An American in Maoist Fashion

It was exciting to know I had the world of Shanghai  outside the hotel doors. 

There were only four to-do items on my list for the day. Get my hotel room payment straightened out, walk over Garden Bridge (right around the corner), walk down the Bund, find the infamous No. 1 Department Store where Lola, my grandmother, and Nona, my mother, would have shopped in the 30s, and see the Peace Hotel.

To clear up the room payment, my credit union emailed how there should have been no trouble with my card, there were no declined transactions, and to tell the reception desk to get their act together and try to manually enter the card numbers (well, they didn’t actually say this, but I felt like it). The front desk employee ran it through without a problem, and I headed into the dining room for the over-priced, but fabulously opulent and delicious breakfast in the dining room which was the old hotel’s ballroom. Lola must have had cocktails and a dance or two here back in the 30s. Perhaps even my mom  danced here after returning from the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp after WWII in the 40s. She would have been of age by then, just barely eighteen years old.



To  top off the delicious food and smooth service, a lovely young woman gave me a customer service card to complete a customer service survey along with the gift of a fabric covered and mirrored lipstick box. Nice touch.



The Garden Bridge is an iconic image from my grandfather’s photos which I have seen all my life and now I was finally able to walk over it taking my own photographs.


 The Garden Bridge, also referred to as “Grandmother’s Bridge” because you can stop and gaze at the river.

The Peace Hotel, once called the Cathay, was a place I remembered my mom telling me about. What a beauty.  However, historically,  In 1937, a miscalculated bomb fell on the street right outside the hotel killing a massive amount of innocent strangers who were shopping on Nanjing Road.




  There are four of these large gold relief panels, depicting Shanghai, on the atrium walls of the Peace Hotel.

There were quite a number of people walking and shopping on this Friday, but nothing in comparison to what I would see the following Sunday.

As I wandered  up Nanjing Road, a movement caught my eye so I turned my head to catch a young boy, 2-3 years old, squatting and jiggling as he urinated on the sidewalk. Not even the gutter, just in the middle of the sidewalk. The boy’s father stood, a small distance from the boy, looking up to the sky as if he didn’t know this child nor notice he was behaving in a rather unsightly and inappropriate manner. 


Little boy pulling up his britches

A pleasant woman started talking and showing me her brochure of handbags (these are everywhere) and I found her to be an interesting companion for several blocks. We separated when she pointed out her alley with the stalls and I declined to be led down an alley.



My new friend who wanted me to follow her down the alley to buy handbags

I desperately needed to sit down and have an espresso. Although I try to use other coffee shops whenever I can, I saw the Starbucks and went for it. 


After walking through a maze of shopping stalls selling shoes, clothing, jewelry, etc., I found this:


Finally the No. 1 Department Store appeared in its grandeur. And, there was another Starbucks sign to investigate.  Resting up with a cappuccino, I tackled the department store.

The first escalator in China was installed in what is now the No. 1 Department Store in the 30s. Once again, this would have been a place my family would have shopped. I rode the elevator to all the floors looking for something rven remotely Asian looking. All I found was this special section dedicated to cheongsams in sizes I haven’t worn since my 30s! 


On the top floor finding a movie theater, I was tempted to hang out with Liam Neeson but knew I had other things to do.


 In People’s Park, I was asked to take the photo of a young couple. After the photo, he milled around me and she disappeared, which I noted to him. “Hmmm, where is your friend?” I soon realized this was another scam and high-tailed it out of this concrete haven for criminals. (I didn’t like the feeling I was getting from the other characters wandering around.) 

However, thanks to this young man, I learned something about myself. It had been apparent people were looking at me a lot. I thought maybe it was that I was alone and Caucasian. But when someone stared and smiled saying she liked my coat, I was rethinking my position. I was wearing a new London Fog raincoat (great deal from a thrift store back home), and the same beret I have been wearing for years with a couple of small pins on it from places I have traveled. 

This guy pointed out the obviousness of my attire. I looked very militaristic with the coat’s wide lapels, epaulets on the shoulders, and the ‘military green’ color of both my pants and the coat. The young man said, “Ah, military look.” I probably looked like a throwback to the Maoist Era!

Walking on, and wishing I could be invisible, to save some energy I paid 80 cents to ride the trolley for a bit. 



                              Statue of The People in People’s Park

After the rain, the temperature was mild and perfect for walking but the humidity made it seem warmer than it was. 

Back on  the Bund, another couple approached me for the photo scam. I felt good being the wiser from my earlier experience. Although, at first I gave them the benefit of the doubt and took their photo. It was obvious when, once again, he was getting chummy. “Where are you going?” he asked in a fake little boy voice. Oh, please, spare me. I had no qualms leaving him in the dust.

I loved Shanghai even with the quirky people. I felt a sense of having been here before and a fond familiarity with the buildings and knowing the history.

Everything on my list was accomplished while walking the  4 mile round-trip stretch.

For the next two days I would be with my cousin and cousin-in-law led about by Henry our personal guide. My other cousin and cousin-in-law hired him two years ago for the same family itinerary. Henry knew what we were looking for, plus we would be traveling in a vehicle saving us both time as well as bodily wear and tear. 

I was more than ready to plunge into the “inner sanctum” of Shanghai.


5 thoughts on “An American in Maoist Fashion

  1. Our scam involved the photo then an invitation to a folk dancing performance. We passed one woman on the sidewalk actually saying that she had fake handbags for sale – at least she was honest! Have fun. Can’t wait until your return.


  2. I don’t get the scam, Vivian. What did they want from you? I don’t think I’ve had this scam before! It’s cool that you get to go back to Shanghai to visit the places where your grandmother and mother went. What a meaningful experience. What were they doing in Shanghai during those days?

    As for the little boy peeing on the sidewalk, I’ve seen that all over China. 🙂


    • The scam is apparently to throw you off guard and think they are so kind and sweet that you would take them up on their offer to have tea, or let them practice their English with you, in some little place they know and just stop at the ATM along the way. Amazing how people do fall for these things.
      My grandfather was a British police officer, Inspector, and Acting Chief Superintendent when he was killed.. My Russian grandmother nursed her sister who had TB and eventually died, and went to a lot of parties. My mom was in boarding school in Hong Kong but came home on holidays. In ’42, it was a Japanese concentration camp which served as a boarding school instead of a French convent school.


      • Oh, I’m glad you made me aware of this scam. I’ve never experienced it before. I daresay, I’d never stop at an ATM with a stranger along! I’m so sorry about your grandfather, even though it was a long time ago. Wow, your grandparents and your mom had an interesting life. I’m so glad you got to go to Shanghai to follow in some of their footsteps. 🙂


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