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May 18, 2011

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Tales of Tiles

Inspired by a hand-written archive, I started to explore Shanghai's historical buildings six years ago and began a Shanghai Daily column about them.

The column became popular, was turned into a book, suspended for a while and resumed last May in our Expo Daily.

Old buildings represent a unique spirit of our city, which has grown from an ordinary place of narrow streets to a booming metropolis in less than 200 years.

It's fun to discover the stories behind old buildings. The problems, concerns and interests of the designers and dwellers in this "Paris of the East" are very similar to those of today.

I visited each building featured in this column, sometimes I paid several visits. It's exciting to revisit these buildings, finding traces of their past like a CSI investigator and putting into words the fascinating, forgotten past.

Quite often I feel like the character Ruth in Amy Tan's novel "The Bonesetter's Daughter," who happened to read her mother's diary and understood, with a throbbing heart, what life really was for her mother.

In 2011, this biweekly column continues to tell tales of buildings in our city. I will also write about historical buildings in other cities and the interesting people who built them, lived in them and were part of the mosaic of their time.

To me, old houses scattered around the city are like the broken ceramic bricks that adorn Gaudi's Gurell Park in Barcelona.

They are small broken pieces, but together they make up a compelling, grand picture of the city's vivid history.

Finally, I suggest you pay a visit to some of these houses, as I did.


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