Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 11 Time Travel

I faced 22 hours of travel to get home from Xi’an, starting with getting on a bus at the hotel in Xi’an.  I wasn’t willing to waste nearly a full day for this traveling, so I finished 10 hours later at 7:35pm.  I like to think I’m a pretty efficient guy! ;)

It’s always best when a long day of travel is uneventful, and this day (10 hours) lived up to that.  I made all my connections with lots of time, no issues with security…a good day to fly halfway around the globe.

The first leg of my journey was with one of the Australian couples from the tour – they were with me as far as Beijing.  Wayne and Kerry are really nice people who were a pleasure to travel with.  I was impressed with Wayne’s honesty as we waited to board our first flight.  He explained that a lot of Australians have ingrained racism, and resent the flood of Asians who have immigrated to their country.  As a result, there is a common perception that Asians are lazy and are trying to take advantage of Australian social benefits.  (I got stuck in an earlier conversation with another Aussie who exemplified the mindset Wayne was articulating.) Wayne followed up with: “Now that I’ve seen this country, I don’t believe that for a moment.  These are smart people!  They work hard, and they are so advanced with their architecture and technology.  So nice, too.”  Wayne isn’t young, and – based on my exposure to other folks his age – it’d be no surprise if he had some discomfort with the changing face of his world.  I was really impressed that notwithstanding a lifetime of potential preconceptions, he was able to see things for how they are, and do away with the vestiges of racism.  For me, this kind of positive reinforcement bodes well.  (Forgive the philosophizing….it’s a strenuous mental effort to condense 22 hours into 10!)

Given the extremely limited food options past the security check, I had Pizza Hut for dinner in the Beijing airport.  With the modern face of China, this is Chinese food. It reminded me that much as I have loved this adventure, there are familiar things I will relish upon my return. (Pizza Hut isn’t actually one of them.)

Happy travels!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 10 The Great Wall!!

I ran the entire length of the Great Wall this morning.  That’s right – the Great Wall Marathon has nothing on me! I covered all 14km of the Great Wall of China Xi’an (I even doubled back to make it 18km). I mean, it may be 5986km shorter than that other wall, and it might have a flat, 12m wide surface across the top, but really – how many people do you know who can claim to have run the entire length of the Great Wall (of Xi’an) in China??

Truth is, I would say it’s a pretty exclusive club I joined this morning.  What was a novelty for me – running along the top of a 600-year old structure – was clearly a novelty to many of the people I passed, too.  Lots of tourists were cycling the perimeter of the town, and they seemed mildly amused by another tourist loping by with a goofy grin.  The locals, however, were so obviously entertained!  Many shouted out hello, or laughed as I ran by.  Some just paused at whatever they were doing and stared at me. One fellow, who introduced himself as (spelling phonetically here) Zho Wun Zhung, caught up to me on his bike to ask where I came from, whether I run marathons (guess it’s not just Canadians who ask that of every runner), and whether I like China (he seemed pleased when I replied I love China). Amusingly (to me), I had to slow down to chat with him, so after a polite amount of conversation, I picked up speed and ran away.

Given the perennial smoggy haze in Xi’an, the view was not exactly fantastic, but I was pumped to be running on this old defensive barrier. I’m not sure if was actually the case, or if I’m just getting used to it, but the air did feel a little cleaner today as I gulped in lung-fulls. (I’m hoping the former, but afraid it’s probably the latter…)

Each of the main gates has a double-gate entranceway.  If the first gate were breached, the defending soldiers could then surround the invaders and attack from above on all sides. The enemy would be penned in by 12m thick, 36m high walls. Of course, to break through that first gate, potential invaders would face a maelstrom of fire from the arrow tower above, only to come upon a 12-inch thick reinforced wooden gate set into the brick walls.  What a reward – to fight through that, only to find another set of the same beyond!

Though the strategic intent is obsolete, the arrow towers nonetheless provide amazing views of the wall. Though some have been lost to war and decay, the rampart tower in the distance was once part of a network of towers repeated every 120m.  These further enhanced the defenders’ ability to monitor enemy movements from on high, and protect the wall.
My tour group. Can you tell who is preparing to run? Behind us is one of the inner towers in the double-gate arrangement.

 The top of the wall.  Notice the “treacherous” footing I faced.

 Looking into the city from atop the wall.

