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Chased by Dogs in Historic Shanghai
by Jaap Grolleman
In my daily job at GoEast I go through a lot of data and code — so perhaps I’m an unlikely person to be fascinated by the past. The thing is that I’m often lost in it, daydreaming into a book, or when visiting a historic place. And Shanghai is filled with such places.
I live in Hongkou and it’s a good district for it. There’s 1933 Laoyangfang, an Escheresque slaughterhouse, and an old synagogue that is now the Jewish museum — as well as plenty of buildings that link to the district’s maritime past.
There’s this time I once stumbled on this amazing building at 505 Dong Changzhi Lu, built in art deco style with a dome on top of it. At the entrance, I saw a sign that said it used to be a seamen’s hospital, built by colonialists in 1934. When I entered it seemed totally deserted, so I figured I could take a look, and a bit more, and more.
So as I explored deeper into the building, I saw empty corridors and a wildly growing inner garden. And just as I sent a photo to my wife, I started to hear dog barks, both from the entrance as well as from the back of the building, echoing through the corridors. “At least she’ll know where to find me if I’m eaten alive”, I thought to myself.
But I panicked a bit when I turned a corner and saw a big dog blocking the path, standing in an aggressive pose, barking my way.
We locked eyes for a few seconds, and just then I saw a person move passed a distant doorway, and it turned out to be the guy who brought water to the dogs. I yelled at him and followed him outside as he chased the dogs away, my heart still racing. Only safely outside did I finish my message to my wife to tell how stunning a place this was.
I think the ‘official’ purpose of history is that it lets you understand the present, but for me, it’s just enjoyment. I wonder about the people that designed or built the place, as well as the sick sailors that were bedridden here. Through those stories we can experience the past, without actually having been there — and they make all the years between then and now disappear.
But after each visit to such a place, it’s nice to return back to Shanghai’s modern wonders again, and be able to use today’s gifts again — like ordering food on a smartphone. It’s the many contrasts that Shanghai has that makes it such a fantastic city to live in.
Jaap Grolleman is from the Netherlands and works as communication manager at GoEast Mandarin, a Chinese language school in Yangpu & Xuhui, Shanghai.