USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Four Hours

Since being in the French Concession of Shanghai, I have not given myself the task of exploring the area, so I head out at around 6 p.m. hoping to learn more about this place. I find a shop that sells Monchichi, a doll I recognize from a toy bin I used to have (the ones I remember once belonged to my sisters). Further around the block I find several hair salons, all manned (pun intended) by well-stylized individuals. I keep walking around, going into a few places here and there. Model shops, cool t-shirt design boutiques, a pet store with clear containers containing furry felines, a bookstore/cafe, a massage parlor and an interesting stack of small boutique stores.

Heading in the opposite direction, I make my way to the park I discovered a few weeks ago. Sure enough, I am quickly transported to one of our earlier discussions about program, space, and activity. The first time I heard this lecture I was in my second year of architecture studies, diligently taking notes on heat sensitive glass walls that served as urinals in a men’s bathroom…

Once in the park, where music seems to emanate from the trees lining the walkway, I see dozens of couples waltz precisely and rhythmically, like a school of fish. In no other instant have I witnessed this behavior in China. There’s no competition, no need to rush up against one another in an effort to get ahead, because there is no apparent destination. They cautiously avoid each other, nimbly prancing from one step to the next.

As I watch these men and women, women and women, solitary men, solitary women (never men and men), I almost forget that I’m sitting on a park bench watching and writing. My pen seems to follow the beat with each stroke, dancing in the park and dancing in my sketchbook… a paper ballad.

And this is the same park where I also discovered several men writing with water on the stone pavers. These dancers paint the path on the ground with the swift strokes of their choreographed steps, just as the water of the calligraphers paints evanescent messages on the ground. Who says a park can’t be a dance floor, or a blank piece of paper, ready to morph itself into the setting of a new story?

The elderly woman sitting next to me surrenders her seat as she reaches to take the hand of a younger woman who just approached her. They’re lost on the dance floor…

I get up to leave almost wishing I had taken the opportunity to learn a dance, but tell myself I shall return.

Heading towards the subway station, I walk past the intersection and stroll into the McDonald’s near the entrance. I step up the register and order a number 3 (not number 1 as in the U.S.) with a Sprite. I take my tray and find a nice vacant corner to sit in. As I sit there eating away at the layers of my Big Mac, I can’t help but think of Ray Kroc and how his humble idea grew into something so large, now manifested indefinitely around the world. Something taken for granted and merely accepted into the daily ritual.

Order, pay, eat, and leave.

I finish my meal and head further north towards Cathay Cinema, where we watched the first part of the seventh installment of Harry Potter. That was quite an experience. I walk past it and make my way into the shopping center nearby thinking I need a new hoodie, but quickly dismiss this thought upon remembering that I left my credit card in the safe back at the hotel.

Up four sets of escalators and back down, I decide to head back. I had forgotten my phone and never got around to buying a watch, so I have no idea how long I’ve been gone. Stepping onto the street, I wonder why there isn’t a Chinese version of Big Ben in this part of the city – I could really use one at the moment. I even contemplate walking into one of the boutique shops to ask the time, but I don’t know how to ask in the native tongue. Which reminds me, I just bought a Rosetta Stone to learn Mandarin Chinese. If only I’d had that over summer.

The choreographed walk back to studio is less exciting than the spontaneous route I’d followed earlier. Wondering if the couples are still dancing, I choose the path adjacent to the park. By then there are only two or three people standing on the almost vacant dance floor. Maybe tomorrow night.

As I turn into the alley that leads to Dean Ma’s office, I run into Ross, Precious and Sara. The looks on their faces convey how long I’ve been gone. On the work tables inside the office I find a piece of A3 paper folded in half with the following written on it:


We have your stuff, don’t worry about that.

Doorman has Joyce’s # please call her ASAP. We are worried.

I guess time flies when you’re watching people dance in the park.


Filed under: Dance, French Concession, Park, Shanghai, Uncategorized


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



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