Bucharest Art Deco

Art Deco was a major artistic movement in the 1920’s to 1940’s. Although it was overlooked for decades, attention has come back to it, first in the US, starting with Miami Beach, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (See post Napier Art Deco). In the last ten years, Art Deco has also come back to Europe, including France the original location of the 1925 exposition des Arts Decoratifs. Shanghai Art Deco was celebrated by the 2015 World Congress on Art Deco, with Paris being the location for the 2025 Word Congress, 100 years after the original exhibition.

The rediscovery of Old Shanghai was also a discovery of the Art Deco heritage of the city. As Old Shanghai buildings were uncovered (from add-ons in particular) or restored, they could be classified in various style, with the leading style being Art Deco. The next step was to realize that “unique” Shanghai buildings where unique in Shanghai, but very similar to some in far away places. For a while, I was travelling to various destination, looking for buildings that looked like the Shanghai own, often from the same period. The first post was probably “London recalling“, followed by many trips in Auckland, Sydney, New York, Miami, Paris, Lyon, Budapest, Dijon etc etc. The feeling of Deja Vu was summarized perfectly in ” Deja vu from Paris to Shanghai “, as well as in post “Shanghai flashback“. Although I have reduced travelling for architecture in the last years, friends who lived in Shanghai started to send pictures to me. The latest example, is from Bucharest, from Old Shanghai specialist Peter Hibbard.

Art Deco building in Bucharest… that would look just at home in Shanghai

The above corner building could fit very well in the streets behind the Bund, or near Hamilton House, Grosvenor house or the corner of Avenue Edward VII and Szechuen Road (today Yanan Dong lu and Sichuan Lu). Just like building in Old Shanghai, and most communist countries, it was poorly maintained after WWI, but I am sure it was originally a very high class building.

Another example of Art Deco / modernist similarities is the above corner building in Bucharest, that is quite similar to some in Shanghai, including the Bearn apartment building in Shanghai, buy French firm LVK.

Shanghai new Gudao

The word of Gudao 孤岛(or isolated island) for Shanghai is usually associated with the 1937 to 1941 period. From the July 1937 to December 1941, both the International Settlement and the French Concession were surrounded by the Japanese army, but not occupied. Foreigners were still in control inside the concessions, but outside the population was ruled by the Japanese. Crossing in out the foreign settlements was difficult and dangerous, and population suffered. All people who lived through this period underline the strong feeling of isolation that people felt in Shanghai at the time. Supply was far from secure and many people died of hunger in city’s streets. Most of all, the city and it inhabitants were totally isolated from the rest of China.

After years of studying Shanghai history, I never thought that I would live through a period of time that is so similar. The last 2 years of CoVid epidemic have seen several periods when it was strongly recommended or sometimes forbidden to leave the city. As CoVid passed its second anniversary, it seemed that the epidemic was fading away… but it came back to the city with a vengeance. Although some districts started earlier, the lockdown started on 1st April on Puxi (4 days earlier in Pudong). It officially ended on 1st June, although some districts were still put under lockdown later on.

One of the strong reminder of the Gudao period, was that districts were separated from each other, with physical barriers being erected. Although the city’s administration has been largely changed since the late 1930s, some strong similarities remain. The most striking one for an Old Shanghai lover was surely the crossing point over the river on Szechuen Road (today Sichuan Lu).

Then and now

Besides the similar images, this lockdown also created similar feelings. In particular food in Shanghai was scarce in the early weeks of the lockdown, as logistics chains were heavily disrupted. Food supply was also a massive issue in the Gudao era.

Similarly, during the Gudao, inhabitants felt locked in this little strip of land and getting out was really difficult if not impossible. As similar sens of enclosure captured Shanghainese and foreigners alike. Many foreigners left if they could in the Gudao era, and very few came back in the year after the war. In a similar ways, many foreigners in Shanghai have already left or are considering doing it, even if the full lockdown is now lifted.

Life in Shanghai remains unsettled and the usual optimism and forward thinking of the city has been severely shaken. Hopefully the city vibe will come back in the coming months, and not take years for the city to be in full swing again this time.

爱情神话 / B for busy

爱情神话, in English “B for busy” is a recent Shanghai movie that has taken the city like a storm. This is a story of Shanghai people, taking place in the heart of Shanghai… in Shanghai dialect.

