Sunday, November 4, 2007

3 Singletons in Shanghai - Julie's Visit

It's been a while since the last update (sorry), but we seem to have gotten busier and we have now had our first visitor in China. Matt's mother came for a few weeks in October. We were able to show her around Shanghai and take two fast weekend trips - one to Hangzhou and one to Beijing. It was a good time and I think we were able to give her a good taste of Chinese life, culture, and history. Here are some of the best photos (and one little video) from her visit.

Julie's Introduction to Shanghai
Mom arrived on the Sunday afternoon before the national Autumn Holiday here in China. It worked out well because our sea shipment finally showed up that weekend (3.5 months after we shipped it!). Karen and I both had the week off of work, so it was a good time for us to put things away, for Mom to try to get used to the time change, and for us to get her acquainted with Shanghai. As it was a national holiday and many Chinese people do not have to work, the general advice given by expats to expats is to either stay in your home or leave the country that week, because everything is so busy. We weren't sure what to believe, plus we had good reasons to stick around for the week.

One of the first stops on our tour of Shanghai for Mom was a place called Yu Garden, which has lots of shops, food, and more traditional Chinese buildings. It is usually crowded, but true to rumor, it was very crowded that week. There is a shot above of Mom and I and then another one just to show the level of crowded we are talking about.

There is also a picture of some tantalizing and interestingly presented street food - roasted goat. Those five yellow things upright on that table that appear to be munching grass are cooked goats. I think the guy (note his unique hat) is from the west/northwest area of China where Muslims are common. I guess we could have walked up and ordered a slice of goat, but we decided to pass.

After Yu Garden, we made our first stop at the pearl market, a place we would return to several times during Mom's visit. I became the designated negotiator, talking with vendors and placing late night calls to Lynn (the 'approver' back in the States). Mom left China with a nice south sea pearl ring, pendant, and pair of earrings sourced from all around Shanghai (and even Hong Kong for one piece). No doubt the set would have been considerably more expensive at home. Check her out - those are big pearls!

Hangzhou - Human Paradise
Before Mom arrived, I asked my colleagues at work what the nicest place within a reasonable train distance from Shanghai was. The consensus was that we should take her to a place called Hangzhou, which must mean something like human paradise in direct translation.

Considering the name, we were expecting some idyllic little village on the most beautiful lake ever. What we found was a characteristically busy and commercialized Chinese city, that happened to be on a lake. Fortunately, you can take little junk boats out to a group of islands with gardens, fish ponds, and temples - away from the city and there are several historic temples around the city. Even these areas were fairly crowded and touristy, as Hangzhou is a very popular weekend destination from Shanghai. Here is a picture of a little girl whose parents paid some vendor to loan them the 'authentic' clothes to be photographed in the garden. Seemingly not that authentic, but kind of cute and cool anyhow. We also went to a place called Feilai Feng, which has hundreds of ancient stone-carved buddhas, as well as one of the largest buddhist temple complexes in China - Lingyin Si (Temple of the Soul's Retreat). Here is a picture of the three of us in front of a big incense burning pot. It was a nice weekend, although we were left hoping our trip to Beijing the following weekend would be better.

Beijing, home to about 15 million people, is the polititcal and cultural capital of China. It is home to the capitol, as well as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, many other temples and historic sights, and is near the Great Wall. We left on Friday night and came back to Shanghai late on Sunday night - a quick trip.

The first day, we strolled through Tiananmen Square, which sits opposite the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is huge with the giant mausoleum of General Mao in the middle of it, in which his preserved corpse is on display (we opted to skip a viewing). It is a cultural hub in China and was very crowded. People were flying kites, strolling around, taking pictures, and buying junk. There are huge, imposing government buildings around the square, which were apparently commissioned as a part of the Communist takeover and were all built in 10 months. It was a little difficult to imagine the scene of protest and violence that took place back in 1989, but apparently the square was a place selected protest and demonstration as early as 1919.

Next, we crossed the street and entered the Forbidden City (China's Imperial Palace). This was at one time the cultural and governmental capital, as it was home to 24 emperors, from around 1400 through to the early 1900s. The place was called 'forbidden' because it was forbidden for common Chinese people to even approach the outer walls. The place is absolutely enormous and includes countless buildings, symmetrically arranged, all with traditional Chinese architecture. Here is a picture from within the palace complex.

Next, we went to a place called the Temple of Heaven. We expected to find an old temple, but ended up finding a great cultural experience instead. The temple grounds are very large and fairly well-kept. There are trees, fields, and miscellaneous buildings. It is apparently a popular gathering point for socializing, singing, making music, playing games, and relaxing on the weekend. Check out the video of the people playing and watching music.
There were many groups of people doing similar things, with substantial variety in sound and skill. Some large groups were singing, almost shouting, en masse, with some central person in the crowd acting as conductor. Others were more organized with instruments, singing, and dancing. It was really neat.