The Muslim Market, where we proceeded after touring the wall, is another unique fixture of Xi’an.  Different from virtually every other market in China, the warren of streets making up this market area sells a whole variety of foods and…..stuff.  (Some touristy junk, and some stuff that looked like it might actually be worthwhile.) I didn’t get a whole lot of time to wander through the market this afternoon, as our guide Kelly invited me in to have tea with a friend of hers.  THIS was COOL!!  I was having the kind of experience I love when traveling – sitting down with locals, doing what they do.  Rose (Kelly’s friend who owns the tea shop) treated us to a variety of teas, and explained how each should be served – water temperature, time to steep, etc.  I find it fascinating that the way we drink tea is utterly different than in the birthplace of tea.  Of course, they treat it like wine, whereas we generally treat it like water… Time slipped by, and suddenly Kelly and I were rushing back to meet with the group!

The dumpling banquet for dinner was excellent!  Why is it that food in Xi’an kicks butt over the cultural and “foodie” centres of Beijing and Shanghai? The restaurant also adds a special twist – quite literally. Dumplings are made to look like their contents; fish dumplings are shaped to look like fish, duck dumplings are shaped into ducks (fyi, Chinese ducks apparently say “gaa gaa” rather than “quack quack”), and pig dumplings (sigh…they really tasted very good) were shaped like pig noses.

We returned to the market after nightfall and enjoyed the magnificent views of the wall all lit up:

Finally, on our last evening in Xi’an, nine of us in the tour met in the lobby bar of our hotel to ruminate on this trip.  What an amazing adventure!  And great company to boot! We had the best of luck with our guides and hotels (notwithstanding that we were far away from downtown Shanghai), and I saw and experienced things that thrilled me to the bone.  Though I look forward to returning to the routine of running and healthy eating, there is no part of me that wants to leave this magical country.  I want to come back soon – so many places I haven’t yet seen, and parts that I want to see again.

They say that all good things must come to an end.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 9 Megalomaniacs get such a bad rap!

Is it really fair for us to paint all megalomaniacs with the same brush – suggesting that it’s some sort of character flaw?  If Emperor Qin unified China, standardized Chinese currency, built the Great Wall, and commissioned an 8000-strong, life-sized terra cotta army to guard him in the afterlife, aren’t those all good things?  I mean….you might point out that no-one knows how many of the 750 000 slaves forced to work on his tomb over 50 years died (Qin died before the tomb was completed, but his heir ensured it was completed anyway)…and that many of his 3000 concubines hadn’t even met him when he died, but those who were childless still had to join him in the tomb (he took a chariot to the grave with him so he could round up more concubines; I suppose eternity is a long time to settle for only 3000 women)…or that he so incensed the peasantry that an uprising four years after he died unseated the Qin dynasty (the peasants destroyed most of the terra cotta warriors – guess they weren’t such a good military force after all)….but these are just details!

My day started with an adventurous 6am run with David – one of the guys on the trip.  The night before, I mentioned I was planning to run in the morning in the park outside the city wall.  He asked: “Think I can run with you?” I replied: “Not likely.” J He’s a really interesting guy – we had no shortage of things to talk about during out hour of running….Rather, our hour out.  We ran, we stumbled where the path was uneven (we didn’t have any daylight until at least 6:30), we paused and contemplated how we would get through the busy traffic every time a road crossed the park (Chinese drivers are very good to avoid collisions, but they live up to the stereotype of crazy and erratic driving, as well as a disregard for traffic lights or right-of-way), we climbed over several large trees that had fallen across the path, scrambled up steep banks of loose dirt, dodged barking dogs (not sure if that was someone’s backyard??), hopped over a couple of fences, and found ourselves running along the city moat – a poor example of fresh clean water! It was quite the adventure!  For the first time on this trip, I saw many locals out working out; some running, some using the stationary bikes along the path, and others doing calisthenics.  This park wasn’t exactly my idea of a training haven, but apparently it is the local place for exercise.  Nicer than a treadmill, that’s for sure!

Unfortunately, Sunnie announced this morning that she has been told by her doctor to stop working in order to protect the baby.  As a result, we were handed over to Kelly for the remainder of the tour.  Kelly is a really excellent tour guide – knowledgeable, friendly, and funny.  However, she talks fast and…a lot! Here’s an example (I am paraphrasing, but not exaggerating): “Ok everyone, look ahead. That’s the bell tower.  Look at the bell tower.  Ahead, that’s the bell tower.  Look.  Look ahead.  The bell tower. Look.” 

