Frankenstein Art Deco

Although Art Deco stopped being popular in the 1940s in Europe and America, the style remained in vogue much later in Asia. Examples of Art Deco architecture from the 1950s abound in Singapore, India, Indonesia and Burma among others. In Shanghai, it definitely stopped in the mid 40’s. The Chinese Liberation brought a change of style and Soviet-inspired Socialist-Realism became the norm, with rows of small four-to-six-storey concrete building designed to house families. As discussed in a previous post (See post “The Rise of Fako“, there has been recently a trend toward remodeling or new construction with the addition of Art Deco artifacts, mostly affecting the outside appearance. Art Deco buildings also had a strong influence on 1980s and 1990s buildings in Shanghai, the ones I call Frankenstein Art Deco.

Art Deco influence in Shanghai 90s buildings

The 1990s was the beginning of the new building boom in Shanghai that persists today. In those early days, the mood was not in massive destruction of the old buildings, as large chunks of the city center were not available to developers. Those new buildings were more often built on the remaining free spaces, mostly the gardens of grand villas in the old part of Shanghai. I imagine these space was already being used, but surely more in an unofficial way, so it was easier for developers to re-appropriate them. In these large spaces, local architects could build new towers using concrete building technologies not so far from the ones used in the 1930s. Buildings from the 1990s were often 20-30 storeys (that is, about the height of Park Hotel on people square), designed by local architects, before foreign architect firms arrived for Shanghai’s recent building boom.

These local architects must have been trained by masters that learned their craft before the 1949 revolution, and it shows in the building designs. As opposed to later apartment blocks, these buildings include light wells, just like 1930s buildings in Shanghai (See post “Brooklyn Court, Route des Soeurs“). Unlike today’s buildings, they were designed before the age of mass air conditioning, so they stuck to natural airflow just as Europeans had designed them in the 20s and the 30s. Another Art Deco element is the recurrent use of porthole round window (oeil de boeuf, or “bull’s eye”, as they are called in French), and rounded corners. One can also find integrated balconies (that have mostly now been turned into expanded rooms), as opposed to the protruding balconies that are today’s norm (which are also often closed off to supply extra space). Another interesting point is the use of old 1930s style iron-framed windows in many 1990s building. Shanghai continued to produce building materials and equipments that were practically unchanged from the 40s, including roof tile and electrical switches, well into the 1990s.

In many of these buildings, the link with Art Deco is as much in the outside shape, as with the inside decoration. Old Shanghai Art Deco designers often used terazzo and mosaics in their interiors; 1990s architects often used marble tiles that look quite similar, though much less imaginative.

In any case, Art Deco influences were evident in the 1990s, as architects employed consciously or unconsciously, the designs and techniques of their forefathers. Like many things in Shanghai (including cuisine, see post “Tasting of Old Shanghai”), Art Deco and other 1930s design elements  survived through the 1950s and until the 1980s emerging in attenuated and distorted form in the 1990s in the “Frankenstein” version of Shanghai Art Deco.

Laszlo Hudec alma mater

Hudec uni 002m
Inside the main lobby

Having lived in Budapest for years before moving to Shanghai, I always felt a special connection to Hudec Laszlo, the Hungarian architect who did the same things about 100 years ago to become one of the leading architect in Shanghai. Hudec was totally unkown when I reached Shanghai in 2004, but his return to fame from 2007-2008 helped me getting back in touch with Hungary. I recently took a trip back to Budapest after a number of years of absence. Having met Hudec great grandniece at the Shanghai World Congress on Art Deco, it was obvious to go and meet her in Budapest and a great opportunity to visit Laszlo Hudec’s alma mater, Budapest Technical University also called Müégyetem.

