Sight­see­ing by side­car is like a por­tal to the past

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By YU RAN in Shang­hai yu­ran@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sammy Florez has found a novel way of ex­plor­ing the city’s past: by driv­ing his deaf­en­ing Changjiang 750 side­car with the Chi­nese name Li Lian­jie (Jet Li) through old neigh­bor­hoods and nar­row al­leys.

It took the Amer­i­can five years to de­cide to quit his job at a ho­tel man­age­ment com­pany in San Diego and move to Shang­hai at the end of 2008 af­ter fall­ing in love with the coun­try.

“I could not help com­ing to China for va­ca­tions since I spent a three-day trip in Bei­jing in 2003, be­cause there are so many his­tor­i­cal sto­ries wait­ing for me to ex­plore,” said Florez, who is in his 30s.

He said he be­gan study­ing mar­tial arts and de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in Chi­nese cul­ture af­ter watch­ing the popular US TV se­ries Kungfu with his grand­fa­ther when he was a child.

Be­fore land­ing in Bei­jing for the first time to see the Great Wall in per­son, he ad­mits to know­ing lit­tle about China ex­cept for its be­ing a com­mu­nist coun­try fa­mous for its Shaolin Tem­ple.

“My im­pres­sion of China changed when I ar­rived for the first time, as I didn’t feel like I was in a re­served coun­try as I had heard. Ev­ery­thing here is quite re­laxed,” he said.

In 2008, he sold his car, apart­ment and be­long­ings and bought a one-way ticket to China, with­out know­ing whether he would find a job or not.

He se­cured a po­si­tion with a leas­ing com­pany at first and be­came an English teacher for kids aged three to 11 at a lan­guage cen­ter one year later.

It was not un­til he had lived in the city for al­most two years that he started to be­come in­ter­ested in the his­tory of Shang­hai and its unique style of ar­chi­tec­ture.

“There are still some places in the city where you can see writ­ings from the ‘cul­tural revo­lu­tion’ (1966-76) and pic­tures of Chair­man Mao painted on the walls. All the new de­vel­op­ments take cen­ter stage, but there are still many old things hid­den in the back­ground,” he said.

In his free time, he likes to take his beaten-up old side­car for jaunts through the old streets. Oth­er­wise, he strolls around old neigh­bor­hoods to find rem­nants left over from ear­lier times.

“Be­ing on a side­car in Shang­hai is like be­ing on a time ma­chine. It makes me feel like I’m in a dif­fer­ent time pe­riod, maybe 50 years ago. So I can see those build­ings from the same time pe­riod and feel how won­der­ful it must have been dur­ing that time,” said Florez, who spent over 50,000 yuan ($8,060) on the side­car.

He re­calls driv­ing past an aging villa with two red stars painted on the gate many times be­fore its el­derly res­i­dent in­vited him in­side and showed him pic­tures and mu­sic from old Shang­hai in the his­tor­i­cal and dusty house.

Some peo­ple in less well-todo neigh­bor­hoods also in­vited him into their tiny homes. One old cou­ple showed him their wed­ding pic­tures taken 40 years ago.

“I think th­ese peo­ple want to show me the in­side of their homes to say this is how we live and we are happy here. A lot of peo­ple living in the old neigh­bor­hoods don’t want to leave,” said Florez.

One of his fa­vorite struc­tures is an old two-and-ahalf-storey build­ing he found on the In­ter­net. It used to have a red star on top, but this was later taken down.

“Later I learnt that it used to be the Shang­hai Cham­ber of Com­merce in the 1920s. Af­ter the Com­mu­nist Party took over, they added an ex­tra floor and the red star,” he said.

A pho­tog­ra­pher friend of his who is also in­ter­ested in old Shang­hai took a photo of him un­der the build­ing with his side­car.

Now Florez has a girl­friend and a whole group of friends who share a com­mon in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing the city’s past. He said he has no plans to leave and may stay here per­ma­nently.

“I wish I could quit my job and just ex­plore for six months and see ev­ery­thing in the city that is hid­den right in front of our eyes,” he said.

DAVID BAR­LOW FOR CHINA DAILY

Sammy Florez

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