爱情神话 movie poster

爱情神话 can be translated as “love myth”. The movie is a romantic comedy centered on Old Bai, a Shanghai man in his mid. Divorced since years, he still looking for love and find himself the center of attention of three women. His Tango lover ex-wife is still around, and his own mother never accepted their divorce. One of his female student is also showing clear interest, though he is mostly some kind of distraction for her. Along comes a new friend that is attracting a lot of his attention. This trio of women makes a mess of his own little comfortable life, along with old friend Lao Wu, with his legendary past adventures with women.

The movie reminded me a lot of French movies, that are often centered around a couple of people in a short period of time. It studies the interaction between and how they change each character’s life. It also gives a sense of intimacy that really helps the viewer to relate with the movies characters. It’s a romantic comedy, and like in many French movies, the viewer will experience both laugh and sadness within short periods of times, making the movie very close to real life. Like many intimate French movies, it is depicting the life of the middle class, with cultural or artistic background.

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 18 years, I could also find a lot of reminders of my own life in Shanghai. All characters speak Shanghai dialect and characters are a real reflection of Shanghai life, including food and habits. All exteriors have been filmed in the streets of the Former French Concession, where a lot of Shanghai people in their midlife have spent their childhood in, just like characters of the movie. Walking down one of those streets, I am half expecting to meet the movies characters along the way. The whole movie actually feels like a love letter to life in this city.

The combination of strong Shanghai feeling and close intimacy with the characters is surely what has made the success of the movie in Shanghai. At the same time, it is also attracting foreigners who live in the city, as it gives all of us a sense of proximity and belonging. .. thanks to the English subtitles in the theater version. Hopefully, this will also make successful abroad as well, showing a very human face of Shanghai to the World.

More news about Hugh Martin

After discovering Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai and finding out that he is actually not buried there, here are some more information about this interesting Old Shanghai character, thanks to Simon Drakeford from treatyportsport.com

Hugh Martin was the son of a famous theologian from Scotland, Very Rev. Alexander Martin. He was Principal of New College, Edinburgh 1918-1935 and one of the architects of the union of the United Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland in 1929. Rev Alexandre Martin’s father was also called Hugh Martin (1822-1885) and was also a theologian from Scotland. It is probably not a coincidence that young Martin born in 1888, 3 years after his grandfather death in 1885 was also called Hugh.

Hugh Martin got married in 1920 in Shanghai, to Margaret Thomas, after returning from WW1 in Europe. He was then a “Bachelor”, i.e. single and she was a “Spinster” meaning a lady single.

After spending the 1920s and 1930s being a socialite and ascending to full control of firm Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese) as explained in previous post, it must have been really hard to be interned by the Japanese authorities along with citizens of allied in nations in 1943. This story has been well illustrated in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Empire of the Sun. It was also detailed in 2017 interview of Betty Barr for Chinese media Sixth Tone. Hugh Martin was interned in Pootung Camp in 1943, liberated in 1945. In the same year, he joined back the Shanghai Club and was elected Chairman.

It is not clear what happened to his first wife, but Simon found a summary document of Consular marriages (1946 – 1950) which shows that Hugh Martin married Anne M Laessoe in Shanghai. Interestingly, she was also in Pootung camp but married to Christian Frederick Laessoe who is listed as marrying a Marie Konovalova also in the period 1946 – 1950. Hugh and Anne Marie probably met in the camp.

Hugh Martin landed back in Southhampton via British P&O ship Strathmore on 12th May 1947 as show on above document, one year after his own father’s death. In the document, Martin is mentioned as an auctioneer. With him came his wife, Anne Marie Martin, listed as “Home duties”. They were due to Edinburgh, adresse 16 Church Hill (Church Hill is a street and an area of Edinburgh).

Hugh Martin died in Edinburgh on 6 January 1970, not in London as mentioned in previous article. His wife must have passed away before him as he is mentioned as a widower. He was cremated in the following days.

M on the Bund closure

Michelle Garnaut’s place, M on the Bund, was the original Bund’s renaissance restaurant. Open in 2002, it was then the only high level independent restaurant on the Bund. A staple of Shanghai nightlife as well as one of the most Old Shanghai evocative place in the city, the restaurant has announced in closure for 15th February 2022. With its unique style mixing modernity and old colonial atmosphere, it has been one of the top spot for Old Shanghai lovers and will be sadly missed.

Located in the former NKK Building, on Bund N5 at the Cross of Canton Road (Guangdong lu) and the Bund, M on the Bund occupies the top floor, including the small but really nice terrasse. Besides the location in the heart of Old Shanghai’s Bund, the whole decor and atmosphere feels like high class dining in Old Shanghai.

