上海 - Shanghai

 

Previous flat at the corner of
Avenue Marechal Petain and Rue Lafayette
(today HengShan Lu / Fuxing lu)

 
Here are inside pictures of my previous flat. I first lived in a modern serviced apartment, next to a motorway for about 8 months. We were sharing a flat with Peter, and this was a lot of fun. This was convenient, but I got sick of the concrete. I just could not resist trying to live in one of those wonderful early 20th century colonial houses that are still everywhere in the old part of Shanghai (though disappearing very fast to be replaced by modern apartment buildings).

My first flat was part of a really big and luxurious house, at the corner of Avenue Marechal Petain and Rue Lafayette (today HengShan and Fuxing lu). It was located on the ground floor of the 3 storey house. My flat was probably about 80 sqm, occupying about half of one floor.
This luxurious mansion had been divided in apartments after being confiscated by the Chinese state in 1949. As usual in communist countries, people who were given the right to live in parts of those grand houses were often heroes of the liberation war or cadres of the communist party.

The flat had three rooms. A huge dining room, a study / living room and sleeping room. The entrance went through the dining room. The lady upstairs had been living there since 1949 (when the house was confiscated at China's liberation).

The dining room / kitchen was certainely the main dining room of the original house. The wood frames mounted on the wall were dark wood, giving a very dark feeling to the place (they were painted white later). The large French style window overlooks Avenue Marechal Petain (HangShan). The sink, cooker and fridge were added much later by a tenant before me.
On the right side of window (picture right), there is a door with a small double door within about 50cm wide and 50 cm high. This little door was about 1m from the floor. This small door was certainely designed to deliver dishes from the kitchen to the dining room without the cooks and made to be mixing with the Maitre d'hotel serving the master's table. I managed to open this little double door once... but I did not take a picture. This installation certainly gave a feeling of grandeur in the original setting.
This right handside door now leads to the bathroom. The room was separated from the stairs doing down to the kitchen to create a closed space. It was use as sleeping room until about 10 years ago when it was turned into a bathroom. With no heating and very little insulation, this was probably the coldest bathroom I ever had... morning shower was quite a nightmare.
Next to this door was a display niche (picture below).The original glass windows have disappeared for a long time, but this was clearly the place to show some expensive pieces to the guest in the dining room. Opposite from the large window above, there was a fireplace (picture below right).

Like most fireplaces in Shanghai, it was filled up with concrete after 1949... as people did not need to heat houses anymore, warmed up as they were by ideology.
I dreamed about opening it up during my one year in that flat, but this is not possible anymore. There are probably one more fireplace above this one on the second floor.Left to the fire place was a door to the next room (now the neigbours appartment) that was walled up.

The first foreign tenant (2 years before me) had attempted to renovate the flat. Some parts were really well done like the elevated floor. However, they managed to seriously damage the original "point de Hongrie" floor in the dining room, by sanding it with wrong equipment.
The main parts like electricity, water and floors were finished, but the many small details were missing. The landlord explained me that the previous tenant was an architect, and that he had to leave before the work was finished. As you can see through on the down right picture, the floor in the next room was elevated during renovation.
On the left side picture, you can see the large french style doors. These doors were really beautiful, but the small windows were nearly impossible to change if damaged, thus some of the windows were broken and left unrepaired. It was also possible to open the windows above the door to give some fresh air, but after 60 years without being used, I was never able to do it.

The second room was divided in two parts with a very clever cupboard / wall left by the architect tenant. With large windows overlooking the garden, it was probably a winter garden for the original house. I guess that the original floor was tiled and thus must have been terribly cold in the winter. This room was half under the 2nd floor and half under it's own little roof. Unfortunately, insulation was very thin in this room and it was extremely cold in the winter. I guess that originally, this room was only used from spring to autumn. The study (picture right) was nice and causy, but also very cold.
There was door from this room going straight to the garden. This garden must have been a splendour originaly, but Chinese people living in this house never really maintained it, thus is became half jungle and half a junk yard with people dropping all kind of rubbish in it (including an old bath tab). As the garden was not maintained, it also attracted a lot of mosquitoes.
The house was build at a time when cars were few and street noise was not so strong. As HengShan Lu became a major way into Shanghai and (further down) a major entertainment street, the road in front of my flat was a 24 hours traffic jam. With taxies and buses horning at any time of the day and night, it became impossible to sleep in this appartment. Along with the cold, it made it impossible to stay and I happily left after my first year of contract (Sep 2004 - Sep 2005) to move to the flat I now live in.