If you are ever in Shanghai, and you find yourself in need of a quieter day, away from the crowds and the honking (trust me – millions of car horns going off at all times), away from the stores and street vendors, I highly recommend visiting Moganshan Lu. Although, I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to be away from the street vendors… they are such an accessible & affordable source of sustenance, which shouldn’t be taken for granted if you are a student who can’t speak Chinese and is in China.
[A small ode to street vendors: you may have to choke back tears from the amount of smoke surrounding you, and you may have to close your eyes in order to forget that there’s oil dripping from all of the fried things, and you may have to get used to the idea of someone preparing your food while coating it with cigarette ash … but I promise that your eyes will water with delight at the salty, doughy, chewy goodness that is most certainly all around you. Not to mention, it is infinitely easier to feed yourself on the street when you can point. In other words, there is no menu to dauntingly stare back at you.]
We ended up on Moganshan Lu by mistake, as most things tended to happen in Shanghai. It is a very serendipitous city. We initially had tried to find the ShanghART museum (which we ended up calling ShART for most of the visit, but you can do what you want with the name) on a street off of Huahai Lu, which is exactly where one tourist-y site said that it would be. Yet, come to find out, it wasn’t there. This wasn’t exactly shocking news since everything around Shanghai was somewhat akin to the staircases from Harry Potter. It’s all there, and it’s all familiar, but somehow it’s perpetually shape-shifting and switching. By the end of the trip, it was neither shocking nor upsetting that galleries/restaurants/stores/museums would all disregard their hours of operation, and therefore would open or closed as they pleased. Take for example, the Shanghai Art Museum, which people lovingly gave us opposite directions to, pointed at random buildings, told us to turn random corners, and all the while failed to mention that the museum had in fact, shut down. Go figure.
After a few confused minutes of spinning around and around in a courtyard wondering which building ShART could be in, the guard told us that the museum had in fact moved to Moganshan Lu. Fearing that the ShART didn’t actually exist, it took us a few days to work up the courage to go.
We finally decided on one of our last days that we absolutely had to go, if only for the satisfaction of tracking something down & getting lucky enough to be there when it was open. We hopped in a cab, we arrived, and ShanghART was no where to be found. There were signs that once again pointed in opposite directions, a map that was very obviously misdrawn, and no famous museum to be found. But then we stumbled upon dozens upon dozens of other galleries all in a small cluster (the exact address is 50 Moganshan Lu). Think Chelsea Galleries except colder, smokier, and arguably better. We only encountered a few other people, and most of the exhibits were quite thought-provoking. No pictures were allowed, but I hardly wanted to take photos. I wanted to peruse.
Then inside of one of the galleries tucked away on top of a building, there was a tiny café run by a woman. It was quite cozy, and the latté was over priced, for China at least, but nothing to complain about. There was free wifi, and she let us sit for a solid three hours.
On our drive to the galleries, the streets were lined with graffiti – a rarity in the parts of Shanghai we saw. I wish that we had gone out to leisurely walk before the sun had set because by the time we had left the café, it was almost dark outside & we were left with only the smallest glimmers of smog-filtered light.
And so the ShART museum was never found.