USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

A Typical Afternoon

A typical afternoon before studio at MADA Spam

“Hey guys, what are we doing for lunch?”

“Hmm, I think I want something local…”

“Okay, so fried buns?”

“Naw, I had that for dinner last night”

“Alright, how about steamed buns?”

“No, no…I kinda want Wagas”

“Dude, we had that for lunch yesterday and the day before that…”

Pause. Two minutes of contemplation as you run through all the reasons why you shouldn’t go there for the nth time. Number one reason: You are in China for goodness sake and you’re going to eat a panini? How could you?

“Yeah, Wagas sounds good, let’s go”

So, what is Wagas? Wagas is a café that caters primarily to Expats in the French Concession of Shanghai. Here, amidst the comfy chairs along the windows edge, that allow you to be on display to passersby or better yet to people watch, I have heard just about every European accent possible in the past four weeks.  Even better it is one place I know will understand my order. Shallow? Maybe. But within the walls of Wagas you have twenty minutes of the West but just one quick look out the window and there is Shanghai at your finger tips.

At Xintandi; an affluent entertainment district which is composed of renovated traditional shikumen (“stone gate”) houses, my Wagas experience can be grasped at a larger scale. Both my visits had the same vibe. I was walking along a mini Grove. We ate our lunch outside along a beautifully paved sidewalk and you weren’t in China anymore. Where was all the spit? The pushing and shoving? Heck, where were all the Asians? The few I saw were either upper class business men/women or under the age of two and were being toted around by their Caucasians parents. And what was anchoring the corner entry? None other than good old Starbucks. Here it was; globalization at its finest.

Yet, eerie was the fact that there were hardly any locals. As much as I liked Xintandi there was a little bit of soul missing. And here is the crux of the problem. As globalization becomes more prevalent and small businesses began to be boxed out by more ‘popular’ alternatives what will become of Shanghai? Earlier I wrote a blog discussing the rapid growth of Shanghai and where that leaves the people. (Better City, Better Life. For whom?) After this a key point was brought to my attention that I have been considering these past couple weeks. The Cultural Revolution was three decades of eradication and its effects can be seen heavily still today. Yet as the older generation begins to pass on there is the emergence of the new generation; a generation that has been educated and begun to feel the effects of ‘free’ trade and taking part in an alarming rate. This generation has grown up with Deng Xiaoping’s phrase, “To get rich is glorious.” Thus, laying the foundation of the Chinese mentality of business, business, business. He was also the facilitator in making Pudong open to foreign investments. Hence, allowing for Shanghai to be the international centre of China.

So, as the new generation rises and globalization cast its blanket over China will I look for the spit to know where I am ten years from now? Will I hope to get hit by a biker on my way to the subway, or, speaking of the subway, pray to get elbowed in the eye and shoved against the corner on my way out? To be honest it is really hard to say yes to all these things but events like these have shaped my perception of Shanghai and have become my everyday. Very much so Wagas has become a part of that too. So is either wrong or right? Positive or negative? Strange enough Shanghai is currently straddling the two in an interesting and dynamic way yet inevitably the scale seems to shifting to the all-consuming global model. Yet none the less maybe next time I’m in Shanghai there will be such an abundance of Wagas/Starbucks like cafes and rows and rows of Xintandi like promenades that instead of looking for that western coffee house I’ll be looking for the hole in the wall fried buns eatery.

– Precious


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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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