"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.
There's a quick way to scope out what Fuxing Island has to offer. Not a lot, it would seem, barring some epic dockyard machinery and a fast ferry out of there, across the river to Jinqiao. But a bird's eye view tells you nothing about the fun of going to see for yourself. (Besides, the Google satellite drops you about a hundred yards out in the Huangpu.) The most direct overland route is only marginally more interesting; east on Haining Lu, which soon turns into Zhoujiazui Lu, all the way to the Shanghai Fisheries University, from where Hai'an Lu, immediately to the north, leads on over to the island. The real fun is in diverting as you go; willfully looking to get lost.
Merely reaching the island becomes something of a challenge, given how much there is to see en route. The Ward Road Jail on Changyang Lu, for one: built by the Brits in 1901, for a time the largest in the world and still operational (as Tilanqiao Prison) today; theirs is the imposing wall behind the laundry.
There's the Xiahai Temple, on the corner of Kunming and Haimen, from where the smell of incense drifts across what was once Little Vienna. And Zhoushan Lu, where you can see what remains of the old Jewish tenement housing, and stop to watch a game of carrom (about which, Adam Minter has more).
Then you can head east on Huoshan Lu, the old Wayside Road (Minter has even more on the wholesale destruction of nearby East Seward Road). Make it past the mah jong league that packs out the space beneath the Dalian Lu skyway, and there are fewer distractions. For much of this last leg you're trawling through a gritty wasteland (quite literally: the streets are slung with overhead piping, and the most visible heritage building plaque is on the gates of the Shanghai Wastewater Processing Plant), but when you spot the pigeon crates at the outdoor market on distant Dinghai Lu you know you've almost made it. Fuxing Island is a little farther on, across the tiny Dinghai bridge, separated from the mainland by a sliver of muddy water barely wide enough to turn a barge in.
Truthfully, it's hardly the most pleasant place. Gongqing Lu, the only street in town worthy of the name, is grimy and uneven, and the rumble of giant gantry cranes in the surrounding cargo wharves is never too far away. (Is there a word for getting a kick out of visiting decrepit industrial zones? Wanderdust? Blightseeing?) But still the island has an unexpected charm. For one thing, it smells great: the scent of camphor and sweet osmanthus trees mingled amid all that dockyard dust.
And, though there's very little to see -- a row of seaman's dorms, some ivy-clad old warehouses, a sign that reads Shanghai's Top Marine �C if you've come this far, you likely don't need much of a reason to be here. That there is one, in the shape of the rather beautiful Fuxing Island Park, is just a bonus. A quiet, walled space, dappled with the thick-boughed shadows of those hundred-year-old camphor trees, the park is popular with students from the nearby Science & Tech Uni, just back over the bridge. But popular only means a few couples petting in the pagoda; the place is simply too remote to ever get busy.
Why then is it so well tended? One reason might be the villa that still stands at its northern end; since it was from here that Chang Kaishek fled to Taiwan. After a night spent in the villa -- and a day spent having his huge mahogany wardrobe and an entire brass bed shipped across from Dongping Lu -- he boarded a waiting ship in the early hours of May 7th 1949, and beat his retreat. (He came back to the mainland briefly later that same year, but never to Shanghai.) The villa looks almost untouched since he left, and the surrounding lawns lend it the requisite stately feel, but it's an obscure attraction (even Chang worried that basing himself on the island meant he was, "Too far away from the city, too far away to see many people, too far away to understand things..."), and the state of the park probably has more to do with plans for the future than the past.
The island marks the far eastern point of the Huangpu revitalization program, the creeping fuse that is slowly and irreparably transforming the northern river bank. Out there in the electronic ether are wild, as-yetunrealized plans to turn the place into an entertainment wonderland (see pictures below); an eco-paradise replete with French-style parks, health spas, yachting marinas, and, in one case, a hotel styled after a Chinese galleon. But these proposals have been on the slate for more than five years now, and if it seems unlikely there'd really be much mourning were the island to be transformed, it seems equally doubtful that change is coming to Fuxing Dao any time soon.
It's a strange, time-warped backwater, a little like the island in Lost, only lacking the ability to fast-forward 30 years overnight. Probably pays to remember your way home from this one, too.
Getting there: In Puxi, the closest metro stations to Fuxing Island are Huangxing Lu and Yanji Zhong Lu, both on Line 8. The island is then a ten minute cab ride away. Buses 77 and 577 go all the way there.
On the Pudong side, Jinqiao Lu on Line 6 drops you a fifteen minute walk away from the ferry terminal of the same name. The ferry runs 24 hours a day.