Feeling so much better than I did the day before, I headed out towards the French Concession.
As I may have mentioned, Shanghai is a very green city and there are many parks, particularly towards the old French part of town.
Despite the name, the French Concession was mostly inhabited by Chinese and White Russians. It was notorious for lawlessness – in comparison with the reputation of the British Concession for being well governed.
It was a hive of activity for gangsters and political activists – the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party took place here in 1921.
Gangsters and politicians… a more sarcastic person than me would make some kind of statement about that.
I skirted Jing’an Sculpture Park – where I had been planning to go the Natural History Museum. However, much as I adore a dinosaur exhibit, the hordes of school children put me off that one.
And, language trivia fans, while the word ‘horde’ may come from the Mongolian ‘ordu’ or ‘ordo’ meaning ‘Royal Court’, my use is definitely in the sense if a horde of kids, like a horde of orcs.
(I’m sure they would have been beautifully behaved, I just wasn’t in the mood for crowds).
On arrival in the French Concession I found the parks busy with informal tai chi classes and ballroom/tea dancing.
I love how unselfconscious Chinese people are. I have seen people practicing musical instruments – duff notes and all – as well as tai chi, but dancing was a first.
I could not imagine ballroom dancing taking place in an English park. There is too much embarrassment: what if people watch? What if people laugh? What if I’m not good enough?
In China and particularly in Shanghai… of course people are watching. It is nice to watch people dancing.
People had come with their friends or alone. They found partners from their groups or with strangers.
There were clearly all abilities here, with some of the younger people appearing to have come along to learn. The older people glided along like the seasoned pros they probably were.
Everybody danced different steps to the music, clearly enjoying themselves. There was no formality whatsoever.
When grandparents are dancing with their small grandchildren, there can’t really be a lot of formality – it really was simply about fun and pleasure.
For the most part, the music was a fusion of traditional and dance. Bollywood music was popular too as more people took to the dancefloor when this was played.
As in just about all dances that require a partner there was a shortage of men – the taller women inevitably ended up dancing the ‘male’ role.
And for those who really are in training, there was a baby dance class just along the path with toddlers getting down to boogie.
And the music? It seemed that an individual arrives with a sound system and sets it playing.
I didn’t see any payment take place – either with cash or via mobile phone.
At Fuxing Park, one of the oldest parks in Shanghai (opened in 1909) and the only protected French-style park in China the music was a dance version of the “Dance of the Cygnets”.
It far too rapidly became Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. This was followed by “Somewhere Beneath the Sea” and quickly followed up by Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa”. An eclectic mix to say the least.
I suppose the piper decides the tune… especially if he isn’t being paid.
There more solo dancers at Fuxing, going freestyle – again utterly unselfconscious and having a great time.
While people watch, there is no applause so I suppose nobody feels as though they are being scrutinised. This was not performance for anyone other than the dancers’ enjoyment.
This was a different ‘ritual’ in comparison with the men who were singing opera in a pavillion across the park.
Men took turns to sing into a microphone, with music in front if them, and their audience nodded and applauded. It didn’t seem competitive but it definitely seemed like an exercise in self improvement rather than an activity simply for fun.
Of course, the other benefit of these parks was that underneath the trees, the temperature was several degrees cooler than on the bare concrete streets.
Most of the former French Concession area benefits from extensive tree cover. It is a great part of town to spend a hot sunny day. All of the streets are tree lined and many of the original buildings are laced between the newer glass shopping developments.
It’s a complete contrast to being on the Bund.
#Featured Photo: A Tai Chi ‘class’ in session.