Writing this at night in Shanghai, I'm still coldy (medical term, you understand) but rested. I decided to skip the first day's activities and meet the half-dozen people on the Shanghai part of the trip for dinner tonight. It's been lovely spending the entire day in bed, reading and sleeping, except for a short time this morning going down for breakfast -- and of course going back to the bank next door to retrieve my debit card. They were expecting me to come for it, a process that involved signing a form and giving them my passport to copy. I can't imagine what they are going to do with those pieces of paper.
I have just come back from dinner and have met the other six people on the Shanghai part of the trip. They are three couples. I sat next to the husband of a couple from Charleston SC, who recently retired as a dean at Ohio University. There is a gay couple, two men from Los Angeles, for whom this is their twentieth Overseas Adventure Travel trip, astonishing. There is a couple from North Fort Myers FL; I took an instant dislike to his challenging-clowning manner but then discovered he loves classical music and opera, so I decided maybe he's not so bad after all. The judgments we make of people!
October 18, Shanghai
Today was my first full tour day. I'm afraid I am not designed for tour groups. Although there are only seven people in this group plus Mike, the tour leader, I am finding that what I am able to learn about China from a Chinese person doesn't compensate for not being able to go at my own pace and poke into things that interest me for as long – or short – as I like. There is no question, though, that having someone else take care of the logistics of traveling is a blessing. Well, one day is not very much to draw such a sweeping conclusion from, is it?
We went in a van to Zhu Jia Jiao, an old water town like Tongli but not as thoroughly commercialized and touristy as Tongli. It was actually a very beautiful town. Walking along the old streets we saw tubs of turtles, from tiny to medium, that supposedly symbolize long life and prosperity. I'm not sure there is anything in China that doesn't symbolize long life and prosperity, frankly.
This being fall, it is soft-shell crab season. I was told these are the common ones that sell for maybe a dollar apiece, but there is another very fancy type which rich people reserve when they are perhaps an inch big and wait for half a year for them to reach full size, at which time they are sold by weight often at $80 or so apiece. Is the taste that much better? I wanted to know? Absolutely, said Mike.
We saw a woman making Chinese tamales! Here they use bamboo leaves, not corn husks, and fill them with uncooked rice and some kind of meat, and then boil them for three hours.
It's a lovely town, which I hope these pictures from the boat ride we took manage to convey.
Then we went to lunch. Every meal I've had with this group has been in a restaurant that seems to have only very big round tables, for eight or ten people. I'd imagine if you were one or two or three it might be lonely at such a big table. Each table has an enormous glass lazy susan in the center for the dishes. Like the lunch I had with Shell in Hangzhou, the server brought out dish after dish after dish. It is necessary to take seconds and thirds and even fourths because plates are the size of a saucer. Although the food so far has been delicious I suspect this is not the particularly interesting food I had hoped for: no turtle or turtle-equivalent! And getting the hang of the lazy susan is an acquired skill just as chopsticks are: you can't turn it unless you first make sure someone across the table is not helping themselves to something or else they are left holding the fork in mid-air. Oddly, serving forks, not serving spoons.
Then on to a garden, which used to be in the private home of a rich family. Not Suzhou-quality but still lovely, as was this path:
In the garden was a shop of silk-embroidered pictures as I had seen them in Suzhou. There was a set of four very simple and elegant ones, which I bought. Here are two of them, with a picture of the artist who made them.
Then a long traffic-clogged ride back to Shanghai. I am constantly amazed at the prosperity the cars here indicate: Audi, BMW, Porsche, Lexus. In Hangzhou I passed a Maserati dealer. Shanghai is a free-trade zone, so I am curious to see how different other places in China will be. This is certainly not my idea of a restricted Communist economy!
We had dinner near the river and then boarded a boat for a view of Shanghai at night. I took some pictures but don't know if I can begin to convey what it was like. Think back to the most over-the-top display of Christmas lights you've ever seen in your life – a neighborhood, a particular house. Downtown Shanghai is like that multiplied by about a million. I cannot begin to imagine the cost in electricity to run all these lights.
The gaudily-lit tour boats vied for space on the river with huge freighters and barges that were all but invisible in the night, having only one light bulb.
The colors, the liveliness of it all took my breath away. The riverbank was lined with people just looking at the passing entertainment, as the people on the boats watched the people on the riverbank. Quite a show.