Travel Journal – China; Part Two
Day 11 – April 23: Three Gorges Dam, Yichang, Shanghai
This morning we went to the Three Gorges Project Hotel and were addressed by Professor Wang Rushu, one of the engineers and managers of the Three Gorges project. He was a happy, bouncy little man of 78 and kept calling us all engineers. That was when he wasn’t calling us geographers. So here is some of the lowdown on the Yangtze and the dam.
The Yangtze originates in Tibet. Could this be one reason the Chinese are so prickly about keeping Tibet? In 1947, the United States Bureau of Reclamation proposed this project but it took a long time to get going. The cachement area of the project is 8 million kilometers. The reasons for the project are three: flood control, navigation and electricity generation.
When finished, by the end of next year, the dam will produce 4% of China’s electricity. There are 32 huge power units and this will be the largest in the world, at 22,400 megawatts, for those of you who know what that means.The river will become navigatable, which it has not been previously, and 10,000 ton barges will be able to sail to Chongqing. The use of the electricity from the dam will replace the use of 50 million tons of raw coal. Twenty counties and cities have been inundated and 1.3 million people relocated.
Dam facts: 2,335 meters long; 185 meters high; 18 meters wide on top; 130 meters wide at the bottom; river rises to level of 175 meters above sea level; 600 km reservoir creates with 39.9 billion cubic meters, two ship locks (four stages) and a ship elevator.
There is really quite a gorgeous park at an overlook so tour groups and Chinese can appreciate the dam. I think overall the dam is a good project and surely, in the past, thousands of people have been killed by flooding, which is no good, and which this will control.
Dr. Rushu, however, was glossing over the damage to the river dolphin population, and while it is true that one species, though endangered, is being addressed, another species seems to have disappeared. Dr. Rushu was nothing but positives. And he has met so many people in the world and showed us pictures. He is especially proud of the photos of him with Henry Kissinger and his wife Nancy. In fact, he is quite taken with Nancy, who is very tall and towers over Henry. Dr. Rushu pointed that out several times.He showed us the Kissinger pictures twice.
The whole city of Yichang is new and quite spiffy, having been occupied by so many dam engineers, etc. For the last several years the schools have scored highest in the nation on the yearly national exam. I would compare it to how well Burroughs High School and High Desert do in Kern County – out there by China Lake Naval Weapons Center and Edwards Air Force Base. Our local guide’s daughter is about to take her exam and it will determine where she goes to college. The colleges have a quota system – even if you qualify, they only accept a certain number from each province. Your entire future depends on this exam and the pressure on the students is intense. Ginger (I think Ginger was the Yichang guide) said there are indeed suicides because the kids can’t cope with the pressure.
We went to lunch and when we entered the restaurant we were faced with a cactus garden. I wondered if we were in a nursery and the restaurant was at the other end but this was the restaurant. The tables were in little patio areas surrounded by vegetation and streams, ponds and birds in cages. It was quite beautiful and totally unexpected. The food was fabulous, as most has been on this trip.
As an aside, some of the people on the tour are starting to complain a little about the food because there is too much Chinese food. What is wrong with this picture? I’m eating all the Chinese food I can, even the breakfast choices where there are usually Western selections. Sausage, bacon, eggs, potatoes and pancakes somehow pale next to dumplings, congee (rice porridge) with all kinds of toppings, noodles, etc. The breakfast food doesn’t look much different from the lunch and dinner food actually. And after three weeks of chopsticks, which are really quite efficient, it’ll be hard to go back to forks, knives and spoons.
We made it to the Yichang Airport after lunch and flew to Shanghai.
Day 12 – April 24: Shanghai: Our first morning we went to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition. It’s a model of the entire city and it even lights up! It’s pretty amazing to see, really, and it is up to date – every week any changes needed are made. Every city has a model like this.
