Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sex in Shanghai


As I looked out of the window of my Room at the Xing Guo Radisson Plaza in Shanghai, for a few moments - I thought I was hallucinating. Where did the surreal sci-fi skyline of Pudong I saw the night before disappear ? Instead, there was now a view of the Tripureshwor junction in Kathmandu, complete with the stream of old reconditioned cabs, swarm of bi-cycles and two-wheelers. Rubbing my eyes and senses regained, it wasn't that hard to explain. After all, the affinity of the little kingdom towards its northern neighbours is well known and in anycase half of Kats has been re-built with Chinese aid - hence the red Chinese-brick and white awnings construction of the new government buildings. But, another cultural similarity - to be discovered a little later - was the Chinese proclivity to use their roads as public spitoons. How customs travel in the direction of the wind !!

The walk along the famous "bund" was another experience of deja-vu. This time tho' not of Kats but that of our very own Calcutta of yore ( except that, in Shanghai they've lifted the dusty tarpaulins put on during the Mao era to hide - what they still consider as - an embarassing past , restoring the pristine sheen with a new coat of paint; while in Calcutta our Bengali Marxists still find romance - if that were indeed allowed in Communism, sex certainly was, as we shall see in a bit - amidst squalid decay and dilapidation ) . A visit to the Shanghai History Museum across the river with life-size replicas and wax models would easily transport you back in time to vignettes of Calcutta in the early 1900s. The Huangpu river could well have been our old Hooghly, the bund - Outram Ghat or "Gangar Dhar" , and Wai-tan - the Strand Road with its string of old British Merchant Houses and Banks like Lloyds & Grindlays or StanChart in place of HSBC (which too was there within a stone's throw at Dalhousie ). And East Nanjing Road - without a doubt a sister of our very own Chowringhee with The Grand ( and the Great Eastern - not too far away ) in place of Shanghai's Astor House - which boasts a guest-list of Russel, Einstein and Chaplin.

Desperate to find a differentiator, I took a dive into the stairways of the tunnel and was instantly transported on a space-ship-like gondola through a psychedelic passage to Pudong - where a sign beckoned me to the "China Sex Cultural Museum". And ahoy, here was suddenly something unlike anything one can ever find either in Kats or Kol ( I believe that's the 'hip' new abbreviation for Kolkata - I presume, with no pun intended on the Bengali meaning of 'kol', with the loads of lascivious images it conjures up).

Targetted obviously at the tourists like yours truly who have a vulnerability for the vicarious - it tries to thinly disguise the erotica with a shred of historical and philosophical pretensions. So before leading onto exhibits of copulating tortoises or fornicating snakes - there is a short thesis " ....as for sex of human beings there are 2 characters , one is natural and animal and the other cultural.....the (balanced ) combination of these inclinations lead to the development of civilised society". Sure Vatsayana would agree. But there are other gems and jewels - both literal and literary. To get a peek into all that and more keep logging onto this space....( which, I admit has become notoriously erratic. And, that's not a typo please...even tho' it's close to midnight ).