I managed to shower and take a 1 ½ hour nap before venturing forth in search of the Shanghai Museum. After walking around a bit to get my bearings of the neighborhood, I reached the People’s Park. It was then 2:30 and I had to wait on line for about 45 minutes to get in. It certainly was worth the wait. Buddha statues from the very beginning when Buddhism was brought to China, fantastic ceramics, ink drawings, paintings and calligraphy, Ming dynasty furniture, jade and much more. I had to race a bit as the museum closed at 5 and there was so much to see, but I was glad I took my time with the drawings and paintings. They really were superb!
After the museum, I enjoyed a simple dinner of fried rice and stir fried baby bok choy. Then headed to cross another item off my Bucket List— the Shanghai Bund! The Bund and promenade run along the Huangpu River that flows through the city. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the base of the US, French and British colonial “consessions” in China after the disgraceful mid-19th Century Opium Wars. Shanghai was a free-wheeling commercial city where just about anything and anyone could be had with enough power, influence, and money– with all three indistinguishably intertwined. The Bund was the center of the international settlements, and is still a major commercial hub of the city. The neo-classical colonial buildings that comprise the Bund are now the home of many Chinese and foreign-based banks. The more modern section of Shanghai, located on the opposite side of the river in Pudong, is an interesting contrast to the Bund itself. The Shanghai Tower, financial area and the much-photographed Shanghai International Conference Center are there. It is a totally different experience to view the Bund by night than it is by day. For one, the crowd is much more in a festive mood as they go there in the evening to catch a breeze, meet up with friends or get some exercise along the promenade. Additionally, the old buildings are decked out in their finest lights, which add to the party atmosphere you feel. The stately buildings of the Bund differ sharply from the more modern geometric designs of the buildings across the river in Pudong. At night both sides seem to compete with each other, like two vain actors trying to upstage one another. While at the Bund, three middle aged Chinese men asked if I’d take a photo with them. Then seeing this, four Chinese girls wanted one too. They were all so funny and sweet with lots of laughing and attempts to use their English.
The next morning I was up early and out as it was my only really full day in Shanghai. I ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and went back to the Bund. It looks very different by day with its sober-looking buildings than it does by night when it is brightly lit up. I walked the promenade up to the Walbeidu Bridge that crosses the Wusong River. I did not go over the bridge which brings you more and more into modern Shanghai. With one day, the older section was more of a draw for me. While I was there, I checked out the Bund History Museum, which is largely underground, and features photos and video documentaries about the Bund.
I walked the promenade as far south as I could, then went west till I found Yongshou Street and headed south to the Dajing Pavilion and the nearby Taoist Balyun Temple. As you approach the Pavilion, you notice that it is in a very old neighborhood, one that is fast disappearing with the encroaching needs of a modern city. A Chinese acquaintance told me that the people really don’t care about that as progress is more important. But somehow the common thread of human nature in me says otherwise. I remember the results of the change that were wrought when the city prepared for the Beijing Olympics. I can’t believe that after living in closely intertwined family units for perhaps centuries, people would be fine with being uprooted in the name of “progress.” The Pavilion was very interesting as it contained some of the last of the remaining wall of the old city. Aside from a few workers, I was the only one there at the time, and I was allowed to wander the old garden and enjoy the remnants of the wall. But the hour was getting late, and I still had to see the Baiyun Temple. My lingering at the wall did not pay off this time. It was 5 minutes till closing, and I had just missed a very ornate Taoist ceremony. As the workers cleaned up, I was permitted to walk around and see the temple which is quite ornate itself! The smell of incense hung in the air as I traversed the main hall containing statues of a seemingly uncountable number of deities each assigned a different cause to help us mere mortals.
Walking east on Dajing Street, I came to the Yuan Bazaar on Fangbang Street, which was set up as a shopping/ tourist attraction by the government, but most of the tourists are Chinese. It seems to have started out right with a themed architecture of old Chinese forms, but then the shop owners moved in with stores galore selling a lot of the same stuff you see in every little shop from the Great Wall to, I’m certain, Tibet! There is a Disneyland in Shanghai already, but if the late Qing Dynasty ever had one, this would have been it! If I ever wondered where all the English-speaking Chinese lived in this city, I found them there! One little jewel shone bright, almost preposterously out of place in this space, and that was the City God Confucian temple, tucked away at the far end and connected by a slatted gate. The few of us who just happened to walk by at the right time were treated to a Confucian ceremony of some sort with the participants dressed in their finest old colorful Mandarin- style costumes. I wish I had had a better understanding of Confucianism so I would have understood the ceremony better, but by the looks on the faces of all but the very oldest of my fellow observers that was true of the Chinese there as well. After years of religious suppression by the government, there seems to be little real understanding of such rituals in the general population. It wasn’t long after that I fled this area, past the shops with their hawkers pleading you to enter, and the two Dairy Queens and a MacDonald’s, a Swenson’s, you get the picture! I soon found Henan Nan Street and took it north until I reached my hotel. You can’t get too lost in Shanghai because there are so many distinctive tall buildings to guide your way.