There is one place in Shanghai where a building (I don’t remember what it was, either beautiful or historic) ended up under one of the elevated highways. Every night the building is moved a couple of centimeters and it will be until it is in a position to be seen from the ring road. In a country where you don’t need a million study processes or permits, it’s easy to do something like that. Seeing this model was actually very informative. We saw where the Olympic facilities are built – women’s soccer is taking place in Shanghai. Also, there is an international expo of some sort in 2010 so the city is getting set for that with many vast new buildings and subways and other types of transportation including the fastest train in the world at 270 mph. We were going to ride on it, but after the big train wreck outside of Beijing, we just didn’t feel like it any longer.
A huge change taking place in Shanghai is in the water system. Currently, you can’t drink tap water anywhere in China. But Shanghai is finishing replacing the pipes in all the buildings all over the cities with modern materials and updating sewer systems, etc., and soon people will be able to drink water right out of their taps! Every hotel in every city gives guests two bottles of water a day for tooth brushing, etc. It’ll be nice to be home where we don’t have to worry about water.
After the Urban Planning Exhibit, we went to the Shanghai Museum, China’s premier museum showcasing Chinese visual arts. It really was lovely and well organized – it was easy to find our way around and see what we wanted to. There was also a nice gift shop but not as big as I had expected.
Next we went to Old Shanghai and ate lunch at the Old Shanghai Restaurant right next to Yu Gardens. The food again was excellent. Right next to the restaurant was the Huxinting Teahouse where we watched tea being roasted and then bought some Dragon Well Tea harvested April 5.Apparently April 5 is the day to harvest tea all over China.
To walk from the teahouse to the Yuyuan Gardens we zigzagged over a path with nine zigs, or was it zags. Nine is the most auspicious number of all, sort of the emperor’s number, and of course evil spirits can only go in straight lines so the zig-zags keep them out of the garden. This is a feng shui principle. The gardens were designed during the Ming Dynasty and destroyed three times before their current incarnation. Once was during the First Opium War. The Chinese were very upset because Westerners brought opium to China and many Chinese became addicted, causing a problem for the Chinese and for their families. So China tried to expel the foreigners and get rid of the opium problem.
These gardens are quite beautiful and they would be tranquil were there not a zillion people in them. We exited onto Fangbang Zhongiu Street and were assaulted by vendors. The stands we wanted to look at – the people who were trying to sell us the strangest trinkets we wished would just go away.Guys kept zipping up and down the sidewalks on these little roller skates that were actually pretty cool, and I wonder if one of them appreciated the irony as he yelled, “cheap skates!”
We were on our own for dinner and we tried to find a 24-hour dumpling restaurant that Diane had mentioned. Unfortunately, we went the wrong way and ended up on a ritzy street full of upper-end shops. And we were tired so finally we just decided to eat in the hotel – big mistake. Expensive, not-so-great dinner buffet. And we can hardly eat enough to justify a buffet anyway.But one bad meal in an entire trip is not so bad. Ok, two – one was yet to come.
Day 13 – April 25: Xitang: About two hours from Shanghai, at least by our bus with its very careful driver, we came to the water city of Xitang. This place dates from the Ming and Qing dynasties and is relatively unspoiled by tourism as yet. It’s fairly new on the itineraries. As all old, small towns, the streets were narrow and alleys even narrower. There were many vendors selling trinkets, but also many local shops and restaurants, etc. Lots of laundry hanging out as there is all over China. In Shanghai, residents of some buildings are being asked to hang their laundry on the backside of the building so it will look better from the street.
The water in the canals in Xitang is very bad and residents know not to drink, cook, or wash in it. But some do anyway so they apparently get used to the organisms. Still, seeing the people washing their clothes in the river, or washing their hands and their children’s hands, is a bit disconcerting. Also, watching someone pee in his vegetable garden right by the water – well, people live longer and healthier with good sanitation.
We ate lunch at the Qiantang Household Restaurant. This was truly a local restaurant and we ate the local specialty – a wheat, rice sort of dish wrapped and steamed in lotus leaves. Some musicians came in to serenade us, not at Nat’l Geo’s request, because they took up a collection right afterwards and then divided it right in the room before leaving.
