Shanghai: 26 November - 1 December 2005

I learned on Monday, November 21 that because my undergraduate students had some sort of exams the following week I would have no undergraduate classes that week, meaning that after my graduate classes on Friday, November 25 I would essentially be free until the following Friday, December 2. I decided to used the unexpected vacation to pay a visit to the city of Shanghai.

I flew out of Hohhot early Saturday morning and arrived at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport before noon. I took a shuttle bus into the city then a cab to my hotel located near the Bund, Shanghai's famous embankment along the Huangpu river. After checking into the hotel, I decided to walk along the Bund and check out the highlights mentioned in a walking tour described in my guidebook. The tour started at the Pujiang Hotel, Shanghai's first hotel, established in 1846 and formerly known as the Astor House Hotel and Richard's Hotel. The luxurious interior of the hotel had a distinctively old feel and smell and an interesting overall atmosphere: my guidebook described the place as "surely haunted"! There was a small exhibit about the hotel's history and signs indicated rooms that had been occupied at various times by famous people including scientist Albert Einstein, comedian and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, former U.S. President and Civil War General Ulysses Grant, and philosopher Bertrand Russell. For example, room 304 was occupied by Albert Einstein for a time in 1922. From the Pujiang I crossed back over Suzhou Creek on the Waibaidu bridge and proceeded south along Zhongshan Donglu road, passing many large and grand examples of neo-classic European architecture such as the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and Customs House buildings, which I photographed later from across the river. Most were built by European banks and trade houses beginning in the 1840s after the Treaty of Nanjing opened Shanghai to international commerce. The interior lobby of the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was particularly impressive with its original mosaic floor and huge octagonal ceiling with panels depicting the cities of Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed. Pictures were allowed, however, in the lobby of the Peace Hotel, formerly called the Cathay, which was built in 1926. Noel Coward wrote Private Lives while staying there. After reaching the southern end of the Bund, I backtracked to the Peace Hotel then turned left and headed down the famous pedestrian shopping street Nanjing Donglu, where I stopped for dinner and admired the neon lights and crowds of shoppers before returning to my hotel. My walks about the city often took me along parts of Nanjing street, and while I enjoyed the sights and bustle there, I did quickly tire of the vendors who would approach me every 20 meters or so offering everything from alleged Rolex watches and Gucci bags to Chinese girls and a shoeshine!

When I woke up on Sunday the slight cold I'd had when I left Hohhot was much worse, perhaps because my ears had not cleared properly when the plane came in to land, causing some pain and probably driving the infection deep into my sinuses. Therefore after breakfast I returned to Nanjing street and visited a large pharmacy I'd noticed there to buy some cold medicine. I then continued west on Nanjing street until I came to People's Square, where I strolled through People's Park, enjoying the greenery after chilly Hohhot. After that I visited the Shanghai Museum, where I spent a long time exploring the many exhibits of Chinese art and taking many photographs despite the difficult lighting conditions in many of the exhibits. The first floor included a gallery tracing the history of Chinese bronzes over the centuries and another gallery of ancient Chinese sculptures, most gathered from Buddhist sites from all over the country and depicting bodhisattvas and Buddhas ranging from one to many. The entire second floor was devoted to the history of Chinese ceramics with many impressive samples ranging from religious and decorative figures (1 2) to beautiful bowls, jars, and vases. Unfortunately, one section called the Zande Lou Ceramics Gallery, which my guidebook described as a "wonderful collection", was closed for refurbishing at the time of my visit. The third floor was devoted to Chinese painting (1 2 3 4), calligraphy, and, befitting the people who invented bureaucracy, seals (1 2). The fourth floor included a gallery of ancient Chinese jade, a poorly-lit gallery of furniture, and a Minority Nationalities' Art Gallery that featured art from some of China's minority populations. Most impressive to me in the Minority Nationalities gallery were the various costumes (1 2 3) and masks (1 2 3 4 5). The museum also had a very impressive temporary exhibit entitled "Light and Stone" that featured some absolutely incredible gemstones, crystals, and jewelery belonging to the private collector Michael Scott, but unfortunately photography was prohibited in this exhibit.

