Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

37. Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China
Futuristic Shanghai (Can You Tell Which
Building is Called the Bottle Opener?)

The city has changed on the face of it. The changes are unbelievable. Some of Shanghai looks almost futuristic. This is not the Shanghai I remember from 1990. Only 25 years have passed but what a change has been brought to this city, one of China's largest. Pudong for example, today a very modern, huge part of Shanghai was then just rice paddies. The changes to Shanghai occurred rapidly. Almost like a sudden explosion. Today's population lies somewhere around 25 million people. Shanghai is huge.
A Hazy Day in Downtown Shanghai

Skyscrapers are being built in ever increasing numbers to give the population the latest modern dwellings. While esthetically those buildings look like chicken coops to me, they are effective for housing the millions of people. How else would you house the masses? Highways had to be built, roads needed to be widened, tunnels to be dug, and bridges to be built. Shanghai, at one point, was the city with half the world’s high-rise building cranes actively occupied. The result shows today. The smartest and most creative minds established a new Shanghai using the latest worldwide technology and creativity.
More Futuristic Architecture

There are some old parts; some Hutongs are left, but not many. The buildings on the Bund are still standing. Old colonials from the 1930 or so, the former financial and political street looks old now. The Bund became a historical landmark. Only built around 1920/30, these buildings look ancient compared to the free flowing, curved, glass-enclosed
Colonial Buildings on The Bund Behind Hans
superstructures of today. Shanghai certainly had a boom in construction. The city planning board must have been a busy place. The result is a modern and forward looking image. That is what every visitor will see when visiting China. The back alleys look a little better too.  There are hardly any bicycles being ridden. Even scooters are not common any longer. Electrical wires moved underground.
Shanghai At Night From Our Ship

What about the minds or behaviors of the people? Have they changed? I smiled when I saw a group of people still throwing trash into the street and drop cigarette butts on the ground. If not forced by the “Government” to behave in a certain way, there would be no change. I want to believe that Shanghai or China is trying to break the old, a bit sloppy, ways of the population, but I see also an uphill battle for the people in charge. Plastic pails, mops and bric-a-brac still stand on the balconies of the tenement skyscrapers. Even modern office buildings have cardboard lying in the entrance to catch the biggest pedestrian dirt. Chinese are very practical people, aesthetics take 2nd place over practicality. Hygiene is not the most important part of their life, they still occasionally spit on the ground in public places. Those things are hard to change in the populace, no matter the latest modern conveniences. Motorbikes seem to never get washed and ropes or duct tape hold broken things in place. In hidden corners stand utilitarian items such as plastic covers, trash cans, containers and items too bulky to stuff into a closet inside the house. It is much easier to just have them outside when needed. Chinese are very practical people.

The Shanghai Centre Theatre
No Picture Taking During Performance
The city is too large to explore quickly. The few days in port does not allow enough time to see even a little bit of what Shanghai has to offer. We went to a performance of Chinese acrobats one night. Young performers gave a stunning display of their acrobatic skill and agility. They must have had lots of practice. The underlying story of these abilities lies on the Chinese farm. Wanting to stand out, young people on farms in the country, practiced in the winter months or during their daily chores, ways to juggle dishes or throw around pots or they played with different ways to jump through hoops, etc. Their abilities were amazing. The best performers in the past were allowed to show their skills to the Nobles or even the Emperor. If they were good enough they were handsomely rewarded. Today, there are no longer emperors. To be on TV is now the goal. To be recognized as the greatest is what drives them on. All the performers we saw craved lots of applause.
View From the Yu Gardens Restaurant

We made a lunch date with other passengers for the next day at the famous dumpling restaurant next to the Yu Gardens. Yu Gardens is a landmark in Shanghai that everybody knows. We took a taxi to get there but landed someplace else. Don't ask me where, I have no clue! But I knew from having been to the restaurant before that we were in the wrong location. There was no Yu Gardens nearby. Was it done deliberately? I had the Yu Gardens address written down in Chinese and showed it to the taxi driver 
Meeting Friends for the
Famous Dumplings Lunch
who read it, he nodded his head and off he went. I was already a little suspicious when he went onto the elevated highway, a very modern super-slab. But how do you ask a taxi driver in Chinese “Hey buddy, are we going the right way?” With all the new roads I thought he might know a new, better way. Wrong! The meter kept on going and was at 50 Renminbi when he indicated we had arrived. Arrived where? So we showed him the written direction again and he just smiled and turned around and drove us back to where we came from, the meter running! At 60 Renminbi I asked him to turn off his meter and told him in broken Chinese we want to go to Yu Gardens. He just nodded his head and brought us at least close enough to walk a few blocks to the restaurant. We were late, of course, but still we met the others. Was this diversion a mistake or misunderstanding or a deliberate way to make extra money? I let you decide!

Area Around the Yu Gardens
After lunch we shopped a little in the area around Yu Gardens and then took the subway to another part of town. The subway was packed. While the subway is well organized and modern, the mass of people makes taking a ride a chore. So crammed was the first train that we waited for the next train. But even this train had hardly any room to squeeze in. We were held in place by bodies around us. There was no real need to hold on, nobody could move.  Getting off the train after 5 stops was not easy. Luckily I am tall and can use my elbows when I have to. Once off this line we had to find our connection to the next line. The signage was good, but the masses of people seemed to have increased. Not that the people were unfriendly or very pushy, there were just too many people. Sure I had to remove one Chinese fellow by lifting him up by the collar because he pushed himself ahead of me, but there are always people like him. He understood and queued up, somewhat. I think if you know the subway system in Shanghai it is a cheap (4 Renminbi = 50 cents) way to move about, but you need to time it right. Or is it always like that? I don't know but it sure was packed to the limit in my eyes.
More Shops Near the Yu Gardens

I bought an overhead-sized, collapsible, wheeled suitcase at a small store. We bargained back and forth. The price quoted seemed high to me so I bid 1/3 of the asking price. With a few ups and downs we settled on a price of 125 Renminbi (about $17, - U.S.). While fair in my eyes I learned later that I overpaid somewhat. It is an art to bargain in China. Other people came back to the ship having found true “bargains”. The quality of the products is about the same as in the U.S. since most products today are “Made in China” and are sold world-wide. It is becoming a small world indeed.

The biggest obstacle today is the language. The tech guys need to sit down and find a great way to translate via computers. What is in the market so far is inefficient and too primitive. Apple, Google, Microsoft? Anybody hear me?  Are you reading this? We need an app that translates any language to another language and is easy and fast!

Colourful Bridge Near the Harbour
We took a taxi back to the ship. Well we tried to, but the first taxi we sat in looked at our written directions back to the ship and chased us out of his taxi. He would not take us. He seemed indignant that we even tried to use his car. The next taxi took us and we got back to the ship, well close enough that we could walk. Construction around the ship seemed to throw the driver for a loop, he could not figure out how to drive onto the pier. Again not being able to talk or read/write was the biggest difficulty of the day. The rest was peachy.

Another View of Shanghai at Night
From Our Ship

Just before ‘all aboard’ the next day we took another walk through the shopping streets of Shanghai. Carol wanted to walk the famous Nanjing Road. I took her to Beijing Road instead.
Beijing Road seemed busier and looked a lot cheaper. Nanjing is the most expensive road in Shanghai for the very wealthy shoppers. No use going to Nanjing road, right? 

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