Monday, April 26, 2010

Far Eastern Promises... Shanghai...

Far Eastern Promises… Shanghai.

On arrival, we were greeted by a vibrant ball of energy, our guide Tai. On the way to central Shanghai, she explained the multitude of amazing buildings that were being built all around us. The World Expo is taking place in Shanghai for six months in 2010, and the bizarre shaped structures along the riverbank were the pavilions of each of the sponsor countries.

We booked into our hotel, and very classy place in the middle of the expansive skyline. Shanghai will remind you of the largest, never-ending downtown you’ve ever seen. Nothing but high-rises for as far as the eye could see. Every sky rise window had an external AC unit and a little trellis for hanging your laundry. The roadways are all raised up and snake between the colored glass towers.

We took a bus tour of The Bund, the riverside French Colonial buildings that was once the hub of all financial activity in China… and still are. From there we walked to the Yu Yuan Gardens, a hidden park of breathtaking Chinese architecture and Feng Sui life tucked between mile-high buildings. The highlight of the gardens was the nine-turn pink bridge to an island temple. The bridge to the temple zigzags because evil spirits cannot turn on a dime, and fall over the rails. Smart move. We also saw the exquisite jade rocks and boulders, spaced throughout the bridges, courtyards, streams, and corridors. Hard to believe that the garden and buildings were built over 400 years ago… and still provide peace and harmony to all the people who visit.

A quick stop to shop and pick up more souvenirs, and eat some world-famous Shanghai dumplings filled with pork and broth (thanks Jonathon), and we headed for another factory. This time we saw a silk production plant. They had the worms in beds, and the little silk casings that were unspun on large racks and then woven through looms. And yes, there was a large showroom filled with nothing but silk. Back to the hotel for a quick rest and more lunch before heading out for a special excursion. We decided to eat at a North Korean restaurant inside the hotel. As we opened the menu, [NAME REMOVED] shouted out, “If you order it, I will kill you.”

I had no idea what she was talking about… until I got to page six and saw a lovely piece of meat on a bed of rice and vegetables that was labeled, “Dog Leg.” Umm… no thanks.

Dork did order a lovely soup that had a mishmash of mixed meats in it. She started to get a little scared about what she was eating, and tried to ask the waitress. Unable to communicate at all, she resorted to animal sounds. “Is this OINK?” “No.” “Is this CHIRP CHIRP?” “No.” “Is this MEOW?” “Yes… MEOW.”

Dork and [NAME REMOVED], both avowed cat lovers, just about threw up. After a few more minutes with some more waitresses, we finally discovered that “MEOW” is how you say “black chicken” in Chinese. Too bad… I really wanted to try some cat.

For those that do not know, [NAME REMOVED]’s childhood nickname is Panda. She had been dying to get to Shanghai so she could visit the Shanghai zoo… and see the pandas. We grabbed a cab and were dropped off outside of a non-descript, completely empty parking lot. We bought a ticket and entered the zoo… and discovered that we were the only people in the entire zoo. Seriously… no one. We walked for thirty minutes thru the large green fields of birds and fish to reach the panda enclosure, and only saw one old couple who graciously gave us the wettest fart ever heard. But we got to see the pandas in person, eating apples and bamboo while sliding down a school yard slide… really. We finished our walk through the zoo with bean curd and watermelon popsicles, and headed back to the hotel.

After dusk, we decided for one last trip out to explore, and decided to take the night riverboat tour of the Huangpu. The concierge told our cab driver where to drop us off, but even he didn’t quite understand. He dropped us off somewhere near The Bund, and took off. We scrambled around for a while until we reached the river, and found the boats. It was a mass of people just swarming around an intersection, with absolutely no idea of how to get onto the boats. Suddenly, a man dressed like Gopher from the Love Boat jumped out of the crowd, and pulled us into a building where we could buy tickets. He then guided us through the mass of people and into the front of the lines, where he then shoved us onto his boat… and without a single word of English. Good job.

These boats are enormous. Three to four stories tall, and decorated entirely in Christmas lights, lasers, and disco mirror balls. There were a dozen of these former ferries lined up along the shore. The bridges that cross the Huangpu and connect the two parts of Shanghai are very recent, and until the 1990’s, all crossings were on these ferries. We slowly moved up and down the river, checking out the incredible lightshows that are broadcast onto the sides of the eighty story buildings. Entire sides of buildings are transformed into huge televisions. That night, for our final meal in China, we got dressed up and headed down to the fancy restaurant in the hotel. That night we feasted on sea cucumber, sea urchin, prawns, spiced fried fish, and octopus salad.

The next morning, we were able to visit the Shanghai Museum of Art. Before we could get in, we were all shot with lasers between the eyes to check for a fever… swine flu and all. The museum was beautiful, but the mood was a little sour. Everyone realized that our trip was over. No more cities to explore… no more restaurants to discover. The airport would be our last destination.

We got to the airport, said goodbye to Tai, and got through customs. Once inside, we all had to go our separate ways. This was my first group tour, and it was hard to say goodbye to these wonderful people I had traveled with. The Chicago Twins were very sad to say goodbye, and promised to visit Doha sometime in the future. The Not Gonnas disappeared with simple nod goodbye. And Bill just faded away.

But it was even harder to say goodbye to China. It was an amazing adventure in language, culture, and custom. The old ideas of communism have long past, and today it stands out as a stunning country. China is still fascinating to me… and I will always treasure it for that.



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