Hudec mark book
Hudec mark book

Csedy Virág, Laszlo Hudec great grandniece has created the Hudec project in Budapest, studying the elements of Laszlo Hudec’s life available in Hungary, including correspondence with his family, in particular with his sister and brother in law. Originally from Bistrica Banya (today Banska Bistrica in Slovakia), Laszlo Hudec went to Budapest for studying at what was the main technical school of Hungary at the time, and one of the most advanced in the world. He lived in a place owned by the reformed church in Budapest VIII district and studied at Müégyetem. In this period before WWI, Budapest was a vibrant city, full of people from all corners of the empire. Art and crafts were celebrated and a massive transformation of the city had taken place in the previous 30 years until that time. As an architect student, Hudec surely walked around these buildings, along with Gresham Palace, the chain bridge, taking the tram 47 -49 over the Danube to city center.

Hudec uni 001m
Laszlo Hudec used to walk here

As shown in Hudec marks book, his teachers at the university were the best at the time in the country, many of them designed architecture wonders that still make the city beautiful today. Amongst many was Karoly Kos, who designed the Budapest Zoo. Another graduate of the same university was Imre Steindl who designed the Budapest parliament house. Being taught by the bests of his time, Hudec carried this heritage and skills to Shanghai, creating some the iconic buildings of the city including the Park Hotel, Grand Theater and many more. Having made it in Shanghai, he brought his younger brother from Hungary to help him, who unfortunately died after a few years. Hudec was planning of returning at some point in Hungary, purchasing land and a ranch in the area surrounding Budapest. Leaving China after World War 2, he never went back as it was occupied by Soviet troups and became part of the East European bloc.

Visiting Müegyetem was a great experience, as I had passed in front many time but never went into it during my time living in Budapest. Hudec Laszlo story of traveling so far and being one of the main architects in Shanghai, to be forgotten for decades is still a fascinating story, strongly linked to both Hungary and China. Hudec and his work are now famous again in Shanghai, unfortunately few people know about him in his homeland of Hungary. I hope this will change in the future.

mystery house on ChangLe lu

Original Staircase
Original Staircase

Historic buildings in Shanghai have been badly maintained for many years and have sustained the lack of care fairly well. Many have been renovated in the last year, either with love and attention like Bund 18 or Kee Club. Many more have seen a ruinovation keeping only the external façades and totally destroying the interior with no respect for the original.  As a history enthusiast, I rarely agree with the transformations that often take place along with the renovations. It was then really interesting to find out about an unfinished art deco villa, in a location where I have been many times, but never noticed it.

Art Deco balcony
Art Deco balcony

The original building was an enormous house, on three floors with about 1200 sqm of surface. The facade was facing South, like most houses in Shanghai with a large garden on the south side, ending on today’s ChangLe lu. As the house was used by the army for many years, some buildings used as army barracks and offices have been built in what was the garden. A small park was also added on the ChangLe Lu side, closing the view and covering it up from the general public view. Without knowing, it was impossible to see the original modernist / Art Deco villa in the middle.

Versailles parquet
Versailles parquet

What makes it really special, is that this house was clearly never finished by the original team. From the style and the construction details, it was probably started between 1945 and the late 1940’s, but was not completed as planned. The staircase (first picture) and the second floor and balcony was completed, but the ground floor remained unfinished. It is clear that half of the ground floor terrazzos were high quality, but the rest was finished in a hurry using lower quality materials. Both the ground and first floors have a very large room in the middle, surrounded by small rooms. Only 2 of the small rooms, seem to have had the original Versailles parquet installed. The rest of the parquet is of much less quality, although age has colored it nicely.

art deco fireplace
art deco fireplace

Another nice touch is the Art Deco fire place on the second floor. Like most original fireplaces in Shanghai, it has been filled up with concrete (see post freezing Shanghai for more details). Renovation has turned it back into a nice, though useless, piece.

The general structure of the house is really interesting, as the central second floor is made of concrete (covered with a woodfloor), but the small surrounding rooms are parquet only. The original ground floor decoration was never made, altough the house was eventually finished-up at some stage and used as offices. Two more buildings were added in what was originally the garden. Since the house was never finished in its original style, the developers have spent a lot of effort restoring original details, while adding a very modern touch to it.The building is about to open again as center for design and fashion firms with the now usual addition of fashionable shops, bars and restaurant. The place will be called Mixpace and located on Changde Lu, close to the corner of Shaanxi Lu.

