Sunday, July 6, 2014Shanghai Sightseeing Seemingly on Skates
With just one more day to see Shanghai, we knew we had to sight see on roller skates. So we lost no time rising and showering after an incredibly comfortable night, to descend to the fifth floor Dining Hall where a buffet breakfast came with the cost of our room.
Feasting like Kings at Breakfast:
The fifth floor Dining Hall was beautifully appointed and soon we were seated at a table for two. The buffet was grand and contained all the fixin’s of an English, French, American and Chinese repast. There was a variety of juices, cereals, yoghurt, dried fruit and nuts, fried and boiled eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, baked beans, corn on the cob, plus Chinese Noodles and Tofu with Vegetables. Croissants, Muffins and Apple Turnovers warmed in the ovens. Coffee was presented at table and our meal was rounded off with fresh fruit. Needless to say, we were so stuffed, we decided that our next meal would be dinner.
Heading to Pudong:
By this point, we had decided to try out the Shanghai subway system. Having mastered subway systems all over the world, we had little doubt that when equipped with a map, we would find our way to our destination. Taking instructions from the reception staff, we easily found the Cha Yong Road subway station near our hotel and buying tickets from the efficient dispensing machines at the station, we set off for Pudong—this time hoping to get up close and personal to the impressive skyscraper commercial city that we had viewed across the river last night.
Being that it was a Sunday, it seemed that everyone had the same idea. Once again, we were struck by the hordes and I mean crowds of Shanghainese who had turned up, entire families in tow, to make merry at their most remarkable landmarks. Almost everyone wished to climb the Pearl Orient Tower and the queues outside for tickets were extensive. We had never intended to do so, but we did take many pictures of the newly-emergent Shanghai skyline and we did walk along the beautiful glass walkways that connect the buildings. Overlooking the city from one of these vantage points makes you think you are in a sci-fi flick—flyovers and traffic whizz past you, concrete and glass winks at you from towering skyscrapers, massive advertisement hoardings urge you to buy into a fancy lifestyle which the Chinese are clearly heeding.
A Kitschy Ride on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel:
Having covered Pudong on foot, our next port of call was Nanjing Road, which lies across the river. But since we needed to get to the opposite bank, we decided to take a very strange and innovative form of transport that goes by the name of The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. Basically, it is an underground tunnel that goes under the river to deposit passengers on the opposite side. But, because this is China and because they are innovative and love technology with a passion, what you are treated to as you sail under the river in a fibre glass capsule is a laser sound and light show that is kitschy in the extreme. Lights in concentric circles drape the sides of the tunnel as weird noises play on a sound system. There are funny figures that wave at you like so many dark scarecrows and curtains suddenly appear to stop the passage of the vehicle, but part ways just in time. It is a great form of entertainment for kids, As adults, I would suggest that visitors do it only because it is so unusual an experience and it is unlikely you will do this sort of thing anywhere else. Within ten minutes, our $10 ride ended and we alighted on the Bund, ready to start our long trek down Nanjing Road which was super crowded—again, all of Shanghai seemed to have come out to play and to enjoy the warm sunshine that flooded the day.
A walk along Nanjing Road offers many interesting sights: there are large department stores that vie with smaller Mom and Pop operations to lure tourists within. Solid colonial era buildings grant a distinctive dignity to this area. There are massive neon-lit hoardings everywhere and shoppers galore flexing their new financial muscles. Eventually, you get to People’s Square and People’s Park—once the venue of the fabulous Shanghai Race Course where large sums of money were won and lost and the glamour of Old Shanghai made it the haunt of money-ed businessman. The Communist Revolution, of course, put paid to such decadence and the Racecourse was converted to the People’s Park which is today a meeting point for all of society: elderly men gather in groups to play chess, others play cards, women walk babies in strollers, children hop and skip around light-heartedly, young lovers hold hands and admire the neat flower beds. It is a great place for people-watching and I was struck by how happy the Chinese seem, how totally un-deprived of anything (which is what I had expected them to be). They are very obviously enjoying their new economic prosperity. That said, they did not have the elegance and fashion-consciousness that is so obvious among Japanese women.
