Tuesday, November 10, 2009

China Notes Part II

Day 5 - On The Road

After a long day of hiking, we had the luxury of sleeping in, to prepare us for the 7 hour bus ride back to Shanghai. That's how I spent my 30th birthday, on a bus.

We arrived on the outskirts of Shanghai in the late afternoon. Surprisingly, even though there was traffic, it actually didn't seem too heavy. China still has a way to go before its traffic jams rival those in California. Unfortunately, it was back to the same Shanghai hotel, but luckily this time we were in the presidential suite and the bathroom had a wall.

After dinner, some of us went to the bar on top of the Hilton hotel to have over priced drinks and check out the view. Shanghai is spectacular at night.

Day 6 - Shanghai

On day 6 I woke up dead set on having a proper cup of coffee, rather than something questionable from a can. Coffee has not taken off in China, and Starbucks are rare sites, especially outside of Shanghai. Luckily there was one just down the street from the hotel. I had managed to avoid Chinese style breakfasts so far (noodles, dumplings and rice, oh my). I ordered my coffee and a fruit cup and sat down to take notes about the trip so far. The coffee was bitter, the fruit cup was mediocre, and as I was writing a shirtless construction worker kept staring at me through the window trying to read what I was writing (ironically, I was writing about him reading my notes). When you live in a city of 20 million people, or a country with a billion, you probably need to get used to the fact that you have no privacy...ever.

After breakfast, we met up with the rest of the group, 4 more people for the rest of the tour, while the other group went their own way. For the morning, we walked to the Yuyuan Gardens. They were originally finished in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty. It's amazing to think of a garden that is over 400 years old. The outside of the gardens is filled with shops and food stalls where Chinese traditional mixes with western haute cuisine. Walking through the shops felt more like a Shanghai Epcot center, a Disney China.

One of my fellow travelers had red hair, and was stopped by this family of Chinese to have her photo taken with their baby.

The garden themselves are a traditional maze of pools filled with golden carp that swarm the bridges anytime someone crosses, hoping, perhaps, for a pork dumpling...or some fish food.

View of the Pudong area from the garden.

Once we had finished with the gardens, we all went our separate ways. I headed to the Shanghai Museum, walking there in the humidity. It was a relief to get out of the shops of the Yuyuan garden - "No, I don't want an IPhone." "No, I don't want a watch." "I don't even know what that is." Funnily enough, the IPhone was finally released in China 2 months after I left.

As I got closer to the museum, I started to notice more young Chinese women, and more of them smiling at me, and faintly in the distance "where are you from?" I was stopped by two young women who gestured for me to use their mobile phone to take their picture for them. Happy to oblige when it comes to taking photos, I handed it back. Remarkably, one of the women had learned fluent English in that short few minutes and asked if she could take a picture for me. I turned her down, but then she asked "Where are you from?" I got out of there as quickly as I could, but no sooner had I turned around, there was another group of helpless individuals who needed a picture of themselves. Now, either they could recognize my vastly superior photographic skills from the five other people who had passed them, or a single male traveler was an easy mark for a scam. They followed the same routine, picture and then ask if they could take a picture for me, and then "Where are you from?" I'm not sure what the scam actually was, could have been wanting to steal my camera, but more likely they were hoping to start up a conversation and segue into continuing the conversation at a tea house. At the tea house, my new found friends would order for me, racking up a huge bill.

I find scams wearisome now. When I first started to travel I was naively taken in a bit, then I looked at the scams as a form of amusement, feeling superior for knowing. Who knows, maybe I gave the cold shoulder to someone actually in need, or someone who was truly friendly and curious about a foreigner.

Shopping mall..."So this is where everyone is."
Old meets new.

World Expo Construction.Shanghai at sunset.

The hilton is on the left-side.
That night, four of us went to what will probably soon be known as the greatest show on earth. We had the option to attend a Chinese acrobat performance in Shanghai, so a few of us decided it was worth going. It was brilliant in all of its cheesy kitschy glory. The stunts and acrobatics were amazing in of themselves, albeit they were a bit rough around the edges. The choice in music alone made up for this, including but not limited to a 70s-esque hoola hoop extravaganza. I thought the show had peaked when nymphs in chiffon dresses were rollerskating to swan lake. But, oh no, right after that came the aerial silks to none other than My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion on a continuous loop. Now you might be asking - "How could they top that?" Well, why not include scenes from the movie Titanic at the same time?!? To finish 'spectacular spectacular' they brought in the 'Ball of Death,' featuring not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but 5 motorcycles riding around inside a sphere. But wait! One was a woman! "A Woman?!" the crowd seemed to gasp in unison. "Surely she won't go in there?" the audience wondered aloud. Sure enough, she did. Ok, all kidding aside, the show was a lot of fun and I had never seen the motorcycle in a sphere stunt before. It is pretty amazing, although I could really just see the same type of driving on the streets of Shanghai. Here is the video and proof I didn't make this up. Star Wars fans will note the liberal use of the soundtrack. I'm sure George won't mind. Note - the woman is wearing the leather miniskirt.

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