Lunch at M

Furniture, accessories and decor have been carefully curated to carry the real sense of class, sophistication and timelessness that makes great places. Staff has been trained and retained for years, creating a service level that is both very effective and nearly invisible. M’s brunch is still a favorite, along with its legendary Pavlova, but M on the Bund has been far more than a restaurant.

Michel Garnaut has been instrumental to bring culture to Shanghai, a place that was so much lacking of it. M was the main organiser and location of the now defunct Shanghai Literary Festival (See 2007 post “Quelques grammes de culture dans un monde de brutes“). The Glamour Bar (see post from 2009 “An old favorite the Glamour Bar“), was the place to present books about Old Shanghai in a timeless atmosphere. Many book reviews in this blog started with such a Saturday afternoon event or a lunch presentation at the Literary festival. My most vivid memory of those times is a presentation by the three ladies of Old Shanghai, Tess Johnston, Lynn Pan and Rena Krasno, probably around 2008. Since M on the Bund will close down in mid Feb, it’s the right to pay a last visit and enjoy the unique atmosphere of this legendary place.

Unfortunately, M on the Bund was not the only foreign place to close this winter. Famous Shanghai franchise Element Fresh, French veteran Le Café des stagiaires as well as Wine bar and terrasse favorite Kartel have already closed down in the last weeks.

Top posts of 2021!

After the hectic year of 2020, 2021 did not disappoint as CoVid19 is continuing to influence our lives, just as the “Spanish” flew pandemic did decimate Europe about 100 years ago. 2021 marked the 15th anniversary of the Shanghailander blog. Here are the most read posts in 2021.

1 – The rise and fall of the Majestic Hotel
The story of the star of Shanghai nigthlife in the 1920s, that disappeared in the 30s seems is a regular on the top search posts of the blog. The reason why I wrote this post in 2017 was my own interest and the lack of information available on the topic. Apparently I was not the only to be interested in the topic, as this post was already on the top of the list last year.

2 – Old Shanghai French Consulate
Shanghai former French Consulate was destroyed in the 1980s, but the location on the Bund is quite easy to identify. How did it look like? Follow the link for more information.

3 – Old Shanghai short movie
There are many photographs of Old Shanghai, but movies from 1930s Shanghai are not so many. This one is particularly interesting.

4 – Park Hotel accounting
I found the daily accounts for Park Hotel for one day in October 1938. This is the first part of the post, going through the spending part of the accounts. How much was spent by the hotel on food, drinks and other supply is analyzed in the post, giving a clear view of daily management of a hotel in the 1930s.

5 – Hugh Martin grave in Shanghai
It turns out that one of the central characters of Old Shanghai had (nearly) the same name as mine. This post explores the life of Hugh Martin.

Best wished from the Shanghailander blog for 2022! If you want me to share or publish information about Old Shanghai, people places, documents and other related topic, please contact me at hmartin@shanghailander.net .

Rumors from Shanghai

The second half of the year has been particularly hectic, so I used the last days of December to get back into my Old Shanghai passion. I bought Amy Sommers “Rumours from Shanghai” at publication sometimes in April 2021, but I only finished it recently after a very long interruption.

Book cover

The story is set up in 1940-1941, the last days of Old Shanghai as they later were called. Although the war is coming fast, nobody seems to notice and Shanghai social elite continues the life of lesasure and party it had for decades.

The book central character is Tolt Gross, an African American law graduate who speaks fluent Japanese and Chinese. He is sent to Shanghai to work along the owner’s son of a major Seattle treadmill that has opened in branch to develop the Far East. The story is that he learned Japanese and Chinese from both company staff of his childhood household, which I found really hard to believe. Having an African American sent to run a large foreign company is also very improbable at the time. Tolt Gross mentions he had little chance to find a job for his qualification in the USA, I think his chances in Old Shanghai were even thinner.

Old Shanghai was made of two parallel societies run by powerful white men on one side and powerful Chinese men on the other side. They interconnected for business, but remained separated most of the time, and both communities saw any other race as inferior. There was a number of Afro-American in Old Shanghai, mostly musicians that brought Jazz to the city (See post “Night in Shanghai” for more about this). There must have been afro-american US Navy sailors stopping with ships or stationed as troops, but they were surely not many, as they represented 2.3% of the force in 1940, mostly at mess attendants, officers’ cooks and steward, as is one of the minor characters in the book.

Rumors from Shanghai being a novel, it is the author’s choice that create the story. Amy Sommers has lived many years in Shanghai and has long been involved in Historic Shanghai researching the city’s past, so the environment she creates is historically just right. The places, experiences and electric atmosphere of 1940-1941, the are well documented and rendered without becoming an history lesson in disguise as Old Shanghai novels sometimes turn to.