It was a long ride to and from Xitang but it was worth seeing. We were seeing an old way of life, really. Oh – the policemen. The local police were patrolling the sidewalks and telling vendors to clear the way and put their stuff back in their shops. Arguments ensued, especially from some old women who gave the police what for, but eventually they cleared the sidewalks, only to put everything back I’m quite sure once the police had passed. Hey – it gives people something to do. The police uniforms were spiffy, but they were left to their own devices for shoes, and some had on white tennis shoes.
I should mention that I was taking pictures like crazy from the bus window of all the amazing modern buildings in Shanghai. There is some wonderful architecture there, quite exciting. The traffic is Chinese-exciting also.
We saw lots of lots of duck farms on the ride back.
We had asked about the dumpling restaurant and so tonight we headed there for dinner. It’s the Bi Feng Tang restaurant and has branches in other towns I guess, as well as making frozen dumplings and dim sum for sale in supermarkets. Anyway, we went there and it was packed. No one but Chinese – and us. The menu was interesting – besides a wonderful variety of great-sounding dumplings, there were fish head dumplings, duck’s tongues, pig offal, pig intestines, chicken feet, ducks chins (or was it cheeks? Or does it matter because where is a duck’s chin or cheek anyway?) I could go on and on, but anything you can thing of that comes on an animal, and even things you can’t think of, were on the menu. This is really the way the Chinese eat.
Dinner done, satisfied, and to bed.
Day 14 – April 26: Shanghai: This was the final day of the official Nat’l Geographic tour. Only six of us had signed up for the extension to Guilin, so Jimmy was taking over that part and Nat’l Geo was leaving us. We had two official excursions – to the Longhua Temple and a silk factory. The Longhua temple is Shanghai’s largest temple complex and is getting increasingly more important as Buddhism experiences a revival. There were many people here praying. Huge incense burners of course, since your prayers have a better chance of getting to their destination wafting on the incense as the smoke rises. When Buddhists pray, they start by holding their hands together pointed upwards, and then as they bow down, they open and separate their hands palms facing up.
This complex had several buildings, all with impressive Buddhas and other statues.
We proceeded to the silk factory, another buying opportunity. I had been waiting for this one because I wanted a silk comforter. We learned about the silk worms and the making of the silk threads. I guess silk worms are fussy little things.
China had silk by the 3rd century B.C. They closely guarded the secret of how to make silk because it was a much-desired commodity used for payments and for salaries. The Silk Road is so-named because it was the trading route.Both tea and silk were traded, mostly for horses. It originated in Xian, but there was a northern and southern silk road. Shanghai is in the south.Anyway – the silkworms. They only eat mulberry leaves and the spring silk it the best – produced when the leaves are fresh and young and good tasting.Many things disturb silk worms and growers literally tiptoe around when the silkworms are eating. Strong smells make the silkworms stop eating and start spinning, smells like fish and sweat. Loud noises and low temperatures upset them and they start spinning too soon.
Summer and fall silk are not as fine as spring silk. What we know as raw silk is made from either summer or fall, I forget which. The thread from a spring cocoon can stretch for one mile! Also, silk is 2/3 the strength of thin steel wire.
So we bought comforters and duvets and clothes and more. I didn’t buy clothes, but I bought the more. And then we went back to the hotel.
We had our last lecture of the trip in the morning and learned about Chinese literature, customs and holidays as well as foot binding. Foot binding was done for about 1,000 years, big-time in the 10th century. It was done by the upper class, women in good families; and in very rich households, even the upper story maids had bound feet. The idea was that the Golden Lotus – 3 inch feet – were very beautiful and erotic. Also, of course, women couldn’t really walk with 3-inch feet, so they sort of swayed, which was also considered beautiful. But once a woman’s feet were bound, her life outdoors came to an end and she spent a lot of time doing silk embroidery. Essentially, foot binding involved wrapping the feet tightly so the toes folded back over the sole and then keeping them tightly bound until, well – I won’t go into it because it is gross and sad, and Chairman Mao forbade it, although the tradition had already stopped by then. The last women with bound feet are well into their 90s now.
