February 23, 2007

I just got back to Baoding yesterday from a few days in Shanghai. I had tried to buy a train ticket from Guangzhou to Shanghai, but everything was full up so I had to settle for a plane ticket. Luckily I crossed the border into China fairly early in the day because I got a text message saying that my flight had been cancelled and they had to reschedule it. Unfortunately Chinese cell phones didn't seem to have reception in Hong Kong, but I still had time to rush to the airport and hop on an earlier flight to Shanghai.
I didn't rush around in Shanghai and try to see a lot of things, though I did see the famous sites as well as the bottom of a lot of coffee cups and the inside of a number of pastry shops. On my first full day in Shanghai I went to the YuYuan Garden, which is a beautiful but overpriced Ming Garden. I also ended up seeing the site of the "first" CCP National Congress in XinTianDi. I put "first" in quotations because according to Chinese history the first congress was in 1921 while Mao was present, but according to Russian sources who set up the congress the first meeting was actually in 1920 and Mao was not present. A bit of revisionism.
The next morning I went to the Shanghai Museum, another museum much better than the National Museum in Tian'anmen Square. I met Marie at the train station in the afternoon, a French foreign teacher I know from Baoding who had just got in from two weeks in Tibet. That evening was Chinese New Year's Eve so we went to meet up with some Italian girls that I had met the day before at the gardens, and I ended up seeing a girl from my hostel in Hong Kong. It was insanity outside at midnight. Fireworks and firecrackers were literally exploding everywhere -roofs, between skyscrapers, in the middle of the road, and even out apartment windows. There were so many that the streets filled with smoke and you could hardly see anything.
The next morning we decided to check out a Buddhist temple, since we knew there would be no dragon dances like back home in Chinatown. That wasn't the best idea since the Jade Buddha Temple was literally swarming with people. We had to wait in a long line, with people trying to cut in front of us and scalpers selling tickets at two to three times the price, before we could snake our way through the temple. People would piously bow three times in front of each Buddha, then they'd push you out of their way as they rushed to the next statue. It didn't feel so much religious as a thing they had to do to have good luck and get money for the New Year. It was tiring enough that we spent the rest of the day in a cafe.
The next day we checked out the Bund and Pudong as well as Nanjing Road. The Bund is a cool section of Shanghai where the old colonial buildings of the various Western Occupying Forces have actually been preserved. Pudong is the opposite side of the river, with the famous Oriental Pearl Tower, which has been recently built up. It's interesting to note that before Westerners got a piece of Shanghai in 1842 it was little more than a sleepy fishing village.
During our time in Shanghai we also made it to the former French Concession (though none of the Shanghaiese we asked knew what we were talking about) as well as the Shanghai Art Museum. It was really interesting to see the old and new contrasting in Shanghai. The city looks like the typical scene from a Western movie version of China -huge skyscrapers with little houses that have laundry hanging from the windows.
I must admit that I prefer Beijing to Shanghai, but it was great to spend some time relaxing in Shanghai before heading back north again. The city feels the most American of all the cities in China I've visited. I can't quite put my finger on it but I know a lot of people have said the same thing.

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