 

Sticking windows

old windows
Putty and knife

Living in an old Shanghai house is not only about choosing a place to stay, it is also a life experience and even a life style. An apartment in an old house is often the only renovated part of the house, or with different owners, renovation has been made a different times for each renovated apartment. In any case, only the inside in renovated, as the outside and common area remains in the care (or rather lack of) of the local government office. So if the whole building needs maintenance, one cannot do it alone, but needs to wait for the officials to come in. Anyway, the neighbours often have no money to pay for repair and cannot be bothered to do anything but the quickest and cheapest fix possible. With lane houses, the situation is a little better, but if the neighbour does not repair his roof, sooner or later your roof will also be damaged.

Maintenance in China is often an issue, and maintenance of Shanghai old houses is no exception. First of all, it is clear than in Chinese culture, new is better than old and fixing is useless. Even the definition of restoration and protection of old building is totally different. Most Europeans, French in particular, have the romantic idea that trying to keep old buildings and preserving as much old parts as possible is best. Needless to say that I fully subscribe to this idea. For most Chinese though, renovation mostly means rebuilding something the old way… from scratch. The renovated  are old… but new. This typically done with old chinese temples remade from scratch, of for Old Shanghai buildings that are ruinovated to be modernized while keeping only the old outside (see post Plaza 353 ruinovation for a great example).

For old Shanghai houses, people who were allocated these apartments for free were also told that soon they would live in bright modern buildings instead of this horrible place. This often took place two or more generations ago, with many people still living in the same place. In the meantime, only the very minimum maintenance was every made… since soon people would move to a better place (soon sometimes lasted for decades… and is not always over yet). With so little maintenance, it is often amazing to see how well these old shags (as people thing they are) have resisted against time. Many 10 to 15 years old building in today’s Shanghai are in much worst status that those old ladies. Too be fair, I found the very same attitude in Central and Eastern Europe when I lived there… for the same reason.

My 1936 built flat is no exception. It requires maintenance… and I understand it. Having lived there for 10 years, my landlord still finds amazing that I like this old house more than his brand new other apartment. The flat is still in good condition, but any suggestion of improvement or anything more than what is urgent is most time received as a ridiculous idea of laowai. Although I told him many times, I don’t think he comprehends the fact that I have lived in and owned apartments much older than this place… and in a much better state of repair overall.

As the quality of his repairs has always been very low, I decided to take one matter into my own hands: window reglazing. The trip to the small neighbouring hardware shop was amazing, as I had no idea how to call window putty in Chinese. I started to explain that I needed glue for the window, but not the new silicon gel one, the old version. We really did not get anywhere until I found a putty knife and made the connection. I was surely the very first laowai to buy this kind of equipment here. Fortunately, window glazing is something I have done before… about 30 years ago in the family countryside house. I never thought I would use this skill again, surely not half way across the planet. Sure enough, the techniques applied in Shanghai in the 1930’s, are very similar to the ones in Europe around the same time. I spent a few hours fixing the windows, with the great satisfaction to have made life at home better and shown to my landlord than I can do as well if not better than him.

 

Art Deco in France

Having long been in love with Art Deco, I have also been asked and wondered why Art Deco is not so recognized in France, my own country and the birthplace of the style. Numerous Art Deco supporting societies first started in the USA and have now extended all over the World, but barely exist in France.  Out of the dozens of association members, only 2 are in France:
The Association Society of Saint-Quentin. Both Saint-Quentin and closeby Reims were devastated during WWI. They were both rebuilt in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when Art Deco architecture was in fashion and both formed the French Art Deco city association. As far as I know, they are the only member. Few pictures from my trip to Reims in 2012 are available at the following location
The Perpignan Art Deco Association, that was founded in… April 2014.
I thoroughly search in both the French and English internet, but they seem to be the only ones so far.

