Friday, September 9, 2011


Saturday morning, we bus to the airport and fly to Shanghai. Shanghai is the business center of China and Beijing is the government center, much like New York and Washington D.C.  We notice the air here is awfully polluted.
We tour the city by bus and  important buildings are pointed out to us by our City Guide, Michelle. A Soviet building from 1952 called the Wedding Cake. All the important banks and financial institutions of the Bund. The Bund is China’s Wall Street, the financial center of China, in the old days,  and now. My one gigabyte sandisk , as it filled to the end, had blank spots during the unloading, and burning process and many of my pictures were lost. The best way to see The Bund is at the following website.

My one surviving picture of the modern skyline of Shanghai from across the Yangtze. Our City Guide, Michele tells us Shanghai means to the sea. We think of Shanghai as kidnapping and that is part of  Shanghai’s reputation when able-bodied men were taken against their will and brought down the river and put to sea on an ocean-going vessel. Shanghai is regarded as a baby city since it is only 200 years old. What was once an opium shipping port in the 1840’s to the 1930’s, with only 100,000 populations has become one of the biggest container shipping ports in the world. Their biggest exports are silk and tea. Now an astonishing  21,000,000 people live here.   They have the highest building in the world and more  skyscrapers than New York City and Hong Kong. Yet in 1964, no building was over ten stories high. . Chinese people want to be the biggest, the tallest, the fastest and the best.
The city is so modern, yet we still see people driving on different types of  slow-moving motors, and a zillion bikes. Here and in Beijing  people are licensed to drive on Mondays and Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays and so on.  We see one man carrying a full size bed on just an ordinary bike. The loads people in China carry on bikes are legendary. There are many beggars swarming us at bus stops and anywhere tourists congregate selling rip off watches, hand bags, shoes, you name it. One member of our group, though warned, bought a Micky Mouse watch and before the bus had pulled away, it fell apart. She laughed the hardest at her own folly.

Traditionally, Chinese babies and toddlers do not wear diapers. They wear split pants. I tried many times to get a picture of them and finally caught one. The problem is, the children squat in the street and the parents pick up after them;  part of  old China where nothing, including human fertilizer was wasted. The government discourages this practice but notice  resistance from young mothers like this one.

In the afternoon, we visit a silk factory. They harvest these small cocoons, boil them to kill the worm, then dye the silk various colors and spin the silk into large batts.  They sell silk “quilts” and we had a hard time understanding how you could have a quilt made of silk until we watched them take a silk batt and stretch, stretch, and stretch it until it was bed size.

In reality, the silk quilt is a comforter not a  quilt. Silk quilts are reputed to be  very warm for their weight. You do not wash them, we are told.  You air them out twice a year and only wash the outer cover in shampoo. They machine squeeze them so small, you can carry a queen sized quilt like a medium-sized purse.  These factory visits are sales pitches, all tours have them.  They can be educational and worth going to. The whole silk making process was interesting.
We passed a section of freeway where a cement column supporting an over crossing was approximately twelve  feet in diameter?  It was beautifully decorated with writhing dragons. I asked why the need for such a heavy support column. Our city guide explained that it allows the dragons to escape. The road worker found trouble in that spot. They insisted there was a dragon there  and it would be bad luck to cover it up. The government architects came up with a solution. The column is partly hollow and has an exit window. Now, knowing what we do of Chinese culture,  and their superstitions of centuries embedded in  their character, we understand.
We stayed at the Gorgeous Hilton Hotel and ate out our first night. Food here tastes bland compared to the spicy Szechuan food we enjoyed and prefer. The hotel rooms sell condoms and you can buy a large bottle of water for $28. Expensive in this city. To buy a small condo here costs about $200,000. Seems high when they pay workers so little. It was nice to have a good scotch at the bar instead of the tasteless Chinese beer and wine.
That night, we are taken to visit the tallest building in the world, a brand new building with 88 floors.  It costs us $7 to ride the elevator to the top in 45 seconds. Amazingly, you feel no stomach churning lift, it is a seamless ride. The lines to get on the elevators are never-ending. We suspect the building will be paid for by tourism. From the top, we look at a new building being built right next to it by the Japanese which will be even higher at 105 stories. The view from the top is stupendous.

It is a Saturday and all the city lights are lit on the weekends, but not during the week;  a cost saving measure. At the top we see a video of men parachuting from the building. It is against the law, but they did it anyway. What an amazing technology. We have no doubt that China will some day replace the U.S. as the pre-eminent super power. There are, by the way, 20 million Christians in China.
(The photo above  is copyrighted by the Creative Commons Attribution given to wikipedia.)

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