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?!...in 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!

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