Carrie Broussard had sent me many detailed descriptions of where to shop in Beijing and send business cards, etc. but I had no idea I would have no time to go any of those places. But one of them, Spin, had a branch in Shanghai so I was determined to go there. I owed Carrie that, at least! So one of the other tour participants and I headed off to find this store. We took a taxi only to find out it was so close that the taxi ride cost only 11 Yuan – a little over $1.What a surprise! We walked into this very small building and found a modern, artistic, beautiful ceramic shop. All the items are made from the famous clay of a province I can’t spell at the moment because the airplane is experiencing severe turbulence. But I’ll look it up when I can. I bought several items I’m having shipped home and I was so glad I went to find this store! The sloth in me wanted to just stay in the hotel and rest.
Cindy, the woman I went with, and I walked back to the hotel since it was so close and we passed through some interesting and more typical neighborhoods – the kind where life takes place on the sidewalk and all around. People playing cards, cooking, washing, eating – real life.
The evening – farewell banquet on the 32nd floor of the hotel. The setting was beautiful, the chairs, napkins and everything else were red – of course, the very luckiest color. The food wasn’t so good, though. Probably one of the three worst meals we’ve had, and that’s not to say they were bad – not at all.Just not excellent. So we said farewell, figuring that it was about time – we were an especially congenial group and Bob said he was so grateful that there wasn’t a single prima donna in the whole bunch.
Day 15 – April 27 – Shanghai to Guilin: We were the first group to be up and out – left for the airport at 6:00 am. At the airport there are seats reserved for the “old weak sick disable and pregnant only.” We left those seats alone. Today our friend Carrie Broussard was flying from her new home in Thailand to do the Guilin excursion with us. We were very excited to see her, but while all went well for us, her flight was delayed over and over again until she finally arrived too late for us to see her at all that day!
When we got to Guilin we took a bus ride to Fubo Hill, a beautiful park with the karst landscape in the background. The images you have seen of China with the ghostly, rounded hills come from this area of Southern China. The hills are limestone and full of caves. The limestone is called karst, or maybe that is a separate geologic term. At Fubo Hill we didn’t actually climb the hill because it was raining and we thought it would be slippery. We also walked around the lake across from the hotel and admired the old new pagodas in the lake. Yes, they look old but are relatively new at 6 years old; nonetheless, they are beautiful coming out of the lake.
We walked around near the hotel and found a market street. In a bakery, a girl asked us if we thought it would be hard to learn Arabic. Why she asked us I don’t know – she barely spoke English. But having minored in Farsi (Persian) in college, I was able to answer her – not if you know Chinese! We asked her what the local food specialty was and she wrote it down for us. We asked Sonny, our local guide, where to eat and he suggested the Good Luck Restaurant, which was just around the corner from the hotel. He promised it was a local restaurant so we went and we had excellent good luck!
We were seated in one of four small tables and we noticed that every table in the restaurant except for ours was decorated for a wedding reception! That was the third wedding we encountered in our short time in Guilin – one in another neighborhood and one in our hotel. Later on, on the internet, I found out that on the Chinese lunar calendar, that date was very auspicious and had been marked as a lucky date. It was the 22nd day of the third cycle of 2008.
So here we were watching the finishing touches being put on the tables, lots of goody bags, bottles of wine and liquor and soda, etc. Table cloths red of course. And then – entertainers started to arrive! And we were right by the stage! There was a traditional band that was all girls – the old instruments, old-style vocals, etc. And dancers! A troop of four ethnic dancers and we stayed through three costume changes. They were wonderful. The Good Luck Restaurant was lucky for us.
The food was good also. The duck was much like Peking Duck and we couldn’t figure out what made it a local specialty. Later we were told because their ducks were free range and their ducks tasted better. I have to admit, it was fantastic. We also ordered Spring Onion Pancake which turned out to be a flat bread kind of thing with onions and it was good also.
How long could we string this out? Finally we felt we should leave the reception, but as we got to the restaurant entrance, the bride and groom came in! So I took their pictures along with everyone else and as they entered lots of exploding party poppers full of confetti went off and the air was filled with sparkling glittery papers.
Something interesting to us was that the guests all arrived on the dot and most of the men were smoking, dropping their ashes on the floor. The room quickly became almost unbearable but we ignored it because we were too interested in the happenings. Also, people were dressed very informally.
