As you well know, I am a shoe obsessive, but I have been trying to keep shoes out of this because it’s all about Shanghai, not shoes. But if the two happen to intersect……
I was actually of a mind to keep this place completely secret, because it’s too incredible, but I can’t help telling you about it. On Fuxing Xi Lu is a small, wonderful hand-made shoes shop. If you’re thinking it will be cheap, it’s not, but it’s about one sixth the cost of having made-to-measure shoes done anywhere else in the world. And I know about these things.
You go in, choose a style, choose the leather for the outside and the inside (Italian or local leathers, according to your taste and your budget). Then you have an outline of your foot made, and a multitude of measurements taken.
Now for the hard part. You wait four weeks. Four weeks to make anything in Shanghai is completely unheard of, in a city where new buildings pop up practically overnight and a custom tuxedo can be whipped up in three days. If you’re not too fussy, you can get a cashmere coat made overnight, but the sleeves will probably be held on with sticky tape. So it’s quite reassuring to know that your shoes will take time to make, and will be made properly.
The results you can see for yourself. A perfect pair of oxford brogues, with a bit of whimsy on the toe in the punched detail and the stitching.
Whenever I get back to Shanghai after a trip, I like to wander around Fuxing Park and check that all the usual stuff is going on in the ‘hood. Backwards walking, check. Ballroom dancing, check. Inspirational Communist singing, check. There are thousands of activities taking place. Personally, I’m always impressed by the mature-age diablo fiends. You know what a diablo is, don’t you – a brightly coloured dumb-bell shaped plastic thingy, beloved of kids and hippy wannabe circus performers in other parts of the world. But in China, spinning the diablo is a retirement activity. Their primary coloured diablos whizz around them making an extraordinary noise, and they can do all sorts of incredble tricks. But today, as with every day in Shanghai, I saw something I’d never seen before. Masked, multi-diablo masters. A whole bunch of the devils.
So lets start with one diablo…….I’m just warming up
Let’s try four at once and see what happens…
I can do four too!
Yes! Four diablos all at once! OK, OK too easy. But eight…….is eight possible??
Uh….no. Chinese Elvis! It didn’t work because you’re not wearing your mask!
Get yourself untangled and make way for the Grand Diablo Master…..despite his age, his arthritis, and not wearing his mask……..
He can do it! Twelve! Twelve spinning diablos!! Applause please!
So that meltingly tender pork with shaved bamboo shoots I ate last night? Turns out that aged salt-preserved pork is the specialty of Xidi and every available outdoor wall is hung with giant meaty pork legs and pig’s heads. Every time you turn a corner you come eye to eye with one. Perhaps it’s called the Pig’s Heaven Inn because pigs who taste this good must surely go to heaven……
Now I’ m really not squeamish about what I eat, and although it makes no logical sense whatsoever, I kind of hope I ate the bits from the leg, and not the head.
The ways of showing your love are a little different in China. Forget the flowers, the his-and-hers mobile phone thingies. I’m talking about something really meaningful and permanent, although it will require a bit of effort on your part.
Firstly, take your love to a romantic spot with a really good view, for example, Huang Shan. Next, buy a padlock from one of the mountain padlock vendors, and have it engraved with a poignant and loving message by one of the mountain padlock engravers. You think I’m kidding, don’t you. I thought I might take all my silverware up and get that engraved too, it would probably be quite cheap, say, after the Valentine’s Day rush.
Now, attach your padlock to the chain fence separating you and your lover from the edge of the abyss. Throw away the key, preferably into the abyss and not just on the pathway behind you.
Now your love will last forever. Promise.
By the way, Mr Cheapskate…….a used bicycle lock will not do and I bet you two broke up soon afterwards. What were you thinking??
There are two ways up Huangshan, you can either walk (steep, long, requires stamina beyond mere mortals) or you can take the cable car. Let me tell you about the cable car, because I would have to pretend I knew something about the walk.
As I stepped into the cable car’s little green bubble I was very cheered up by the ‘Made in Austria’ sign on the engine wheel. Not to say that ‘Made in China’ is not synonymous with high standards of safety and quality. Just that those Austrians are quite particular and thorough about making things that don’t fall apart. Like cuckoo clocks. And it was a long way up.
‘It’s not so steep’ I thought, until we reached the summit of the first peak and I looked down into a small valley, then up, up, up to the highest point in the photo between the two summits. A long way in a bubble, and really quite extremely steep, and as we hit the crosswinds and swayed about, a few hundred metres off the ground, I found it very helpful to keep repeating ‘Made in Austria, Made in Austria, Made in Austria’ til my feet were firmly on the ground of the White Goose Ridge Station. Guess I’ll be walking down then.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to Irishmen everywhere. A surprisingly large number of people with Irish heritage live here in Shanghai and they all turned out for the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Fuxing Park on the weekend. Or maybe they turned out for the stout. There was lots of green, white and orange and a sea of giant black velvet leprechaun hats, being given out by the Murphy’s Irish Stout crowd. A marching band from the Shanghai Community International School led the way, there was Irish dancing, Irish music, a Chinese-Irish dragon, and 6 Chinese blokes in wolf costumes. I have no idea what that was about.