However, her genuine enthusiasm, passion and knowledge are worth the verbal diarrhea sometimes.  Truth is, I wasn’t too focused on our guide.  We were off to see the warriors of Emperor Qin’s tomb!
On the way, I couldn’t help but notice a curiosity that – I hope – was a product of translation:
Please tell me that is a lottery in support of the welfare of Chinese people, and not a lottery targeted at welfare recipients!

Before getting to the warriors, we stopped at the one workshop licensed by the Chinese government to make certified replicas of the terra cotta soldiers.  As Kelly explained, she wanted us to have more knowledge heading in to see the actual warriors, in order to better appreciate the experience. The factory was pretty cool (if you ignore that they are making a rather ridiculous tourist item).  Originally commissioned as part of the exhibit – to teach visitors how the warriors were made – the sales of these replicas (apparently) only came as an afterthought based on requests from tourists.  The clay used in replicas is the same clay that was used for the originals – sourced from the same land (do you “mine” clay?) and mixed with only water.  We were shown how the craftsmen in the factory make the figures out of molds, fire them in an old-fashioned kiln for up to seven days, and paint them.  Really very cool!  Amazing to think of this work being done on such a grand scale thousands of years ago!
Such impressive artistic work!  A process that hasn’t changed in millennia!

The workshop makes small replicas for your average tourist item…but also full-sized replicas for any emperors out there who want security in the afterlife.
Toward the end of this tour, our guide (not Kelly, a guide specific to the factory) let slip a minor detail.  This isn’t how the terra cotta warriors were made.  WHAT??!!  The modern process uses molds.  The old process was entirely by hand.  So….why are we getting this tour?  Notwithstanding the legitimate artistic merit in the production of these replicas, I was soured on the whole place.  Seemed a bit of a sham.  

Oh well, I didn’t come to see a modern factory, I came to see the real thing!  Very soon, we were back on our way!

To my knowledge, the terra cotta museum is unique in that the exhibit halls – which from the outside look like any other building might – are simply superstructures built over the original pits where the warriors were found by farmers in 1974.  They were trying to dig a well.  They became national heroes.  Not a bad stroke of luck!

My breath caught and my heart raced at the Great Wall.  It happened again as I entered the hall over pit #1. It gives me goosebumps even now as I type:
An estimated 7000(?) warriors are in this pit, many of which have not yet been unearthed.  When the first warriors were found, they still had the bright paint which had originally given them their lifelike appearance.  Unfortunately, the paint quickly decomposed upon exposure to air.  Unexcavated warriors are being left there while archeologists search for ways of preserving the paint.

Commonalities among the soldiers reflected styles of the time – hair pulled into a single bun on the right of the head, a scarf as part of the uniform, and standing in military posture. However, the faces are unique, stature differs, and minor details about clothing are intentionally inconsistent.

95% of the warriors did not survive intact, but the passage of time was not their enemy.  Shortly after Emperor Qin’s death, there was an uprising among the peasantry.  Angry farmers, enraged by over-taxation and the excessive conspicuous consumption of Emperor Qin broke into the warrior pits, stole bronze weapons, broke statures, and set the whole thing on fire.  Ironically, this – coupled with the fall of the Qin dynasty – led to the tomb complex being forgotten to time, so it was relatively untouched by more modern grave-robbers when it was rediscovered. 

Fire destroyed the wooden chariots, making for curious gaps between horses and chariot rider warriors.

Many of the figurines are covered in ash residue.

Whereas pit #1 is unequaled in sheer size and scale, pits #2 and 3 include more variety of warriors and weapons.
The variety of pointy sticks used during war of that era.
No...he’s not a kung fu warrior.  He was holding a bow and arrow.

This was one of 7-8 “generals” found in the pits.  The detail is such that this one is a Mongolian general – based on face shape and features.  In addition to a different hairstyle and uniform, higher ranking officers were shaped with the realistic paunch resulting from a heavier diet, and lines from age.

 Based on hand placement, this warrior would have held a crossbow, long lost to fire and decay.

 Modern people invented stainless steel in the …1950s?  It was also in use during the Qin dynasty.  This sword was un-rusted and still sharp when it was unearthed.

Two chariots were found in the pits as well. As they are made almost entirely of bronze, gold, and silver, it seems Qin felt a budget pinch and commissioned them at half scale.  Maybe spirits are shorter?

I really can’t say enough about this exhibit!  I wanted to call my old archaeology professor and tell her where I was!  What an amazing experience!  I will have to return once they figure out how to protect the paint, and see the next batch!

