Tuesday, August 28, 2007

About The Island

We've been enjoying Shamian Island for four days now. Views from up in our rooms:

It's a great change of pace from the rest of our trip. The cities bustle, but this island is sedate. Most of the buildings are from the turn of the last century, and their style reflects the consulates and diplomatic lodgings they once were, making the neighborood eerily reminiscent of Embassy Row in Washington D.C., only with more split pants. The middle of the island -- that is, the two avenues that run down the center of it east-west -- are cool and leafy, with small playgrounds and parks and gardens and limited vehicle traffic. I've taken Elaina for several walks through here, and enjoyed the ambience -- the older ladies and gentlemen sweeping leaves with handmade brooms of straw, children playing a variation of badmitton on the sidewalks, and elders lounging on benches.

It's a popular wedding destination, apparently, as I've seen at least four brides per day taking pictures on the shady parts of the central avenues. Here one was posing next to some soliders drilling:

The action and bustle are closer to the White Swan. An economy has emerged to service the adoptive parents who cycle through the Swan -- perhaps a dozen small shops with baby clothes, toys, souveniers, and laundy service. Their proprietors sit in the sun outside their stores and greet parents walking their babies and bid them (far more politely than the Great Wall vendors) to come see their wares. Stores offer free stroller loans and free email usage, and there are many personalized handicrafts -- today a proprietor wrote Elaina's name in caligraphy as a gift as we shopped in his store. Neat, polite, and smiling people greet you just outside the Swan, ask friendly questions about your baby, and eventually discretely and politely bring the conversation around to how their store, just a little out of the way, has the best prices. Their English is impeccable.

It's a little sad to think this may all disappear. The White Swan became popular with adoptive families when the American consulate was on the island. It moved about 40 minutes away a year or so ago, but the hotel remains the standard base of operations. Later this year, though, it will close for several months for renovations, and there are rumors that it will no longer cater to the adoption crowd when it reopens, seeking higher-end customers (they clearly have not reviewed my buffet and bar bill). The island's economy will collapse like a cheap folding chair if that happens, and some new economy will arise. They will still sell souveniers, but the shops will no longer be focused on babies, and no longer skillfully marketed to adoptive famiies. That's a shame.

No comments: