Monday, October 5th, 2009
Move over beignets, grits, and grillades and say good morning to congi, curry, fungus (mushrooms), dumplings, and tea. Our breakfast buffet offered these exciting items, along with all the western favorites. But who wants bran cereal when you can have bok choi for breakfast?
All being seasoned international travelers, our group fought off jetlag and was ready for touring with Zhuling (sounding similar to Julie), our Shanghinese tour guide, along with our driver. Zhuling spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable about the city of Shanghai, the country of China, and the customs of her people.
Our first tour destination was to see the vast skyline of Shanghai from across the Huangpu River in the new developed Pudong area and to stand below the new towering office buildings and hotels in Pudong. The Pudong area is fast becoming home to Asia’s and the world’s tallest buildings. The new architectural focal point of modern Shanghai is the Pearl Tower area in Pudong.
The historic area of the Bund’s river boardwalk is undergoing reconstruction and remodeling, as Shanghai is preparing to host the 2010 World Expo, beginning in May 2010. The theme of the Word Expo is “Better City * Better Life.” Perhaps the Silk Road Collection group trip to China in 2010 can include the Expo.
Our next stop was the 400-year-old, Ming Dynasty era Yu Garden in the Old City section of Shanghai. The ancient gardens, ponds, and pavilions are beautiful and tranquil and adorned with images of mythical dragons and other creatures; along with the traditional Chinese symbols of prosperity, good luck, happiness, etc. The meandering streams and ponds are inhabited with hundreds of plump brightly colored orange, black, and yellow carp who know their lesson well – tourist will feed them popcorn.
Our group was able to hear a concert in the Yu Gardens performed by young Chinese girls playing musical instruments, all made of porcelain: a fiddle-like instrument, drums, a flute, bells, and a xylophone.
However, just outside the tranquility of the garden walls are mobs of sightseers, business men and women, and hundreds of teenagers and young adults selling watches, laser pointers, and everything else in between. The Old City area is a hustling and bustling area of commerce, culture, restaurants, teahouses, and chaos.
In this market area, Judy found a hand-made Chinese wooden flute as a gift for her son who is a professional musician. When we told the flute vendor that we were from New Orleans, he immediately switched from his classical Chinese flute tunes and belted out the “Jambalaya, Crayfish Pie, File’ Gumbo” tune on his flute to our delight. The sale was cinched at that point.
Mythical creatures, like ghosts, are said to lurk in the market area. However, we outsmarted the ghosts by walking along the famous Zigzag Bridge. It seems that Chinese ghosts can only proceed in a straight line.
Our next stop was at a silk thread factory. Here we learned about the life cycle of the silkworm /moth and how silk threads are made. These little creatures are very talented in their production of silk and the Chinese are expert and talented in their production of silk items; and better yet at their marketing. I think each of our groups succumbed to their silk products sales pitch. Ellen, Judy, Trish, and Marion participated in some of the silk stretching activities—forced labor at no pay—while the guys watched and photographed. The men, for their laziness, were required to pay for the silk purchases.
We next visited the Jade Buddha Temple, where devotees come to worship and pay their respect and tourist come to witness. While this site offers many statues of Buddha and his disciples carved of wood, the main feature is the large jade Buddha statue carved from a solid piece of greenish-white marble and adorned with numerous precious gems and stones
Our cultural lesson was next enhanced by our brief visit to the Shanghai Cultural History Museum. It is filled with countless treasures of calligraphy, ancient bronze sculptures, porcelains, jade, Chinese currency and Ming and Qing style furniture. This antique furniture exhibit is always a pleasure for Robert and I to see; as it demonstrates for us how the antique furniture we offer via Silk Road Collection was actually used and the juxtaposition of the pieces in rooms.
Dinner, at a large restaurant, we were fortunate to be seated in a room next to a wedding party. This offered us the opportunity to witness the merging of eastern and western wedding customs. The bride was dressed in a traditional western white wedding gown and the groom in a black tuxedo, but the decorations and food were of Chinese tradition. Our first-hand witnessing was due in part to the restaurant’s bathroom being located in the wedding party’s banquet room. They were polite to us as we tried to be respectful of their special occasion.
This particular dinner provided no special challenges to our western taste buds- except maybe the pink soup with “spam-type” meat. A few in our group, who shall remain nameless, did have some challenges with the Chinese food tool of choice – chop sticks. Chinese beer was voted a favorite among our group.
After dinner, we were off to an evening river cruise on the Huangpu River. However, this was also the idea of maybe another 50,000 people that evening. Our original boarding destination was overbooked, so we proceeded to another venue location, where we were provided access to our neon lit ship. The (gaudy) beauty of this trip is to see the computer-animated light displays of the buildings, towers, bridges and other structures of both the Shanghai and the Pudong area. Think Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip – but in Chinese.
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