Back to the hotel where we caught the end of the other wedding reception.The glitter had already been set off – this reception was more upscale. Pink dominated, not red, and as we saw all over, the decoration of choice now seems to be two stuffed bears in the center of a balloon heart. White is the traditional funeral color but many Chinese brides are now choosing to be married in white, Western style. They often have a red dress that they change into, red being the customary bridal color.
This big fun day wasn’t over yet. We had to see the waterfall! We were at the Li Waterfall Hotel, so-called because every night between 8:30 and 8:40, massive quantities of water are released over the back of the hotel. While music plays the water falls. It’s a bit strange, actually, not all that entrancing, but it’s a local attraction, and not only for tourists. The crowd is worked by beggars and kids trying to sell flowers, etc. We had seen a young girl earlier at the park who was crying and yelling and being yelled at by a man. It was quite a spectacle, really. Finally she stopped crying and went off to sell her flowers and we couldn’t tell if the man was the father or someone who didn’t want to be pestered. But there she was at the back of the hotel, along with other very young children, trying to sell things on the sympathy of their age and cuteness. Trouble was, the parents were forcing the kids to do this. The only defense for the tourist is to completely ignore them. Very sad. But people make a lot of money doing this. It’s a living I guess, if an undignified one.
Ok, good luck day over, waterfall done, and to bed, hoping that in the morning Carrie would be there.
Day 16 – April 28 – Guilin: Carrie arrived! Hooray – she was there for theLi River Cruise, what we all were there for. We were four hours on the river and the landscape was more beautiful at every turn. Guilin is very close to Viet Nam and its appearance and climate are very different than what we had seen elsewhere. It’s humid for one, and very tropical looking. Northern China is the China of wheat and wheat noodles; Southern China is rice and rice noodles. And we did see many rice paddies being worked by the farmers and their water buffalo. There are more pictures of the Li River and Three Gorges here.
We spent almost all of the cruise on the upper deck taking pictures and marveling at how beautiful everything was. Much of Amy Tan’s book The Kitchen God’s Wife takes place in this area. We saw many rice paddies, cormorant fishermen, farmers, water buffalo and tourists floating down the river on bamboo rafts with beach umbrellas protecting them from the sun.
After the cruise we took the bus back to Guilin and the hotel and went to dinner. We went back to the Good Luck Restaurant because Carrie wanted to try the duck. After living in China for three years, duck is one of the things Carrie misses. We were very happy to go eat it again! She also ordered shrimp with salt and pepper for us to try. The shrimp – river shrimp I guess – are eaten shell and all and they are fine that way. Good even. Day by day I lost my squeamishness. If we had stayed longer, who knows what I would have eaten?
We went to see the waterfall again so Carrie could marvel at this bizarre event, and then went to bed.
Day 17 and 18 – April 29 and 30 – Yangshuo: We had arranged to take a taxi to Yanhshuo this morning. Our driver was very accommodating and he stopped when we motioned to him that we wanted to take pictures. Once he realized how interested we were in water buffalo and rice paddies, he picked a stop of his own where we could actually walk out amongst the paddies, watch the farmers and buffalo, and of course take pictures.
There are two harvests of rice. First the paddies are plowed, then flooded, then the seedlings, which have been growing, are transplanted into the paddies. This is hard on the back. The traditional coolie hats we all know are used in this part of the country for shade and because rain runs off them – and it rains lots. At a certain point the rice is cut with a scythe, then what is left is plowed under and it starts again. We wanted to see the terraced paddies but this is not the time of year they are green and they were a long way from where we were so we didn’t pursue it.
The driver took us straight to the Magnolia Hotel that Carrie had reserved. It was spacious and clean and inexpensive – $35 a night! At that rate, Mark and I got two rooms so I had a reprieve for two nights from snoring and earplugs.After checking in we went down to the riverside and explored the bazaar.These are aggressive vendors. Every step we heard “Lady, lady,” “hello, hello.” I don’t ever want to hear those words again. It got ridiculous. For example, I was looking at a cricket cage that I wanted to buy but not at that moment. I never even gave a price but the vendor thought I should pay 50 Yuan (which was too much) but she actually followed me! And later on saw me again and ran after me, “Lady, lady, 50, 50.” I wanted to deck her. This was not an effective sales technique! I did buy quite a bit through and finished up several things I had in mind. One was a feng shui compass, which I did buy and will never ever be able to understand, but it is totally cool looking. And complex.
