CHINA – Shanghai


walking tour of shanghai

It’s hard to comprehend Shanghai’s size. Phoenix, which I consider a big city, has a population of 1.4 million. NYC, which I think is huge, is at 8.4. And Shanghai is nearly 24 million. Shanghai is basically three New York Cities! There are 350 something skyscrapers in Shanghai. Chicago has a little over 100.
We set out on a walk beneath some of the skyscrapers. Sarah, Kaitlin, Julia, and I split a watermelon on the street, which the vendor slices into quarters with a big knife. It’s juicy and perfect for the walk. Shanghai’s an entire city under construction. Buildings are built faster than people can actually occupy them. Entire high rises stand vacant, waiting for tenants.
While Beijing is a city full of tradition and history, Shanghai is the city of the future. I like that about Shanghai, how it’s in the midst of creating a new identity.
We spend the next hour trying to reach the Bund only to discover it’s closed until next year because crews are preparing the waterfront promenade for the Shanghai World Expo. I wish we could come back for the expo next year.

DAY 9 May 27

tai chi in the park & nu nu, the piano prodigy

I wake up about 7:15am. A week in and I’m still struggling with the time difference. I wander across the street of our hotel to Luxun Park. You wouldn’t know it was early from the likes of the park. An elderly group warms their joints by slapping their legs and arms. There’s dancing, people practicing sword forms, drumming…
I sit on a rock by a lotus pond and begin to write in my travel journal when a man wearing a “San Fran” sweater taps me on the shoulder. He gestures to me, and then performs a stretch, then motions towards the group slapping their legs, and then back at me and then back at the group. I get the hint. I shove the journal in my pocket and join the group.
It’s a circle of about 20 people. They’re women and men age 70-90 I’d say, although the man with the sweater seems to be younger than the rest. I’d put him at 55. The old women next to me give me a thumbs up as I start copying their movements. We whip our arms from one side to another. Then we straighten our arms out and alternate touching our ridge hand to the opposite shoulder. We work everything from our calves to our fingers. The ladies are amused when they try to show me this hand technique where you bring your thumb to your pointer finger. They put their hands up to mine, realizing how much bigger my hands are than theirs.
Next, we go into a horse stance and pass an imaginary ball from side to side, followed by some punches. I join in on the counting. Luckily, they don’t go past “10” because that’s all I know. We finish with some breathing exercises lead by a man with a loud, militaristic voice. We exhale through different formed sounds, which engage different areas of the core/lungs. It’s the most awake I’ve ever felt at 8:30 in the morning.
At the end, I say xièxie (shay shay), thanking everyone as I exit the circle. If only I actually knew Chinese, I’d talk to them more.
At the Urban Planning Museum, we view some crazy before and after photos, showing how much Shanghai’s grown in the past twenty years. There’s an insane scale model of the city on display. I think of the hours it takes me to build my miniature models in architecture class and then try to extrapolate how many hours, months, must have been spent on this monstrosity.
We have a fun time trying to find the Shanghai Aquarium next. A group of us try asking people in the metro where it is, but don’t get very far. I point to a water bottle and mimic a fish, but it only confuses them more. Eventually, we get there.
There are tanks full of sea horses, myriads of tiny fish, and big rays. Sharks swim over your head in a glass tunnel, and there’s an open tank of pet-able sharks that one man, for some crazy reason, decides to try and remove from the tank. Aquarium workers scurry over from all directions and stop him.
After a day at the aquarium, we attend a concert at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. There is a lady outside selling kites. She demonstrates how to fly them, and then offers the controls to me. I take it for a test drive, but the kite just flops around behind me. I have only flown one or two kites before in AZ, but since there’s not much wind back home, it involved a lot of running. The second attempt goes better. She starts it for me with a little jog. Then I take it from her and it flies for a solid two seconds, high in the air, before I crash it straight into a tree. She grins and untangles the string from the tree limb. Daniel and Andrew take a run at it much more successfully. I pick out an orange fish kite for my nephew, Micah, and coat-check it at the concert hall. I wonder how many people have coat-checked a kite at a piano concert.
Nu Nu, an eleven year old piano prodigy, begins the concert with “Twinkle Twinkle.” It sounds like the piece any eleven year old plays for the first few bars, but then he goes into these elaborate variations. Five encores later (yeah he left the stage and came back five times), it’s over. He’s really amazing.

DAY 10 May 28

luxun park

I return to the park at 7:30am in the same spot. One of the old ladies recognizes me and welcomes me into the tai chi circle. The man with the “San Fran” sweater isn’t here today, though.
Dr. Wang and Pickus’s conduct our lecture by the park’s lake. Kids run in giant inflatable balls like gerbils on the surface of the water. Gabby and I can’t stop laughing at them.
On the way out, a vendor sells ducklings and chicks off of his bicycle like a portable pet store. I really want to buy a duck, except I have no idea what’d I’d do with it. Release it back into the lake? Carry it on the bus and feed it steamed buns for the next few weeks? Kaitlin wants one of the little black bunnies.

DAY 11 May 29

silk factory

At Silkroad, a silk factory a few hours from Shanghai, we see first how the silk is woven into fabric. Loud, big machines weave the thread together into patterns inputted on a computer. The second part of the tour, how they extract the silk from the silkworm, is fairly disturbing.

Sacks of cocoons, which are full of squirming silk worms are dumped into bubbling water and boiled alive like they’re cooking lobster. The stench is wet and acrid like rotten pasta water. One worker shields his face from our cameras, not wanting to be photographed. Machines pull out the thread from the cocoon in clumps, straighten it, and then wind it into spools of fine even line.
There are arrangements of fruit, hot tea, and a wash cloth waiting for us on the green felt conference table. I expected the table cloth to be made of silk. The CEO explains the Silk Road trade route using a banana as a prop. What interests me the most, though, is when he says, “I visit my factories and I see my workers working very hard, and this is the way it’s been for centuries, but sometimes I wonder in my heart if what I’m doing is right.”
It’s late by the time we get back to Shanghai. Only half the group comes out to dinner with the teachers. They order us some crispy duck that’s like fried chicken, and these great vegetable dumplings, which have been fried on the bottom. Steamed taro root is an amazing new discovery. You take pieces and dip them into a bowl of sugar and the sugar crystals attach to the steamed taro like a sugar donut.
We go to a club our last night in the city called Babyface. As I get out of the taxi, a little girl, maybe 3 years old, begs for money with an empty plastic cup. As I wait for the rest of my group to get out of the taxi, she comes into the street and wraps her arms around my leg. I take her back to the sidewalk, but she runs back and hugs me again. I try to walk a step, but she won’t let go, so I pick her up and scan the street for her parent. Holding her in my arms, suddenly, I feel like her dad. I spot her mother standing at the opposite corner and hand back her child. I feel sad for the girl and angry at the mom for keeping her kid up past midnight to beg, but at the same time I wonder if this is their only option…

DAY 14 June 1


Explore more of Shanghai


or take the bus to Hangzhou