines.
Once, the Bund – the waterfront of colonial Shanghai – was the THE cityscape of Asia. Now tens, even hundreds of thousands throng the riverside walk on a daily basis turn their back on the old favourites to view and photograph the new Pudong skyline opposite.
A while back I wrote an article about the artificiality of the urban, and how cities try to emulate the rural. Nowhere more so than here – in one of the largest über-cities in the world.
It stands opposite the collossi of Pudong in one of the city’s many green spaces. At over 1,000 years old it is alone in a city where 19th century houses are cleared weekly. The gardens and parks are deemed essential aspects of a thriving city. Locals flock to them on days off. Little oasis of mock rural.
The landscape illusion continues in the new mountains of glass and steel. Viewing stations are built to admire them from and should you wish to conquer their dizzying heights you ate rewarded with a now obligatory observation post from which to survey the landscape below.
Classical Chinese landscape art is all about the ying and yang of mountains and water – just as the Lake District has enchanted generations of artists and thinkers – romanticism being the west’s first steps towards oriental philosophy. If the picturesque was about controlling natural composition in the name of aesthetics, Pudong’s man-made mountain and river view is closer to the Lakes than you think.