We ate dinner at a restaurant overlooking the river and got ready for the big show – The Impression of Sanjie Liu. The famous Chinese Zhang Yimou (who was to direct the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics) put this show together some years ago to illustrate the life of the ethnic minorities in this part of China – the Dong, Miao, Luo, and Malipo Yi and Yao. The theater set is the Li River with the Karst mountains in the background. Jimmy had arranged tickets for us and a driver to take us and return us to the hotel, so we were set. We had Presidential tickets – we sat in the highest box for the most panoramic view, were given binoculars, beverages and snacks. When we left, the costumed ushers bowed to us. We felt very presidential
I’m not sure how to describe the show. Sanjie Liu meets a man whom she marries. This involves gliding over the lake in boats and singing traditional, haunting songs. (We bought the DVD and the CD.) Over a hundred fishermen on bamboo rafts with lights glide in and out and raise red cloth as waves.Farmers come to the waterside with their water buffalo. Villagers wash clothes and enact the life of a village. The moon glides to the middle of the lake with an ethereal dancer on it. Children in native costume sing and dance.Lines of women dance and then change their clothes having on nothing but flesh-colored body suits in between and it is beautiful. Fishermen with cormorants go by on the lake. Various platforms appear on the lake with performers. Two hundred local villagers are the actors and they are precision perfect. All two hundred performers walk slowly on a zig-zag path through the lake with costumes that are all lights. It’s mesmerizing. And then they flip a switch and the black and white lights, almost skeleton-like, glow golden. The mountains are illuminated at different times in different ways.
This show was worth the price of the Presidential ticket and worth the trip to Yangshuo. We will have to have a DVD watching party because there is no way to adequately describe it.
So – moving on to April 30. We did some more shopping in the morning. We found by accident a wonderful store selling the textiles of the minority populations. The owner goes into the villages and buys ceremonial and daily clothing that has been used but is no longer as life changes. He sells them in his shop and part of the money goes back to the population in the form of school supplies. We had seen this clothing in the Shanghai museum and it was just gorgeous, beautiful, and also sad that the tribes are giving it up, but no one wants to do the tedious embroidery anymore or live the old way.Understandably. The owner of this shop has a little museum of his own upstairs and the garments are just overwhelmingly lovely and intricate.
We went to a Beer Fish restaurant for lunch. Carrie had found it in a guide book. Well, I must say that this was the second bad meal of the trip. No, it was a horrible meal. We ordered beer duck – I mean, how bad could that be?And pork with bamboo shoots. When the duck came, so unappetizing, we all stared at it for a while until Carrie got brave and took some. She optimistically said it wasn’t bad, so we ate some pork, which we optimistically said wasn’t bad, but then we all decided it was all bad.Meanwhile, a big family sat down next to us and were picking their fish out of the tank. That’s what happens in most restaurants – when you order fish, you choose your fish. All of a sudden I noticed that a fish had escaped the net and was on the ground not too far from our table. That did it. I left in a flash telling Mark and Carrie I’d be at the Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant next to our hotel. By the time Mark and Carrie got there, I had about five or six magnificent dishes from taro root to corn to almond something or other, all beautifully prepared and delicious. None of it was alive.
Day 19 – May Day, Shanghai: Time to leave Yangshou. Although there were many irritating things about Yangshou, we had a great time, especially with Carrie there. Neither Mark nor I like too much commotion, but we loved these busy cities – Yangshou may have been the smallest city we were in, but there sure was a lot going on. It’s just fun to be in the middle of life, no matter how messy it is.
So our taxi driver picked us up and we went to the airport on some back roads which were much more interesting than the highway. There was very little traffic madness on the back roads. It was goodbye to Carrie as she headed back to Bangkok and we went back to Shanghai.
