Wednesday June 6, Day 4
Shanghai is frighteningly impressive. That is my conclusion after today’s whirlwind touring. Before I explain why, I’ll give the play-by-play for those that enjoy the details.
Pancake day! Breakfast at Chabad this morning included fresh pancakes with American syrup — I’m not a huge pancake guy — but this was a great treat.
Tai Chi: As I was walking back from Chabad, I joined about two dozen residents of our apartment complex in some Tai Chi.
The old moves started to come back to me: White Crane Spreads Wings, Repulse Monkey, Carry Tiger to the Mountain, Wild Horse Separate Mane and more. As soon as the Tai Chi was over, all the residents congregated around me and I became an instant celebrity in the apartments courtyard. An older women spoke English and translated for the group. They seemed impressed that an obvious foreigner knew the moves and invited me to come again.
Our new tour guide met us at our apartment. Mr. Lu is a tall gangly young man with a lot of teeth. Pleasant enough, though as the day progressed, he had a tendency to walk half a block ahead of us and was often glued to his cellphone (I suspect to a Chinese version of Twitter) and his English was a challenge at times to understand. Nonetheless, he took us to multiple sites and we were duly impressed by everything we saw:
Tianzifang Market — cool upscale bohemian shopping in old part of Shanghai.
Yu Gardens — gardens in China are a combination of buildings, water, stone and vegetation. Exquisite. They seem to revere big stones with lots of holes in the them. The biggest stone a previous emperor had liked is the “Queen” of these fabulous gardens. The ancient handiwork is breathtaking. We particularly liked the Dragon sculptures on the buildings and gates. Tamara took copious notes as to the meaning and reason of everything.
Yu Gardens Market — A big array of tourist memorabilia stalls surrounds the famous attraction. I bargained down a local vendor for a jade stamp with our name engraved in Chinese. Lines around the block of tourists waiting to buy dumplings.
Chinese Tea Ceremony — We were instructed as to the art, science, meaning and health benefits of a variety of natural teas. Fascinating. Tamara again got all the info on the different types of teas, their properties, how to prepare them and more. They then tried to sell us tea, or jewelry or anything else in their store, but we politely declined (we are doing a lot of politely declining at all these tourist attractions).
Xintiandi: Sort of a Mamilla of Shanghai. They’ve converted very pretty old Chinese/European buildings into upscale stores, cafes and American chains stores (Starbucks, etc.) They had a Haagen Daz restaurant and some other ice cream brand (Stone Cold something or other) that Tamara was both excited to see and frustrated that we couldn’t have. We had salami on rice-cakes in a beautiful nearby park.
Shanghai Museum: All the history of craft development (ceramics, bamboo carvings, calligraphy, stamps, coins, metalworking, costumes, pottery and much more) in one beautiful but not overwhelming exhibit building. It kept hammering away that their people have a continuous tradition going back millenia. While Europe was in the dark ages and had buried and forgotten whatever knowledge or wisdom Greece and Rome had produced, the Chinese were developing on all fronts (the West did jump ahead more recently, but history may prove it a short-lived aberration).
Shanghai World Financial Center: 3rd tallest building in the world. Known as the Bottle Opener, because of its shape. Seriously impressive view of this metropolis. The island of Manhattan can fit into one slice of Shanghai and still be overshadowed by the larger, more numerous and more creative designs of the skyline of Shanghai.
The Metro: We took the subway almost everywhere. It claims to be the longest subway in the world. Every train and station was clean, well lit and well ventilated, even in the packed train during rush hour. All the signs, ticket machines and announcements were in Chinese and English. It was easy and pleasurable to get around. The stations were spacious. Monitors showed when the next train would arrive, to the second, as well as the second and third train after that. Screens at the station and on the trains had the latest commercials, including movie ones (the only ones I recognized (MIB and Hunger Games)).
Bottom line: We’ve been seriously impressed by how much more advanced this place seems than other places in the world. However, there are a couple of differences we noted that gave us pause:
– crossing the street – there seems to be no concept of right of way or care for pedestrians. Motorcycles and bicycles alternate between pedestrian and motorcar behavior, cars can turn right on red, and you better move out of the way if you’re on the crosswalk, because nobody will stop for you. Nobody wears helmets or seatbelts.
– Our Facebook accounts are not accessible from here. It seems they continue to censor and cut out any material they consider offense or threatening in any media.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow the plan is to take the bullet train to Suzhou, supposedly the Venice of the area.
China Journal, Day 4 addendum
Something else that really impressed us is the Chinese investment in the blind. Most sidewalks and all of the train stations have special tiling along the floor specially placed to aid the blind in getting around. We must be talking about hundreds of miles if not more of this special tiling, which frankly is a pain in the neck to everyone else as it is not comfortable to step on. And we did see a number of blind people getting around, often with some guard or other escort helping them. Interesting.