After breakfast Monday morning I headed to the Shanghai Center Theatre to buy a ticket to that evening's performance by Shanghai Acrobatics, a show that had been highly recommended by my fellow foreign teachers Brian and Jane. The Shanghai Center is a big expat hangout and includes a grocery store selling imported things that are difficult to find in China, so I headed there in search of three things I had not found so far in Hohhot: lentils, good spaghetti, and canned grape leaves for making Armenian dolma. Of those three, I found only spaghetti, but picked up some Parmesan cheese and peanut butter as well. From the Shanghai Center I walked to the Jing'an temple in west Shanghai. While the exterior of the buildings were traditional-looking, the interiors were anything but with their bare concrete columns. I then walked back to the east to have lunch on the Wujiang Lu food street, and from there headed to the Old Chinese City section of town south of the Bund. Here I visited the spectacular Yuyuan Gardens, which were designed by a rich Ming dynasty family of officials. The pathways winding through pleasant pools, lush gardens, traditional buildings, and caves and stone formations along with the beautiful interiors made the gardens very enjoyable despite the large crowds of other tourists. Just outside the gardens a zig-zag bridge leads past a famous teahouse and to the Yuyuan bazaar, a bustling place offering all manner of souvenirs and other goods. After dinner and a rest at the hotel, I headed back to the Shanghai Center Theatre for the Shanghai Acrobatics show. As Jane and Brian had said, the show was spectacular and well worth the (by Chinese standards) rather pricey admission. My 200 RMB (about U.S. $25) ticket put me in the center of the second row, offering excellent views of the acrobats as they worked through an amazing series of routines ranging from building large human pyramids and hurling standing women through the air to catch them, again standing, in their bare hands through incredible juggling, balancing, and contortionist acts, to a choreographed mini-drama featuring two lovers who would sail through the air using a large sash suspended from the ceiling. Alas, no photos were allowed.

On Tuesday I headed to the Jade Buddha Temple in the northwest part of the city. The temple houses a two meter tall Buddha carved from a single piece of jade. My guidebook included an interesting story that the Jade Buddha itself had been saved from destruction during the Cultural Revolution by a quick-thinking abbot who closed the temple's gates and covered them with pictures of Chairman Mao. The Red Guards were thus unable to enter the temple since tearing down pictures of Mao was punishable by death. Taking pictures of the Jade Buddha was not allowed, but one could photograph these interesting gilded woodcarvings (1 2) located in the hallway leading to the Jade Buddha as well as a reclining Buddha located in a hall downstairs. The temple itself was very active and filled with crowds burning incense and monks having lunch. Since it was the clearest day I had seen so far (the weather was good during my whole stay in Shanghai, but some days the air was quite hazy), after visiting the temple I headed back to the hotel to pick up my tripod then returned to the Bund to experiment with making some panoramic photos. I made this daytime panorama standing on the Bund in Shanghai looking across the Huangpu river to the modern buildings of Pudong on the other side. Here's a separate view of the Oriental Pearl TV tower, a distinctive feature of the Pudong skyline that my guidebook describes as "resembling a 1950s monument to the atomic age." I returned later that evening to make a nighttime panorama of the same view and take another shot of the Oriental Pearl tower at night. I also took an hour long nighttime boat ride on the Huangpu river.

I spent most of Wednesday strolling through the Former French Concession area of Shanghai and visiting some of the Communist-related sites located there. I rode the metro to the Changshu Lu stop in the western part of the city and walked back east from there. My first stop was the former residence of Zhou Enlai, where the former premier lived from 1946 to 1947. The large old house was located along a pleasant street and had an interesting interior, though photos inside were not allowed. In the garden was the obligatory statue of Zhou Enlai himself. From there it's a short walk north to the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, where he and his wife Song Qingling lived for five years beginning in 1920. Again, the interior of the old house was interesting and included much of the original furnishings, but again interior photos were not permitted. The garden included the obligatory statue of Sun Yat-Sen of course. Just west of Sun Yat-Sen's house lies Fuxing park, where I spent some time strolling along the pleasant pathways enjoying the green and pleasant temperatures. In keeping with the Communist theme of the day, one of the park's highlights as listed on a sign at the entrance was this statue of Marx and Engels. From there I continued east to the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where on July 23, 1921 eleven delegates, including Mao Zedong, held secret proceedings to found the CCP. The site included a museum about the Party and again no photos were permitted inside. On Wednesday evening I took the subway underneath the Huangpu river to Pudong, where I made this panorama looking across the Huangpu river to the Bund in Shanghai. I also took this view from below the Pearl Tower though I declined the option of paying 100 RMB to ride to the top of the tower itself.

Thursday was my last day in Shanghai and I spent it shopping for gifts to take back to Hohhot, sitting in People's Park enjoying the greenery and pleasant weather before I headed back to winter, chatting with some students who wanted to practice their English, and taking another walk along the Bund. My approximately 40 minute trip back to Hongqiao airport by metro and shuttle bus cost a total of 7 RMB, less than one U.S. dollar: how many cities can that be said about? For whatever reason, when I checked in for my flight they upgraded my economy seat to first class. After taxiing out to the runway, however, the plane returned to the gate, then some mechanics came aboard and spent nearly an hour working on what were described only as "mechanical problems". After about an hour delay the flight took off and arrived safely in chilly Hohhot well after midnight, leaving me a bit groggy for my 8 AM graduate classes on Friday morning.



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