The other thing we (Karen and Mom) found at the Temple of Heaven was that it is apparently a good place to buy "Coochie" purses. Check out the series of three pictures that document the escapades of my innocent wife and mother in a frenzied and giddy state while the scarfed up multiple 'authentic' wares from people with bulging sweatshirts, while security-type people literally chased the sellers away. The security seemed more like fly-swatting than a true crackdown. The girls went a little crazy, and then we had to find a way to carry a whole bunch of purses of questionable legality around for the rest of the afternoon. The shopping didn't stop there; we had more to do in terms of finding some warmer clothes and great deals in preparation for the next day's adventure. Here are the shop-mongers in utter joy, decked out in their new stuff - China style. Here are our purchases:
3 Hats - about $2 each
4 Gucci Purses - about $7.33/ea
3 North Face jackets - about $20/ea

The next day, we took an arranged trip to the Great Wall of China. We were prepared to see a beautiful and ancient cultural relic in the mountains adjacent to Beijing. What we found, partially due to our selection of the closest viewing place for the Great Wall and partially due to the Chinese government's shameless commercializing of one of its greatest cultural assets, was more like a carnival visit than a lesson in history. It was certainly cool, but the crowds and cheesey nature of the attraction were a bit much for me. Nonetheless, we can all now say that we have been to and hiked on The Great Wall of China.

When we arrived at the entrance, the concrete tree and fake log sign that looked like something from Wally World was just a bit of foreshadowing. As we walked past the junk stalls and bear cages, it got worse. The almost pinncale was the neon-sporting, uphill, rickety roller-coaster ride we took to get to the wall area. We learned that we could have hiked instead, but our guide decided to lie to us and tell us that we had to take the multi-colored, chain-driven death trap up the hill because we were one group.
The worst part was probably the insane and aggressive crowds of people walking in every direction on the wall. Generally, in public gathering formats, the Chinese have essentially no regard for personal space, politeness, order, or anything we expect in public spaces. They will grab your arm and pull you out of the way, rush to cut you off, spit in your close proximity (not maliciously), and have no problem making a crowd bottleneck situation worse by pushing or lunging. It was horrible and amazing. So we fought our way up the hill to the highest tower on that part of the wall, which apparently enables you to call yourself a hero in Chinese lore. Once we reached the top, we found an especially dense crowd, and too many opportunities to buy customized keychains, shirts, certificates, and other crap with your picture on them at the Great Wall. Not 10 feet from the most sought after and conceptually important part of that section of the great wall - the highest wall where people climb up to and touch - was a stand selling these and other junk items. This of course made the crowd flow even worse. It was just disastrous planning, historical integrity, etc. Here is a picture of the crowd just near the top. I do have to say that the Chinese people are considerably more mobile (and thin) than we might be used to. There were lots of people - old and young - scrambling up a sometimes slippery and steep stone structure. It is impressive and really makes you think about our society.

The views from the top are very nice. You just have to watch where you look. Much of the sections of the wall that were in sight (it is something like 3600 miles long) were covered in people. I did get a shot of the wall meandering off into the distance, set among the hills and mountains and the color-changing autumn trees. Also, there was a really great, 'typical' (at least in my mind) old Chinese guy we passed. Check him out with the Mao coat, hat, beard, and funny glasses.

On the way down, after being blatantly cut in front of by two Chinese jerks and taking the same frightening roller coaster thing down the hill (it was driven by a guy who slowed it with a hand break in the front car!), we spotted a two-hump Asian camel for hire (we didn't take a ride). Sidenote: The camels in the middle east are less hairy and only have one hump. We also stopped for long enough to be saddened and mildly disgusted by the collection of sun bears that were kept in concrete pens along either side of the walk-path, so that locals could sell small plates of cut fruit to tourists for throwing to the bears. The bears were dirty, the pens were sparse, and the situation was depressing.

After a few hours in the shuttle bus, a forced stop-off at a silk factory, some last minute shopping, and a quick buffet meal at Voodoo Pizza, we caught our plane back to Shanghai. Between Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing, we had a great time. Mom became an instant expert at getting around Shanghai with Taxis, shuttles, and the subway, by pointing at books, papers, and name cards and smiling. After 3+ weeks of running around, we were definitely all very tired. A couple days after we got back from Beijing, Mom took the mag-lev train (368mph average speed) out to the Shanghai airport, and started the marathon journey back to the States with her silks, pearls, purses, scarves, and memories . It was an exhausting, but fun and interesting experience for all of us. Thanks for coming Mom!

1 comment:

Justine said...

Your mom's visit looks to have been a success, I hope she enjoyed herself! Although she doesn't know it, she just enlarged my appetite to shop! :) But you better not take any pics of me sleeping... Have a great week guys!