Would You Pay a Plastic Surgeon for an Eiffel (Tower) Nose?

Spotted in the back of a taxi in Chongqing: an advertisement for a plastic surgery practice that specializes in re-shaping noses to resemble La Tour Eiffel:


A close-up of the model’s nose suggests that the surgeon in question has given serious thought to the precise measurements that create a genuine Eiffel Nose (and tower). And presumably, the model is living proof that he can pull it off.


So why would one want an Eiffel Nose? My guess is that nobody really does. Rather, a particularly industrious cosmetic surgeon decided that he needed some way to distinguish his clinic from the other 34,000 cosmetic surgery institutions that are competing in China’s booming cosmetic surgery industry. Then again, considering the work that some surgeons have been commissioned to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were takers out there, after all.


The Diligent Young Men Cleaning Up Shanghai

Here’s a form of gainful employment that never occurred to me before Friday afternoon: cleaner of the world’s largest urban scale model. I came across him – them – during a visit to the in-need-of-a-better-name Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, and epic model of Shanghai in 2020.

I’ve been taking out-of-town visitors to the model for years, and inevitably two questions arise during those visits: 1) how do they put new buildings onto the map;, and 2) how do they clean it? I’d long assumed that the modular panels which constitute the hockey-rink sized model were removed, from below, for those purposes. It never would’ve occurred to me that twice per year a small team wanders the map, barefooted, repairing, replacing, and cleaning.

According to the diligent  young men assigned the tedious work of cleaning the map, dusting only occurs on the edges – that is, areas visible to visitors. They work with paint brushes (above), sweeping the dust into the rivers and highways, where it awaits the clean-up man and his War of the Worlds-like vacuum cleaner (below) … Continue reading

Build, Demolish, Rinse, Repeat: A Shanghai Scrap Carmelite Update

Way back in January 2009 the staff of Shanghai Scrap told you about the demolition of Shanghai’s (then) 135-year-old Carmelite Convent  on the edge of the expensive, rapidly re-developing Xujiahui neighborhood (part 1, complete with historical background, here, and part 2, here; background on Carmelites, here).  The building wasn’t anything special – except for the fact that it was one of the city’s oldest structures, foreign or Chinese. But what made this demolition so egregious, so patently ridiculous, were the stated intentions of the (re) developers to build a 20% smaller replica of the convent just a few meters south of the original one. [UPDATE: also see comment #1, below, left by Lisa Movius, on why the destruction of the convent “was criminal – literally”] This struck me as stupid and wasteful, but I’ve been here long enough to know that it should also  strike me as one more thing: typical. That is, the Carmelite Convent is not the only historic structure in Shanghai to be demolished in favor of a replica that – for whatever reason – is more in the interests of the developer. In fact, in the case of some dilapidated slum dwellings, this might often be a good thing. In others, less so, to put it lightly.

Anyway. I’d mostly forgotten about this sorry Carmelite episode until this weekend, when I happened to pass the site of the old convent in a taxi and saw that it was being rebuilt. I returned a couple of days later, with a Benedictine, to photograph it. Here, from January 2009, is the historic convent in the last stages of its demolition.

Take note of the roof, and the close proximity of the remaining structure to the fence. And then, have a look at the photo below. The arrow points to the roof of the new convent. The white buildings in place of the old convent are dorms for workers building the replica convent and the highrises that will surround it.

After the page jump, a before and after view from the development’s gate. Continue reading

China Pavilion Architect Celebrates in his Underpants

He Jingtang, architect of the China pavilion at Expo 2010 (Shanghai World’s Fair), on how he celebrated the crowds that turned out to view his building on October 1:

“I especially chose underwear with the China Pavilion logo today to express my happiness.”

As quoted (quote of the Expo, if you ask me) in Shanghai Daily, 2 October 2010.

[UPDATED TWO HOURS LATER: I posted this item quickly, a few minutes before I had to board a flight. Now, after a couple of hours to contemplate Mr. He’s statement, something occurs to me: where can one buy underpants branded with the China pavilion logo? I’ve been at the Expo literally dozens of times, visited a very large percentage of the gift shops (including the one devoted to selling Expo flip-flops), and I’ve yet to see any sign of China pavilion underpants. Quite frankly, instinct tells me that whoever is in charge of licensing China pavilion goods would view branded underpants as lagging in the national dignity that the China pavilion is supposed to convey. So:

  1. Mr. He is not being truthful about his underpants, or;
  2. Mr He has access to a supply of China pavilion underpants (knock-offs???) otherwise unavailable to the public, or;
  3. There’s an Expo store selling China pavilion underpants and I want to know where it is.

Anyone who can help with the last point will be credited in this space, and gifted something of value.

Those Expo 2010 Lines? Blame the Foreigners.