A Visit to the Chinese Anglican Cathedral:
Arriving outside of the People’s Park, we spied the red brick structure that was obviously a church—it turned out to be the Anglican Cathedral and since it was a Sunday and we wished to attend service, we decided to pop in and take a look. What we saw was a crowded church with a Chinese minister at the lectern giving a sermon in Chinese that was videotaped and relayed to large crowds gathered outside. Protocol was strict and our water bottles and Starbucks coffee was taken away from us and kept aside before we entered. Lack of comprehension did not allow us to stay long but it was interesting just to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. Inside, the cathedral was devoid of any of the iconography we associate with Christianity. Instead, it was a plain building that could have been a community hall.
Heading to the French Concession:
Having had our fill of Shanghai’s City Center on a busy Sunday, we hopped on to the subway system to make our way to an area of the city that is known as the French Concession. DK Eyewitness Guide presents an interesting walking 90-minute tour of the area and we decided to take it. The area gets its name from the fact that once the Western colonial regimes began trading with China in the 19th century, they sought certain trading ‘concessions’ that enabled them to carry out business. The French decided not to join and formed their own neighborhood which enjoyed its own concessions. They pretended they were still on French soil and created a miniature city rife with the trappings of Paris—plane trees line each street and avenue, interesting cottages and balconied bungalows were occupied essentially by French colonists, shops sprang up with decidedly French merchandise (a boulangerie, a fromagerie, a patisserie, etc), many of which still stand.
Visiting the Home of Chou En-Lai:
Our walk took us past two interesting homes, one of which we had the good fortune to enter. One was the home of Chou En-Lai, a modern visionary who worked very closely with Mao Zedong to engineer the Chinese Revolution based on his principles of Communist Socialism. The other was the home of Sun Yat-Sen, the contemporary philosopher and reformist who rejected Communism and became a defector. He emigrated to the USA and is a graduate of St. John’s University in Queens, New York, from where I earned my doctorate. The East Asian Studies Department at St. John’s is named after him and is financed by money from his Foundation. I was, therefore, keen to visit his home; but by the time we reached it, it had closed for the day.
Chou En-Lai’s home, however, is beautifully maintained. High security is also maintained at the gates. Entry is free and we were able to tour the home and read captions in Chinese and English that provided information about the secret meetings held at this venue in defiance of KMT directives. The sparse furnishings and belongings of the man and the company he kept gave a good indication of the personal sacrifices he undertook to build his dream society. In the last room on the ground floor is an exhibition of photographs documenting his secret meetings with leading international politicians of the time. There were also pictures of his later years. Overall, this was a wonderful and most unexpected visit and we were glad we had the opportunity to see this home and garden.
Our visit to the French Concession ended at the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and then the Cathay Theater with its Art Deco design. Overall, it had taken us to a part of Shanghai that was very different from the rest of it and it was certainly worth poking around it.
Return to the Old City:
With some daylight left, we decided to return to the YuYuan Gardens to enter the Huxinting Tea Room and get an idea of its interior décor. We are so pleased we did because twilight had fallen on the city and the lights came on bringing an enchanted softness to the area. The crowds had thinned out somewhat and we were able to get some last minute souvenir shopping done (jasmine flower tea buds, magnets, postcards, etc.). We did make it to the Tea Room and were simply delighted by the period furniture within and the soft lighting of the pagoda shaped lamps.
Back to the Hotel for Dinner:
Then, fairly fainting with fatigue, we jumped onto the Metro and returned to our hotel. All along the way, we gasped at the marvel that is the Shanghai subway system with its vastness, its marble floors, its spotlessness, its neatly organized signage (in English and Chinese) and the manner in which it is being maintained. For pennies, one can ride a world-class commuter system that is so much cheaper than taxis (although they are extremely inexpensive too) and brings the visitor in close contact with the local people.
We had absolutely no energy for anything other than a meal in our hotel Dining Hall. Besides, it was the Wimbledon Men’s Final match (with Federer playing Djokovic) and Llew was keen to catch it. The Dining Hall was the best bet as we had it to ourselves and could request the waitress to switch on the match channel—which she willingly did.
Then over a dish of Fried Rice with Beef and Broad Noodles with Mixed Vegetables and China’s wonderful Tsinghao Beer, we had ourselves a great last meal. Weary with fatigue, we returned to our room for a long sleep as we had to awake, wolf down breakfast and leave for Pudong airport, the next morning for our return home.