Saturday, April 14, 2007

Day becomes the night, night becomes the day


Part two of our big day was dedicated to hitting the Bund and Nanjing Xi Lu with the express purpose of seeing the lights. The buildings in Pudong were recently immortalized in the last Mission Impossible movie. I’ve seen them illuminated on the way in from the airport, but never up close. They don’t disappoint.

But before we could get there, we had another slog across town. Leaving Xintiandi, we headed up to Huahaidong Lu, the very fancy shopping district. Bally, Dior, Cartier, Versace, Ferragamo – all the major names embellishing the brightly lit building fronts. Large plasma screen TVs advertised Sony and Apple on street corners. Luxe advertising overload. The early neon signs began to twinkle on as the sun set. It was going to be interesting.

Huaihaidong Lu slowly went from glam to grunge as we neared the river. This is the point where the old town merges with the new, and despite the disappearing tenements, it still holds sway. As we walked along, we realized we were in the bridal gown district. Shop after shop of wedding and proms dresses lined the street, broken only by stores dedicated to reception favors and other trinkets. One store was dedicated to rolls of lace and ribbon. In spite the grimy countenance of the street, something magical was going on and we closed block after block.












Finally the Bund came into view and we crossed the big street and climbed the stairs. The view was spectacular. Multi-colored lights danced on the twin spheres of the Pearl of the Orient tower. The Aurora building had an entire side dedicated to video. Giant shearwaters glided over oceans projected on the side of a skyscraper. On our side, the colonial buildings of the Bund were shone brightly with yellow-white lights. Boats on the river were all illuminated with neon and a sailing ship went by with all its rigging twinkling with yellow lights. Truly an banquet for the eyes and an incredible change from the vista of only a few hours eariler.



















We could have left the Bund as happy people, fully satisfied with the night’s light show. But Nanjing Lu and its reputation loomed. Nanjing Lu is the place where tradition trumps tech, where the lights of the night are neon, and there is no need for 40 storey plasma screens.

It was crowded and not easy to make our way along the street. Once we hit the pedestrian mall though, it opened up and moving became easier. The crush was over. Vendors promised massages and watches. And these funny little contraptions that strap on your shoes, turning them into roller skates with lighted wheels. Despite the fact that it was obvious they weren’t for me and my size shoes, the sellers kept approaching and imploring. Two young women struck up a conversation with my while I was adjusting my camera, telling me how wonderful my Chinese was and asking if I was from Beijing. What’s up with Beijing, and my purported Beijingese accent? They wanted to know if I had any friends and if so, how many. I kept working on my lens and they got bored and wandered off.

If the Bund is a banquet, Nanjing Lu is, well, a bigger banquet. Every building is cloaked in lights and sports a giant neon sign. The colors were beyond description. Perhaps the most amazing was the seven story high giant red Coke bottle. Or maybe any one of a dozen others, each one better than the last and not quite as nice as the next. Flowers, horses, fish, everything one can craft in lights and more. To say that the Chinese love neon is a gross understatement.

Sore feet and aching calves aside, it was quite a day. We spanned three centuries in a little over 5 hours and covered 15 miles. We saw the night catch on fire. It was quite a day.


























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