I realize that Expo 2010 (Shanghai World’s Fair) is getting a bit long in the tooth, but … I’d like to share with my Expo readers an interesting note that I received from someone involved in the design of an Expo 2010 pavilion. The topic is Expo lines (or queues, my British friends), and who should be blamed for the fact that visitors are waiting as many as eight hours to enter some of the most popular pavilions. Generally, it seems, the lines are treated as the inevitable consequence of China’s large population. And, in the Chinese media and blogsphere, at least, lines/queues are sited as stamps of quality: ie, the only reason people spend eight hours outside of the Saudi pavilion is that it’s so terrific inside (believe me, it’s not).

And this perverse state of affairs (queues = quality) has led to accusations from some pavilions (Turkey, most notably) that other pavilions (Saudi, most notably), actually manipulate their traffic so that they can enjoy the prestige of lone lines. The email below responds to that suggestion. I’ve edited out any information that could identify this person (and also some of his language – Shanghai Scrap is, ahem, a family blog). Beyond that, this is the unexpurgated opinion of someone who knows what he’s talking about:

The longer queues are being sited as a sign of quality by a lot of the Chinese media – it’s crazy and (as a designer) f****** insulting. Continue reading

Disappearing Shanghai: The Roots of an Urban Tragedy, Pt. II

Today, part II of my emailed interview with Amy L. Sommers (part I, here). Ms. Sommers is an American lawyer with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, and the co-author – along with Kara L. Philips of the Seattle University Law Library – of a 2009 Penn State International Law Review article examining the historic and legal background for the decline and disappearance of Shanghai’s classic residences and neighborhoods. Her thoughts are particularly relevant at a time that Shanghai – home to East Asia’s last abundant stock of pre-World War II neighborhoods – is holding a World’s Fair devoted to examining what makes a better city. In today’s segment, she touches on her background, some interactions with individuals who were still occupying properties seized during the Cultural Revolution, and her outlook for Shanghai’s historic neighborhoods.

Shanghai Scrap: Could you walk me through how you became interested in historic preservation, and the legal and historical issues surrounding it in Shanghai?

Sommers: My interest was piqued probably over a decade ago when I came across a piece in the Far Eastern Economic Review (remember how great a news source it was on China in the 90’s?) about how some Shanghainese and returned Shanghainese were recouping houses lost in the Cultural Revolution. The descriptions of the residences sounded marvelous and incongruous with the massive new buildings I was seeing whenever I was in the Mainland (at that point, I was still based in Seattle and visiting China on business).

Fast forward to 2003 when I worked in Shanghai on a two month assignment for a client facing a nasty criminal Customs investigation and my younger son was attending a nursery school in a converted large lane house in the former French Concession. Walking down the lane and seeing all the other houses, which had such great bones, despite their dilapidation and the fact that they had been rigged into multi-family residences, caught my attention. Continue reading

Disappearing Shanghai: The Roots of an Urban Tragedy, Pt. I

In 2004, Amy L. Sommers, an American lawyer with the Shanghai office of Squier Sanders and Dempsey, decided to buy a pre-War residence in Shanghai. The search included both lane  houses and Art Deco apartments in the city’s former foreign concessions – the French Concession and the International Settlement. Soon after, she and her husband learned that the acquisition wouldn’t be so easy: not only are many of those districts’ charming houses and apartments subdivided, dilapidated and even dangerous, they are often subject to complicated, intertwining ownership claims.

She was neither the first nor the last prospective buyer to run into these issues in Shanghai, home to the best and last remaining stock of original, pre-World War II housing and neighborhoods in East Asia. But she is likely the first and only one to decide to write an American law review article exploring the various factors that have contributed to the decrepit state of that housing stock and – most important – its rapid destruction in the wake of Shanghai’s extraordinary economic development.

The results of her work – “A Tragedy of the Common: Property Rights Issues in Shanghai Historic Residences” – was written with Kara L. Phillips of the Seattle University Law Library, and published in the Fall 2009 issue of the Penn State International Law Review. It’s an important piece of work for anyone who cares about Chinese cities and their historic cores. Rather than focus on the superficial, conventional wisdom explanation for why Shanghai’s historic residences are in poor condition and disappearing (people are poor; developers are greedy and short-sighted), Sommers and Phillips look back to post-1949 Chinese land reform policies and how they’ve impacted contemporary urban landscapes.

Of these, none impacted Shanghai’s historic homes so much as the property seizures and occupations of the Cultural Revolution. As multiple families occupied and sub-divided homes meant for one family, they set in motion a sorry cycle whereby nobody – neither the original owner nor the occupier – had any incentive to take responsibility for the upkeep of a property. The subsequent, forty years of unmet maintenance creates a perfect excuse and occasional need to demolish.

Last week Ms. Sommers agreed to answer some emailed questions about her work related to Shanghai’s historic residences. I’ll be posting those answers today and tomorrow.

It’s worth noting that the disappearance of East Asia’s old housing and neighborhoods isn’t a new subject. But this summer, as Shanghai – East Asia’s last great outpost of old urbanism – hosts a World’s Fair devoted to better cities, the subject has taken on palpable urgency. Continue reading