Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010 Up, Up, and Away!

After some serious packing attempts trying to accommodate our purchased memories while staying within the regulations of the airlines, we eased into the morning. It was raining and most of our time was spent visiting with our friends, old and new, and getting ready for our long flights home. Each group was leaving at a different time so our departures from the hotel were staggered. This trip was truly an experience that will not be forgotten.

I will miss the genuine gentleness of its people, the art and culture, the food, the land, the customs and traditions, the rituals, the history...I will miss it all!

While trying to figure out which things were my favorites, I realized that it simply depended on, not only the day, but where we were! I loved it all... even the crowds and the I.E. and challenges of relieving oneself! It was all good!

So, my recommendations: Go to China with an open mind. Go with a thirst for adventure and a willingness to adjust to whatever comes to pass. Go with an eagerness to experience that which is unfamiliar and to step outside of your comfort zone. Go with famiily, go with friends, with acquaintances, with strangers who will become friends, go alone... but, put your politics aside, and GO! You will not regret it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today is our last full day in China. This country is exciting and mysterious - at once progressive and sophisticated and, while steeped in ancient tradition and history, some government control is still very evident. (Case in point: Requiring passports be scanned in hotels and being denied access to Facebook via internet in China, along with other sites.) While technology is advertised everywhere, many Chinese simply cannot afford it and, as advanced as Shanghai seems to be, you still can't drink the water and have to carry your own toilet paper! Go figure! But, I, for one, will be sad to leave.

In 1882, an old temple was built to keep two white jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Burma by a monk named Huigen. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately the jade Buddha statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928. It was named the Jade Buddha Temple. This is where we went today. Once again we saw the amazing craftsmanship of people dedicated to their Buddhist beliefs. It is another Buddhist site that allowed us to learn more about this religion and to further our understanding of its followers. The red riboons seen hanging from temple doors, trees, and railings were blessings for those who have passed and there were many being remembered. Lighting incense was another gesture of tribute and celebration for those who have passed. Many of us bought jade or wooden bracelets that were blessed by one of the 70 resident monks that could be seen as we explored the many buildings there. Elegant, graceful, and thought provoking...

We headed out to the Nanjing Market today! I could have spent the entire day and night there as it teemed with vibrant life and culture and there were far too many photo ops and potential bargains to ignore! The garden there was exceptionally beautiful. It was built for the parents of one of the emperors, whose name escapes me, but they did not live long enough to see it finished. It took 13 years to build. A little more planning ahead for the inevitable should have been in order, don't you think?!

There were lots of koi in the pond in this garden and little bridges and trails that ran through some very lovely rock and flower gardens with sculptures and gates to pass through to the next garden...and it was truly a serene and peaceful place having a positive effect on all of its visitors.

The market not only had countless shops and little street vendors at every turn, but it also had food available from steamy little crowded windows. While certainly intriguing and inviting and made me more than a little curious, I figured that I had made it this far without any "abdominal distress" and I was taking no I took photos instead!

We also visited the Shaoyun Senior High School today, which happened to be right next to our hotel. They were very excited to have us visit and we enjoyed a warm reception. They had someone videotaping the whole time we were there and we sat at small tables with fruit, candy, and water avaiable for us as we chatted about school, students, and life in general with both teachers and students. Their English was excellent - our Chinese was least not at our table! There are people in our group who are quite fluent and students who are learning Chinese and they were chatting comfortably in the local language, but not us! :) However, it was all good! While many of our school procedures were similar, student work ethic was not. When asked how much homework students received each night they told us, "3 hours or more". When asked what consequences were issued if a student does not complete homework our question was met with stunned looks and silence. "Everyone finishes their assigned work." was the eventual response, as though the very idea of not following through with school responsibilities was unthinkable and absolutely unacceptable. Aaahhh...Utopia to a teachers' ears! We had a little tour of the building and then went outside where the conversation continued and the students in our group, and some of the adults, played basketball with the Chinese students.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and found that the students were friendly and respectful and easy to chat with and all of them wanted to come to visit America! We would welcome them with open arms.

On our last night many o
f us opted to go on a river cruise to thoroughly enjoy the impressive skyline of Shanghai. Up until now the weather has cooperated every day, but not tonight. It started to drizzle a bit and the rain became more persistent as we embarked on our cruise. This did not diminish our enjoyment of our little cruise, at all! The lights along the banks of the Huangpu River opposite the famous Bund area are breathtaking and inspiring, even in the rain and fog!

I went outside on the upper deck to take some photos while some of the group remained inside. When I returned, I found them sitting where I had left them yet there seemed to be a loosely formed circle of smiling Chinese with cameras surrounding them. As I sat down, the circle floated ever closer to us until they were literally sitting on the arms of the couch, lounging on the back of the couch, or simply standing very closely to the couch, all the while smiling. Meanwhile, we were now laughing among ourselves at this scene that has been repeated over and over during the week and, while we laughed, our newfound friends smiled even wider. Finally, one of them asked to take a photo, and the frenzy began! It was a paparazzi-fest! Requests for photos with individuals began as we posed with one, two or more people, all the while enjoying every moment! Within 5 minutes, one of the photographers returned to show us a 5x7 laminated glossy of a photo of himself and Marianne, which was now his prized possession! It was a culmination of the overall reception we have gotten in this delightful country since we have arrived.

Before leaving China, I would be remiss to ignore the true backbone of this country, the people whose hard work and determination keeps its economy strong. Amidst all of the progress and opulence, both historic and modern, is the bulk of the population working long hours, studying hard to better themselves, doing their best to make a living. Their respectful commitment to family and tradition is obvious. They have a devoted connection to the past and a hopeful outlook for the future. The importance of their multi-generational relationships is evident throughout the country and their work ethic is more than enviable. We have much to learn from their example. Below are some photos of these people whose contributions I applaud.


Tomorrow we will be leaving for our respective homes. Our group hails from New Jersey, West Virginia, upstate New York, Tennessee, and California and we have enjoyed meeting them all! For me, this week has been a whirlwind of exciting and unforgettable activities and will leave me with many treasured and poignant memories. While I am anxious to see my family, our time in China went much too fast!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Early, early morning - luggage down by 5:20 AM, leave at 6:30 AM for a flight to Shanghai. Funny thing about the Chinese - remember those long titles I mentioned? Well, after passing through security, we saw a sign for the "Waiting Hall of Connecting Flights". In every city, we saw similar signs leaving no doubt as to what a particular building or room or site was all about.

As we flew to Shanghai we were met with the future! Shanghai is China's largest and most cosmopolitan city with a population of 21 million. It is 60% the size of Los Angeles county or 2,400 square miles. Because Shanghai is located on the water, it is a major shipping city with lots of industry and business and it is still growing! Shanghai means "up from the sea" and it does appear as it has literally risen up from the depths! It is amazing! Shanghai is ultra-sophisticated and makes NYC look like something out of a dusty, old B+W movie! There are a total of 8,600 skyscrapers in this city, more than there are along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States! This change has taken place within the past 20 years.

We went to the World Financial Center to get a bird's eye view of this miraculous city. This building is the tallest in the world and offers a vision of Shanghai from the observation deck on the 100th floor. Here you will find parts of the floor to be clear glass and it is a bit unsettling to walk on it as you are looking down! But the views are spectacular! This was a wonderful introduction to the city. As we were flying into Shanghai, we noticed that the traffic here was not as dense as it was in both Beijing and Xian. It did get more crowded as we approached the city but there is good reason for the diminished traffic. Simon told us that in addition to the cost of your car (average: $60,000.00 USD) you also needed to purchase a license plate for it. Well, that license plate costs between 1/3 - 1/2 the total cost of your car, making the total purchase cost and privilege to drive between $80,000 and $90,000 for a car. This makes it prohibitive for many to even consider owning a car. In addition to that, each license plate has a code restricting it from driving on certain days of the week on a rotating basis. There are even levels of plates that allow you to drive on the elevated highways, otherwise these roads are not avaialbe to you. And, yes, they do enforce these regulations! Anyone caught breaking the rules will not only pay a significant fine but will also get 2 points on their license. Even so, there are an average of 7,000 cars registered daily!