ICADS (International Coalition of Art Deco Societies – www.icads.info) organises an Art Deco World Congress every 2 years. The next one will be in Shanghai in 2015 (see post World Art Deco congress ) for more details.

This lack of enthusiasm for Art Deco in France, and probably in Europe (the only other member of ICADS in Europe is in London) may seem difficult to understand for lovers of the period. My long time in France this summer allowed me to explore this issue. Art Deco is definitely undervalued in France, here are some of the reasons why:

IMG_2390 copy
Batiment Art Deco à Amboise

– There are many other old buildings in France and Europe
Art Deco spread around the world along with industrialisation. For many countries, in particular the USA or Australia, it was the time of cities creation and expansion. Long neglected (like Miami’s Art Deco hotels that only where looked after in the 90’s), Art Deco buildings are often now the oldest buildings in town, making them valuable.
In Europe, they are most often not the oldest buildings by far. The best example is this neglected Art Deco Cafe in Amboise, a renaissance town where surely little time is spent of modern buildings as opposed to 16th century relics next to it.

Art Deco is not that old. The first major Art Deco exhibition in Paris just took place.
The first major art deco exhibition took place in Paris in the beginning of 2014 (see post about the exhibition). There are other museums in France about it, but they are also not that old.

Major building were built out of city centers.
Being a late architecture style, Art Deco was often the style of developments in the suburbs of the cities that where expending at the time. In Paris it is mostly found in outside districts or in close suburbs. Another example is Villeurbanne’s gratte-ciel district that was in the middle of nowhere when it was built.

Gratte-Ciel, public housing in Villeurbanne
Gratte-Ciel, public housing in Villeurbanne

– Architecture of the utilities. Many hospitals, barracks and other administration buildings
Coming at a time of major construction of public buildings, art deco was often used public use and public housing buildings in France, as opposed to earlier styles used for palaces and stylish buildings. This is different from other parts of the World.

It’s “so common”.
The 1920’s and 30’s were a period of intense construction in France, so many example can be found from this period. Not all are really art deco though and not all have great architectural value.

With time passing and interest abroad, Art Deco seems to attract more and more interest in France. The first Paris-based exhibition about this truly first global style will certainly help to create attention to it. Hopefully more fellow French will get interested in it and create Art Deco societies and maybe Art Deco festival equaling the famous one in Napier, new Zealand.

August 2015: There is now a Paris Art Deco Society, that started right at the time of original writing of this article.
Their website is: http://www.paris-artdeco.org/

Representative of the Paris Art Deco Society will join the Shanghai Art Deco Congress. Maybe one day there will be a Art Deco congress in Paris… where it all started

August 2017: World Congress on Art Deco in Paris for 2025 is now firmly in the plan. A large Facebook group has been created that is collecting photos of art deco building and exchanging information (Please follow to find it). A massive exhibition on Bauhaus took place in France connected both styles and the opening of the restored Villa Cavrois in Lille area have boosted the image of Art Deco in France. Art Deco in France and in Europe is clearly on the move.

Sasha’s bar

Sasha’s

Shasha’s, the bar and restaurant at the corner of Heng Shan Lu and Dong Ping Lu, was one of the first bar I visited in Shanghai, along with the now defunct Face Bar (see post “Timelessness” and “Intercontinental Ruijin“).  This was for the reopening of the bar after renovation… in January 2004. Although this time is now long gone, I still find myself coming to Sasha’s on a regular basis. It is now pretty much forgotten, but the original bar was really proud to be the former house of the famous Soong family (see post “The soong sisters”). There is even a painting (supposedly) of the family in the main room. I don’t think that anybody looks at this poster anymore. In any case, the Soong family story was mostly a marketing stunt, i.e. the story of the three sisters who took very different path in life with one (Soong Qinling) marrying Sun Yat Sen, and then becoming one of the communist party icon, one (Soong Mayling) marrying communist party enemy, Chiang Kai Shek and the third one (Soong Ailing) mostly famous because her husband ruined China as finance minister as well as filling his own pockets ludicrously. It was a great story to tell that the building that is now Sasha’s was once the family home, but it mostly fake.

