The Yuyuan is more or less the only „ancient“ site in Shanghai. The „Old City“ next to this beautiful garden and tea house you see nowadays is a Disneyland-style creation of the 1990s and 2000s. In 1987/88 the „real“ Old City still existed, and while it had great charm for visitors it was definitely not a good place to live – think modern plumbing, electricity and communications. Still, it is a pity that it has been replaced completely.
Here are a couple of pictures from my first visit to Yuyuan in fall 1987:
My father used to be an avid traveler. Not the backpack kind, the organized travel group trips. And so he traveled to China in the early 1980s with a regular tour group, going to the usual places. Including a boat tour on the Yangzi or Changjiang. And he carried binoculars with him, which were ideal to watch the river banks from the boat. The Chinese passengers were intrigued by them, and soon he was asked by some whether they could take a look through them. And this is how he got to know a freshly married couple from Shanghai – Mr Wang and his wife. Mrs Zhang. Although they couldn’t communicate with words, my father took some pictures and promised to send copies to them once they were developed, back home. So they exchanged addresses, and contact was established.
A few years later I got the admission to Fudan in Shanghai, and so they, who were maybe 15 years older than I and had a one-year-old son took care of me a bit while I was in Shanghai: Showing me places, helping me buy a warm winter jacket and long underwear before the cold season – remember: no heating anywhere south of the Changjiang! – and so on. I owe them a lot, and we have met several times after this, both in China and in Germany.
I was invited to their tiny apartment in an old house in the former „French concession“ part of downtown Shanghai. We spent a lot of time together. I saw places I would never have seen without them and experienced Chinese hospitality. His grandparents lived in the apartment too, but they didn’t speak Mandarin, and communication was difficult.
There was, however one fantastic interaction with the grandparents: I had bought a Majiang game in the Old City, and I was invited to be taught the basic rules by the grandparents. Majiang is a major gambling game in China, and was considered „bourgeois“ during and after the „Cultural Revolution“. And my hosts were surprised that now they were on sale again. I still treasure my artificial bone Majiang set, although I don’t remember how to play anymore. Anyway: The two seniors got totally into it, and we spent several hours playing the game on the living room table in the tiny apartment. After explaining the rules and playing a few games with a couple of „mercy wins“ for me, they took off and were invincible! This was so much fun and such a pleasure to watch them enjoying themselves no end!