Shanghai turned out to be a city we are very fond of. I could live there much more easily than Beijing. Beijing had a cold feel to it but Shanghai has a vibrant feel. We were back at the Garden Hotel, which is very expensive. On the tour, we could ignore hotel prices – we didn’t actually know them. But on our own we had to bite the bullet. This hotel was worth every penny if you count the amenities provided in the bathroom. Every day, two of everything – slippers, shaving kits, emery boards, toothbrush and toothpaste, loofahs, bath salts, and the usual shampoo, etc. Shoeshine kits. Every time I loaded them into the suitcase, more appeared, so sometimes we had four of each a day! These will be great for our new cabin for guests who forget things.
And of course there was the toilet seat. Did I talk about that yet? The Toto?I’m not quite sure how we have managed at home without one. The seat is warmed and you can set the temperature. There are water sprays to clean both parts and you adjust the temperature and the pressure of the water. I couldn’t believe it didn’t flush itself! That was a real design flaw. The Toto has its use, I am sure, but what a symbol for excess – people with too much money and not enough to do with it keep this company afloat, pardon the pun.
Anyway, we had dinner at Bi Feng Tang again. And again, we were the only non-Chinese in the restaurant. On the way there, we noticed that the streets were lighted up for the May Day holiday – what we would think of as Christmas lights, but interestingly enough, they were white, not the lucky red. Is this because it is a worker’s holiday, an ideological holiday, and red would be too indicative of old backwards ways? Whatever the reason, it was very festive.
Traffic policemen stand in the middle of the intersections during rush hour, and they should get combat pay. I mean, they are in the middle of the crazy traffic madness, and worse, they don’t do anything! No one pays attention to them and the traffic zooms around threatening even pedestrians who are crossing with the light. Apparently no one hits the traffic police but I’m really not sure the drivers even see them. And it’s employment.
So to dinner. We noticed that a very popular item is the chicken feet that look like they are barbecued. The leg end is wrapped in tin foil and the people really seem to enjoy them. We passed on that and stuck with dumplings and noodles. We didn’t get the fish head dumplings though.
Another thing we did upon our return to Shanghai was go back to Spin, the ceramics store. I wanted Mark to see it and he loved it as much as I did. We bought more cups, bowls and decorative items and they are coming to us via the slow boat from China.
As we walked back to the hotel from Spin we took a different route and went through some gritty neighborhoods – but we love seeing the storefronts, the food for sale, the people on the sidewalks playing cards, etc. There were so many weddings! One seemed to be in an alley-type area and the bride was sitting in her white dress looking somewhat forlorn. But May 1 is an auspicious day to be married on. We saw a limo – our first one in China. And we saw a gate with Christmas ornaments and a Merry Christmas sign. Also, we saw a bicyclist delivering newspapers – hadn’t seen that before. He had gloves on and was putting the papers into mail boxes.
As we returned to the hotel we checked on the wedding in the garden but it was over. All in all, a very satisfactory day.
Day 20 – May 2, Shanghai: This was our day to pack and rest. We had one goal – to get to the Bund. But in the morning we set out to just walk around and headed in a direction we hadn’t been. We found the Shanghai Star Park and for the first time, amongst the many activities like tai chi and the ball balancing thing, we saw many men water-painting Chinese characters on the pavement. It may have been practice?? Because some were copying out of books. Or poetry? Anyway, I joined in with a tai chi group which turned out to be a combo of tai chi and exercise, or else it is a form I don’t know, but it was great to exercise/practice with this group. I’m not sure they knew what to make of me, but when they were done, everyone just stood around smiling at me and I smiled at them.
We saw quite a few wheelchairs in this park and wondered if there was a senior home nearby. There was an indoor room full of game boards like caroms and of course full of people playing. It is one of the coolest things about China that people get out every day and do these things with each other. We had lunch at McDonalds again because it was easy, and again, it was full of employees and customers. More employees per customer than I have ever seen in America.
We headed to the Bund late afternoon. For some reason I had the idea this was a place full of restaurants and shops and high-end entertainment, bars, etc. It may be – but we sure didn’t go to that place. The taxi dropped us off in the middle of thousands of people and we fought our way up a staircase to a boardwalk-type area. It was jam-packed with people, probably because it was a holiday weekend. We walked until the end and enjoyed the sights – the guy selling fresh kabobs of some sort from a small grill attached to his bicycle!