The Soong family lived in Nanchi (now part of Yangpu district) and mostly in Hongkou. This is where Charly Soon printed Bibles during the day, and republican propaganda for his friend Sun Yat Sen during the night… before 1911. The methodist Soong family attended the church in HongKou district, off Zhapu Road, very close to what became known as little Tokyo, where Chiang Kai Shek and Soong Mayling Sasha’s building was only built in the early 30’s, once Chiang Kai Shek (now married with Soong Ailing), had recovered control of large parts of China as well as the money and might to build it in the French Concession, as well as building his own house next door. Similarly, Shasha’s building is supposed to be old, but there is not much old in it. The interior has suffered numerous “ruinovation”, so none of the original probably remains. Futhermore, the 1980’s renovation added a third floor, totally changing the shape from the original 1930’s design from spanish architect Alberado Lafuente (See post of Lafuente’s story). The attic (where I sometimes gave conferences about Old Shanghai history) is a new construction that did not exist back then, though I had to admit if fits nicely with the building. Despite all this, today’s Sasha’s has become a Shanghai institution. Long passed is the time when Sasha’s was one of the few terraces in town and the venue is not really fashionable anymore, but there are always customers. It is not the new kid on the block, but it is always there, and has been for a long time. As opposed to the early days of expat only attendance, the place is now crowed with a good mix of people, locals, newly arrived expats and old timers like me, making it really an interesting crowd. It’s a bit of melting pot really. In a city that is known for permanent change, a little bit of permanence is really welcome. This makes it and anchor of the nightlife, a place that has always been there and (hopefully) always will be.

Shanghai’s Art Deco Master

Art Deco master 001
Book cover

Like a number of those before on Shanghailander.net this book review is a biased one.  Just like “Peace at the Cathay“or “Promenades dans l’ancienne concession Française“, the book was written by friends of mine, in that case Spencer Dodington & Charles Lagrange. Furthermore, I was actually involved in the project itself, though only for a tiny bit. In any case, this books really fills a hole in Old Shanghai studies.

Having lived in Shanghai for about 10 years, and discovering its history and architecture, I long dreamed that somebody put as much efforts into studying work of  French architecture firm “Leonard, Vesseyre & Kruze”, as that was the case for British firm Palmer & Turner and Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec. It took a team of a Belgian and an American authors to actually deliver in-depth study of the French firm. LVK was a major influence of the architectural style of Old Shanghai and this books truly highlight this heritage, focusing on the life of principal architect Paul Vesseyre.

Thanks to enormous archive research, in-depth knowledge of Shanghai and access to the archives of the Vesseyre family, the authors give a precise account of the early life of the architect, as well as his voyage to Shanghai. Just like contemporay Laszlo Hudec, Paull Vesseyre architecture studies were interrupted by WW1. He then returned to France, taking part of rebuilding one of main French Art Deco cities, Reims before sent by French construction firm Brossard & Mopin to Tianjin, and then Shanghai. He met Alexandre Leonard there, and both created firm Leonard & Vesseyre architects in 1922. Their debut work was the new building of the Cercle Sportif Français on Rue Mercier, today’s Okura Garden Hotel on Maoming Lu. This major work became an anchor of the French Concession and insured the success of the company and both men personal wealth.

Leonard & Vesseyre created most of the modern buildings in the French concession. They worked for the Catholic Church, the municipality and most prolifically for the French developer FONCIM. Major pieces include Béarn and Gascogne apartments on Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai Lu), the Dauphine and the Boissezon apartments. LV&K was also the designer of the series of neo-normandy style houses aroung Jian Guo Lu and Gao An Lu (see portrait of an old neighbour and further posts on this topic), as well as many buildings in that neighborhood. All of them  and many more are analysed in the book, making it an essential piece of the knowledge and understanding of Old Shanghai. The book is currently only available in English, published by Earnshaw book. A French version in under preparation.

