Shanghai has a scintillating skyline, a thriving economy verging on capitalism, and a nouveau-riche citizenry that dresses in the most fashionable attire and owns the latest electronic gadgets, but to a large degree it has lost its Chinese soul. Except for the thousands of Chinese who choke its streets and sidewalks, Shanghai could be a large, modern city anywhere in the world. I was disappointed that it seemed to have turned its back on such a rich cultural heritage and was about to write it off as boring until I decided to wander around Old Shanghai one evening. All the shops and office buildings in tthis fairly new neighborhood were built to resemble traditional Chinese architecture, right down to intricate roof tiles and eaves decorated with fire breathing dragons. Neon-outlined buildings reflecting mirror images in surrounding lily ponds and hundreds of illuminated fish lanterns strung overhead were pretty, but I was more interested in the shrill whistles, clamorous clanging, and raucous laughter emanating from a small side alley.
Rounding the corner I discovered half a dozen customers sitting on stools with their foreheads plastered to a large wooden box, a replica of a Chinese peep show from the 19th century. Layang Pian, or Xiyang Jian as the art is more commonly known, roughly translates to “pulling foreign picture cards,” which Continue reading