That night I went north to Najing Dong Street. The bright lights could rival anything at the Bund, or even Vegas for that matter! It is a shopping area par excellence with many high-end stores. There were lots of people here taking it all in as well with games, trolley rides and street performers entertaining the crowds. And as a sign that old Shanghai is alive and well, you are invited to enter questionable “massage parlors” or approached by prostitutes or their agents on nearly every corner!
I left there wishing, yet again, I had one more day in this fascinating city. Never got to the old French Quarter or the Jewish Museum and neighborhood where so many Jews escaped Europe in the 30’s only to be victimized by the Japanese. Regrets too for not having the time to explore the modern area of Pudong, but that’s what return trips are all about!
The next morning I was up early as the train for Beijing left at 11:00, and I wasn’t completely sure how long it would take to get to the high-speed train station of Hongqiao, just beyond the international airport of the same name. I walked up to the Line 2 station at Najing. The train I took was the right one, but stopped just short of the airport station. So a number of us had to wait for the ongoing train to Hongqiao. I arrived at the station with an hour to spare. It is a cavernous place and relatively new. After two security checks, I found my way to the gate for the departure. I learned my lesson and got on line early so when we boarded, I was able to snag a choice spot for my bag in the storage area. The trip to Beijing was very comfortable. It took only a shade under 5 hours traveling at an average speed of 300 kms/ hour (about 186 mph).
David wasn’t able to come to Beijing to see me off as his son was sick, but his twin, Dani, met me and took me back to the apartment where I spent the night. He was also feeling under the weather, in fact they all were in Luoyang. I insisted Dani go to the doctor in the morning as his cold was really bad. We had an interesting little discussion on the value of Chinese traditional medications as opposed to doses of Ibuprofen and Vitamin C! I’m sure both get you there, but Dani is a traditionalist and his sister, “Olga,” believes in the latter keeping a store of vitamins in the apartment.
With Dani at the doctor, Olga took me to lunch at a great restaurant not too far from the apartment. Oddly, the name translated as “Eat Here.” It was very open and built like an old traditional house. We agreed to eat light, so we only ordered a few things. Olga’s English is quite good and she is, like the rest of the family, completely charming. She is almost finished with her master’s degree and eventually wants to get into stage acting. I’m sure she will.
We were met at the apartment by Dani, who Ubered a car to take us to the airport. I wanted him to stay home but the Chinese, like many Asian societies, are “duty- bound” to take care of their guests from start to finish. I was getting a little concerned as we left a bit later than expected and we hit a traffic jam on the Beijing ring road that goes to the airport. But that miraculously disappeared, and it was clear sailing for the last 12 kilometers to the airport.
And so with a farewell to Dani, I was off repeating the process in reverse at the airport until I arrived at my gate. During the last security check, my small charger was confiscated as there was no “capacity” written on it, as the security agent explained. They are very cautious about changers self-igniting and causing fires, understandable, but just another reason to loathe the whole process of getting to the plane. At that point, I just wanted to get to the gate and besides, it was an old, cheap one.
The return flight to Bangkok was smooth on Thai International and loaded with Chinese tourists heading for the “Big Mango.” I was still in Facebook/ Messenger withdrawl as most social media is blocked in China. There are ways around it, but the government is constantly trying to close those up. No Twitter Revolution here!
Back in Thailand, I had many adventures ahead of me for my remaining four weeks through trips to Chieng Mai, Bang Saen, Hua Hin, and not to mention my “home base” in Bangkok. But it is the trip to China that will really stand out during this summer’s journey, and that is largely thanks to the Zhang family and the wonderful Chinese people.
Thanks for taking this journey with me this trip! I return in January 2017 with Bali and possibly a return to eastern Java on my itinerary!