French police accommodation

Police accomodation on Huai Hai Lu
Police accommodation on Huai Hai lu

The building pictured left is one of the most viewed old building of Shanghai, though it may not be the most looked at. Located at the corner of Huai Hai Zhong lu (former avenue Joffre) and Baoqing lu (former route Pottier), its architecture really stands out but it is dominated by the opposing and much more visible art deco building. Its architectural style is quite unique in Shanghai, I once read that the architect was from Marseille and that it is clearly similar to some buildings of this city.

This corner of the former French concession was once the location of the Foch police station, one of the five police stations of the French authorities. The actual police station is long gone (a sky scraper stands in its place), but I found the below old picture on the internet. Being next to the police station, this building had a very specific function, it was designed to accommodate the police officers working at the police station. As far as I know, the building inhabitants are still police officers to this day. The building is still in a good shape, despite the usual DIY modifications, in particular the closure of some of the balconies. I have noticed this particular building since I first came to Shanghai in 1998 and I thought it was unique in Shanghai until recently. It turns out that it is not.

Police accomodation with Joffre police station
Police accommodation with Foch police station

Apart from the Foch police station, the French concession had 4 others, covering the whole area of the concession. The most well known is probably the police station Mallet, a large Art Deco building near the Bund, which is still a police building. The Pétain police station one was located at the bottom of Heng Shan lu (the former avenue Pétain), there is still a police station in this area, but I am not sure it is at the same location. The Joffre police station was located next to the fire station on Huai Hai lu (former Avenue Joffre, near Xin Tian Di). This particular building has been under renovation since a few years, and a French luxury brand should open its flagship store in it.

Police accommodation on Jiang Guo Lu
Police accommodation on Jiang Guo Dong Lu

The main police station was the Central Police station on Jiang Guo Dong Lu (former route Stanislas Chevalier). It was the headquarters of the French police, at least until the Mallet police station was opened. The large building was also the seat of the mixed court, the special court with a French judge and a Chinese judge seating together. Although it was covered up by an ugly entrance and somehow horribly modernized a while ago, it appears that the original structure is still in place. Moreover, renovation work has started a few months ago and it seems the final result will look like the old pictures. This is where I found copies of the building on Huai Hai lu (see picture).

The twin building
The twin building

The Huai Hai lu version has the main decorated facade facing North and visible from the street, making it very distinctive. On the Jiang Guo Dong Lu one, the decorated facade is also facing North, but the street side is on the South side, so the facade is only visible if you get into the courtyard. There are in fact two buildings surrounding a garden.  Both buildings are identical, but they are not exactly the same as the one of Huai Hai Lu which is a little wider with a much wider roof. However colors, balconies and decoration details are extremely similar, making clear that the same architect did them all, with surely the same purpose of accommodating police officers, which I believe is still the case today.

Shanghai Cinema Studio

Shanghai Cinema Studio
The fake Nanking Road

Shanghai Cinema studio had been on my visit list since a long time. The studio is famous to host a rebuilt version of Old Shanghai. It quite famous has it was for period movies and TV series, including “Lust, caution” and “Shanghai Shanghai“. It takes a long drive to reach the location in SongJiang but the trip is well worth it.

The most impressive sight is surely the small strech of rebuilt 1930’s Nanking Road. Centered around the corner of Nanjing Dong Lu and Zhejiang Lu, the side includes the Wing On store, the Sincere store and the Sun Sun Store. Picture perfect with period signs and tramway karts driving around, it really gives the atmosphere of time travel. The ground floor of the buildings is well replicated, with the higher floor being rebuilt on a smaller scale, a normal feature of movie sets and backgrounds. Walking around there feels very much like walking in an Old Shanghai postcard. Only missing would be the hundreds of people that normally go around this very busy part of the city.

