I just had the strangest Xmas eve and it has been all over my head. Everything started with my hopless curiosity towards Shanghai’s hidden buildings and its fascinating history.
At the off the beaten part of the oldest Shanghai corner, there is one small street called the heavenly light lane – walk inside the lane and looking for a wooden house with two beautiful Chinese red lanterns. Across from it, you will find a big black gate with a huge stone outside with the sign of Shanghai’s Gov. Protect building.
Few people know about the story of this lane’s name, the heavenly light lane is the first place where Shanghai put the 1st public street electronic light, locals regarded the light as it has been sent from the heaven and guides people to their home. So no one will be lost or suffering from the dark night. Inside the big black gate, there is a big traditional family house with 3 gardens, it is over 250 year old and around 2000 square meters in size.
It feels like such a desserted place in the most crowed part of the city, standing by the gate, you don’t even sense any alive human beings inside. Once you get in, the beautiful building is falling apart in front of your eyes. There is only a 89 years old woman and her 58 years old daughter live inside, it is hunted, overwhelming and you can tell how pretty this place was – and it is still unquestionably pretty.
The old lady speaks English and shared stories of her family, her daughter loves talking and always wanted to jump into the conversation even that she don’t understand much English. As mother and daughter, their difference is striking, one thing in common is that each of them has a crazy son and they are both trapped in this place or held back by their sorrows.
“Don’t you feel this is sad? Don’t you have any compassion? ” – this question shots into my heart. I wonder if I ever should visit this place.
What can I say when I know that it is not up to me to change anything, the local gov. is offering the mother and daughter 5 million RMB to buy the place so the renovation could be done, but the daughter wanted more money. Their relatives have all been moved out and running successful business, they are the only 2 who are left behind to look after the old house. The older son of this 89 years old woman is a successful university professor in Canada, but her heart is always with her crazy younger son in Shanghai’s hospital so she don’t want to move to Canada. The divorced daughter said that she wanted to travel, but she also have to take care of her son who is in the hospital as well.
Is this sad? Yes and No, the house has become decrepit, but it is home to them. Life is not easy for everyone but there were happy moments, photos of this 89 years old woman who was an educated and beautiful Shanghai girl dressed in elegant Qipao. Paintings of her clever husband who was the most famous expert of ancient architecture in China, the daughter’s lively water-color flower paintings hanging on the walls of their house…
Life goes on, people have to move on.
Just like everything in Shanghai, things happened so fast and who has the time to be sad? Now, both of them are retired, the mother enjoy to chat with her old neighbors and the daughter like to dance in the park and charges an entrance fee towards the visitors, they argue with each other and they rely on each other.
Anyway, I will go back again, I need to understand more and see what I could do.
After the trip, Xmas eve, I watched Grey Gardens – a movie based on the life stories of the eccentric aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis (both named Edith Bouvier Beale aka “Big and Little Edie”) raised as Park Avenue débutantes but who withdrew from New York society, taking shelter at their Long Island summer home, “Grey Gardens.” As their wealth and contact with the outside world dwindled, so did their grasp on reality. The two women become reclusive and known around town as the highly eccentric proprietors of Grey Gardens, which has become decrepit and full of stray animals taken in by the Beale women. They were reintroduced to the world when international tabloids learned of a health department raid on their home, and Jackie swooped in to save her relatives.
By the mid of the night, a “lost in touch” childhood friend contacted me for a merry Xmas, how strange is that we used to hang out together all the time during our teens. Now we have completely different life styles and the changes has been dramatic.