A cotton candy vendor had the same arrangement, but Mark said he wouldn’t like to be riding a bicycle full of hot coals. The cotton candy would be stickier but cooler in case of an accident. There were huge bags of pale cheeto-like things and they were being bagged into smaller bags. From the amount we saw, they must be very popular. We didn’t see a single bar or restaurant (except ones on riverboat type things) or shop, except for the street vendors. So wherever we were, it wasn’t what we expected.
We had a great view across the river to Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a wonderful tower with – well, you’ll have to find an image on the web. It was pretty spectacular.
So we decided that wherever the Bund that we thought existed was, or even if it didn’t exist, we were ready to move on. We walked in a random direction and found another park – there are beautiful parks all over China, at least where we were. This park had lots of children fishing and catching goldfish, or small carp, I don’t know. They put them in buckets and I guess it’s ok to keep them. We wandered through the park and ended up on a street that I have called Chinese New Year’s Street. I had been looking everywhere for red lanterns to hang on the porch of the cabin, and no one knew where to buy them – I mean none of the Chinese people I asked. We finally saw some in Yangshou that I bought – eight, of course, both because that is the most auspicious number and that is all they had. But this street had everything red and new years – lanterns, firecrackers, sayings, decorations of all types. It was so amazing that I forgot to take pictures! Only got one.
We went in and out of stores bargaining and finally bought a string of cardboard fire crackers for a dollar or something. Really cool. And then we started walking again until we found a taxi and went back to the hotel.
We were packed – somehow everything always fits, although we did have a few more carry-on items than we should have. And we were some pounds overweight also, but I don’t know if it’s because United is nice or because I fly business class (using miles), but we didn’t get charged and we made it on with all the carry-on.
Now our last dinner in Shanghai and China. Boo hoo. We went back to Bi Feng Tang again and we branched out from dumplings and noodles. Nothing exotic though. The family next to us had all kinds of stuff that I couldn’t identify, but the poached chicken feet soup was strange. The man was fishing out and eating the chicken feet with relish, sucking on the toe segments and joints and so yes, people actually do eat everything on that menu. Of course, I realize we in the U.S. are sissies, born of plenty. We can afford to be particular and squeamish but we may yet see the day when we eat what we now shun. I hope not.
Next morning – to the airport with a taxi driver that redefined weaving in and out of traffic. We weren’t in a hurry but he sure was – probably just to get another fare sooner and make more money, but we were wishing the seat belts worked. All the cabs have seat belts but the seats usually have some kind of cover so you can’t access the fastening part of the seat belt.
I had planned on making my last purchases in the Shanghai Airport – I wanted some Olympic souvenirs. And – they didn’t have any!! Every other airport we were in had whole counters and stores of Olympic stuff, but not Shanghai.
The Chinese have noticed that they have a problem in the male to female ratio. In fact, in Shanghai, on Sat. afternoons, the parents or grandparents of men seeking wives go to a particular park with photos and look for available women. Elvien, our local guide, was stopped once at the park and asked if she was married, etc. She isn’t, but she didn’t want to be at that time, yet was followed by women trying to show her photos of their handsome sons, grandsons, etc.
Because of this imbalance, the government has made it illegal for doctors to tell the sex of the baby to pregnant women. This is adhered to because the punishment is severe. I am sure some doctors can be bribed, but something had to be done.
There are 10 million abortions a year in China. Abortion is perfectly legal and thank God, because can you imagine that many more in the population?Also, to have more than one child costs so much that most families can’t afford it.
Some of the measures Shanghai is taking to prevent pollution are a requirement that all cars over 15 years old can’t be driven there, by the end of 2009, no motorcycles will be allowed, and unless you are a Shanghai citizen you can’t drive on expressways during rush hours or you will be fined.
If you are visiting somewhere and get sick you can be treated as an emergency, but for more than an emergency visit, you have to return to your own city or you have to pay.
China was a fantastic adventure and a country we would be happy to return to.