Tram in Old Shanghai
Tram in Old Shanghai

The picture would not be complete with the tramway, with the short ride being the only way to ever experience tramways in Old Shanghai. The tramway shakes and feels just like a real ride in the city, with the noises and motions I used to experience on the oldest lines of Budapest network. Watching the tramway going up this fake Nanking Road really adds up to the atmosphere.

 

Shanghai other iron bridge
Shanghai other iron bridge

The rest of the cinema studio is also made of various buildings mostly copied from Old Shanghai. They include a copy of the Moller Villa on Shaanxi Nan Lu, one of the building that is now Ambrosia restaurant on Feng Yang Lu and one of the Wing On Extension on Nanjing Dong Lu. There is also a copy of the New World Building that used to be at the end of Nanking Road, now replaced by the (not so nice) New World Shopping center. I was expecting to find a copy of Shanghai’s iconic Garden Bridge, but only found a copy of the other iron bridge that is further up the river. Most of the other buildings are not actual copies, but they fit the general style of the period including the church. It seems very popular for wedding pictures though I don’t think such a church was actualy ever built in Shanghai.

A trip to old Rangoon

Sule Paya at night, Yangon
Yangon main street at night

Arrival in Yangon (Rangoon) at night woke back many memories of other cities frozen in time. The first contact reminded me of arriving in Saigon in 1998. Same trees, same roads and mostly 1980’s Japanese 10th hand cars around. The cars falling apart with wheel on the wrong side reminded me of Cambodia in the late 90’s. I was expecting the former British colony to have right hand side driving like its neighbors. Just like Old Shanghai did in the mid 1940’s, driving direction was changed in Burma (Myanmar) in the 1970’s. In any case, if the airport drive at night had led me to the Caravelle hotel in Saigon instead of the Trader’s hotel in Rangoon, I would not have been surprised at all.

Colonial building, Yangon
Colonial building, Yangon

The morning of the second day visiting Rangoon reminded me more of the Hanoi of the late 1990’s. Walking around the Kandawgyi lake with the Sedona hotel overlooking it, felt just like Hanoi’s West Lake hotel in my memories. On the river front, Strand Road reminds of the Shanghai Bund with the customs house on the waterfront and the main bank as well as the main hotel (The Strand Hotel) next to it. Today’s Strand Road looks a lot like picture of Shanghai Bund in the 1920’s, before Art Deco towers like the Sassoon House (peace hotel) and the Bank of China were built.  The back streets with trees growing between the buildings look a lot like Hankou (today’s Wuhan) former French concession. Many people eat in the streets in Rangon. They have early diner from 5 to 7 or 8 PM sitting on colorful plastic chairs, eating noodles, curries and meat skewers. The same plastic chairs I used to sit on about 14 years ago in Saigon.

Most of Central Rangoon (Yangon) has been left more or less untouched since the 60th. Although a lot of construction went on in the 50’s and early 60th, style was kept in line with the colonial architecture. Most buildings have been left untouched for decades, with some of them being now renovated. Walking in the streets by daylight gives a nice view of the buildings with various forms and styles. Night time in Yangon is also very nice as there is little activity. The low lights and old buildings create an atmosphere that is charming and very unique. At the same time, it is very clear that redevelopment of the city has already started. A number of colonial buildings have been replaced by new towers and the process will probably accelerate with the recent political changes in the country. Just like other cities in South East Asia, Yangon (Rangoon) will surely transform in the next years but hopefully it will retain its charms and history. In any case, now is probably the best time to visit. This stay in Yangon (Rangoon) was part of a trip around Myanmar (Burma) that has been quite incredible. Although poverty in the country is striking, there is a warmth with Burmese people like nowhere else in Asia and the country is stunningly beautiful. More picture about this trip can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24266052@N00/sets/72157629302498231/