The WFC is filled with restaurants, businesses, shops, and offices throughout the building, including a dry cleaners. It was here that I encountered the 5+ star "happy room" complete with heated seat! Check out the controls! Shanghai really is a futuristic city with multi-shaped buildings throughout the downtown area. The World Financial Center looks like a bottle opener from afar and there was another building that looked like a set of bowls, another an upturned canoe. There are multi-layered buildings, buildings with slanted tops, a building with a round tower on either side, some that look like something out of a space movie, one that is half steel and half gold-colored, and even a building that has what looks like dumplings surrounding the top!

And then there was this camera guy...I was on the 100th floor and looked out to see this man climbing onto an unprotected ledge while his cohorts looked on. He situated himself with his camera and only then did the man below make a move toward security...of the camera! Look at what he is holding on to - the leg of the tripod! Good grief!

As we traveled around the city, I was surprised to see so much laundry hanging out of apartment windows. This is not only in the outskirts of Shanghai but also in high trafficked areas, as well. Only center city proper seems to be spared the colorful and quaint reminder of the humanity that exists there. After all, in these ultra modern glass and steel buildings, I never saw a window that could open or a drying rack attached it!

This afternoon we visited the Jiangnan Silk Shopping Center. Not only did we se
e the process of creating the silk, but were treated to the beautifully finished products in the shop, as well. The strength of raw silk is almost hard to believe. Holding onto the edge of the raw silk, we pulled at it to stretch it to its largest size. It was very difficult to do this yet the strands of silk did not break or fray and held together. The strands themselves are quite thin and feathery. The women in the factory deftly began the process of creating this cloth from the cocoons by removing the silkworm and stretching it over a small 1/2 oval hoop. It is a long and arduous process but, yet again, the Chinese show their committment to excellence with their quiet, calm, and trained attention to detail. "With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes satin." I am not aware of anyone who did NOT purchase something! There was everything from bolts of silk fabric to scarves, suits, change purses, dresses, pajamas, bedding, pillows...just about anything that could be made out of silk was available.

It was here that the I.E. were particularly assertive. Of course, they are fully aware of the fact that the coaches are bringing tourists and the tourists bring money. So I understand their presence and eagerness to make a sale. But, this group of street tycoons hardly waitied for the bus to stop and made it difficult to even get off the bus. Upon leaving the silk factory, they were all standing at the bottom of the stairs vying for position and sales. Getting back on the bus was also a challenge. This is where I saw one of the few beggars while we were here. I asked him if I could take his photo and he gruffly said, "5 yuan!". I dutifully put the 5 yuan in his cup and went to take the shot when he suddenly said, "Not enough!" and turned away. Well, this just made me laugh at my naivete but I would not give him any more money on mere principal alone but I DID continue to try to get his picture. He bobbed and weaved between the cars and turned his head if he saw me but he was smiling during his antics. It was all a game for him - a lucrative, sneaky little game at the expense of gullible tourists! :) Jameson also gave him 5 yuan and he would still not cooperate but, in the end, you can see I got the shot. Clever, those Chinese!

After dinner, we went to a traditional Chinese acrobatics show at the Ritz Carlton. This downtown area is vibrant and exciting and full of architectural surprises at every turn. The acrobat performers exhibited amazing strength and control and, for the most part, were very entertaining. Cheryl and I did wonder about one of the performers, though. Here's the question: At what point...and how?! one's life, do you suddenly discover that you have the ability to throw a pottery vase into the air, catch it on your head, and balance in on the lip of its opening?! And even more puzzling...make a living out of it?! I am baffled about how this happens. Another one of life's mysteries...That being said, what these people could do with their bodies was astounding and entertaining!