From a slow start depicting elite life in Old Shanghai, action really kicks in after Tolt talks with Japanese officer Takeda, and his plans for Japan’s attack on the USA. From that point, the novel really becomes a page turner with Tolt trying to convince sceptic officials that such an attack is really going to happen. As we all know, Pearl Habor attack took place on 7th December 1941. Tolt could not stop it, but a lot events happened to him and his friends in the meantime, making “Rumors from Shanghai” a really entertaining book, once you get into the author’s world.

Hugh Martin, back from the dead

In a previous post “Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai“, I shared my discovery of the tumb stone of Hugh Martin, in the foreign cemetery of Old Shanghai. This grave stone attracted my attention as my name “Hugues Martin” is very similar. It turned out that the story is more complicated that it seemed at first. Here are a few discoveries that I made, including him surviving Old Shanghai and moving back to the UK.

Photograph from 1938

Like many men of the Empire, Hugh Martin was not actually English, but Scottish. He was born in Edinburgh on 9th April 1888. As it was common with British, he was a sport man, having played for the Scottish rugby team between 1908 and 1909. He must have reached Shanghai in 1910 as he first played rugby in Shanghai team in December of that year. He played many games in Shanghai and other treaty ports, being the team Captain in the 1913-1914 season (Thanks www.treatyportsport.com for those details).

Shanghai vs Tianjin, 1913. Hugh Martin is bottom row middle right with a mustache. (picture www.treatyportsport.com )

Hugh Martin also took part in World War 1, coming to Europe in September 1914 to fight for England. The story of those European men that left Shanghai for the WW1 front in 1914 is told in Robert Bickers Pinguin book, “Getting stuck in for Shanghai”, although Martin is not namely mentioned in it. Martin was slightly injured on the front in 1915 and so quite a lot of action particularly in Belgium. From the European front, he wrote a letter published in the North China Daily news, where he mentioned meeting one of his Old Shanghai mate, “Quite like old time, except that there were no cocktail floating abut. This is the simple life and I could do with a Race Club cocktail any night“. He finished the same letter by saying: “This is just a line to tell you I often think about old Shanghai days and old Shanghai pals.” He was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in July 1916. He returned to Shanghai after the war, where he joined back Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese).

He must have lived in the French Concession after coming back to Shanghai, as on 12 January 1921, he was elected among the three foreign members of the Shanghai French Concession Municipality, “foreign Other people elected included R Fano (GM of the International Saving Society which financed a lot of real estate in Old Shanghai), and Michel Speeman (a prominent Dutch business in Shanghai who was later strongly involved helping Jewish refugees in the late 1930s). He was elected for 2 years only. As mentioned in post “Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai“, in 1925 he was living in 89 Peking Road, in the international settlement.

His entry in 1927 Who’s who lists him member as various club including the prestigious Shanghai Club, the Country Club, The Race Club, Le Cercle Sportif Français (the French Club). 1928 was probably the year when is social stature increased even more as he became the manager of Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese). As mentioned in previous post, in 1931 he was a tenant of fashionable Cathay Mansion, opposite de French Club on Route Cardinal Mercier (today Maoming Nan Lu).

The Cathay Mansion, one of the high end place of the time

Hugh Martin was definitely a socialite involved in many causes. For example he signed with other people a letter against the return of the International Settlement to the Shanghai Chinese city in June 1930. It must have been a heated question at the time, as on the same year South African judge Richard Feetham was charged to write a report on the same topic, the famous Feetham report. In May 1931, Hugh Martin was reelected managing director of the Shanghai International Greyhounds Ltd, and organized its liquidation after the Shanghai Municipal Council prohibited dog racing in 1930. In February 1937, he became the president of the British and American United Association, which main purpose was to find employment for British and American people in Shanghai.

The most surprising part of all this research was the last sentence of the profile on treatyportsport.com “He died in England on 6th January 1970 aged 81”. I am not sure how and why a grave was made with his name in the Shanghai SongQingLing memorial… but Hugh Martin seems to have escaped Shanghai at the end and gone back home.

SmartShanghai article on Deda Café

SmartShanghai has been around for many years. One of the best information service for all about foods, drinks, nightlife and all kind of information for those living in Shanghai. I did not know that they also had an historic section.

Long time Shanghailander Lisa Movius interviewed me as part of an article about my old favorite Dead Cafe as I wrote an article about in 2010. Thanks to Lisa for the interview. To read the article, follow this link: https://www.smartshanghai.com/articles/dining/the-story-of-100-year-old-cafe-restaurant-deda