Dinner was another group affair, and the trend of better food in Xi’an continued. I got home in reasonable time, and will be in bed shortly.  No need to set an early alarm, as we’re not departing until 9am tomorrow.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 8 Hotpot! (This has nothing to do with that guy from Nanjing road yesterday…)

I was hoping for an overnight train to Xi’an.  Getting a flight instead ensured that I was actually able to sleep, but it also made for another early morning – leaving the hotel at 6am again.  This time we were on time. On an unrelated note, those girls didn’t take the Xi’an extension to the trip… ;)

Xi’an is a DIRTY city!  You can taste the grit in the dry air the moment you step out of the plane, and a permanent haze blankets the city. (Our guides refer to it as “fog”.  I’m not sure whether this is optimism or the language barrier.) It’s also a small city…of only 9 million people.  Nevertheless, as the former capital of China during its golden age, and as the home of the terra cotta warriors, this was a must-see on my list!

We met our guide, Abby, at the airport.  Then our guide, Sunnie, led us to the bus.  Confused?  So was I.  Our guide introduced herself as Abby and then referred to herself in third person as Sunnie.  Turns out that her “official” English name is Abby, but she prefers Sunnie because it’s more unique.  Right….unique.  No-one has ever met a Chinese girl named Sunnie!

Anyway, Sunnabby took us to our first stop: the Shaanxi Province Provincial Museum. I didn’t know this was on the itinerary, and I didn’t know I would be so excited about it.  It holds some of the terra cotta warriors!  Great close-up views of the warriors, as well as another extensive collection of bronze implements, ceramics, and other pieces. 
Just for you, mum!  An ancient weaving loom!

A toy??  I can’t see any other purpose for this.

These were definitely NOT toys!

Makes my breath catch! J

Emperor Qin wasn’t the only one to have a terra cotta army.  The difference is that this Han Emperor was well-loved by his people for being a peaceful leader. He required small soldiers as a representative force only for his tomb.  Admittedly, they’re not as impressive…

The museum is around the corner from the Wild Goose Pagoda, one of the earliest remaining structures in China!  This tower was built to house the original Buddhist scriptures carried over from India to China.  Subsequently it was home to Buddhist monks.  Now it’s used as a backdrop to a weekly fountain and music show.

No photos will turn out any clearer – thanks to the air thick with pollution. L My lungs will soon get the chance to detox, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to live here.

From the pagoda we went to dinner – the best meal I’ve had in China!  I cooked it myself…

Hotpot cooking came from this region.  I had my own little pot of boiling broth, and I could add whatever ingredients (real vegetables at last!!) I wanted, and cook them as I wanted.  In order to enjoy a legitimately Chinese taste experience, I had Sunnie teach me how to make sauce for my dish.  It was awesome!

I’m noticing an interesting trend among our Chinese guides.  On the one hand, they are very cognizant of the laws and challenges of living in their country.  On the other hand, they are remarkably open…  Sunnie got talking about the one-child policy (which isn’t really as simple as a one-child policy…), explaining that couples like her and her husband would face severe fines if they were to have a second child (they already have a two-year old daughter).  If I understood her correctly, Sunnie even indicated that unless she were to bribe a local official for an identity card for this theoretical second child, the child wouldn’t have access to school or healthcare.  If such parents worked for the government (neither Sunnie nor her husband work for the government), a second child would cause them to lose their jobs.  Then Sunnie told us that she is pregnant.  Her husband is overjoyed.  She is concerned.

Closer to my heart than Sunnie’s child’s future challenges, we made it to the hotel after another tiring day. (Yep, I’m THAT self-centered when I’m tired.)  Swanky accommodations in Xi’an!  According to the price list, my room would normally be the equivalent of almost $400 per night.  Given what I paid for this trip, not a chance that my tour company is paying that.  In addition to a sweet suite, the hotel is well-placed; looking out over the ancient city wall that encircles downtown Xi’an.

Once upon a time this wall enclosed all of Xi’an, but cities grow, and brick doesn’t.  The first city wall was built around 200 BC.  The wall was improved or re-built (I’m not sure which) between 600-900 AD, and then re-built again to its current form around the year 1400 or so.  It’s thick, high, and surrounded by a moat; if I were trying to attack to this city, I’d be flummoxed. Seeing as my hotel is outside of the walled city, I’ll hope that no Mongols attack tonight.  I need the sleep.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 7: Party like it’s 1999!

This last night in Shanghai has been memorable!  It’s like I was 18 again, as I was drinking terrible shots with 18-year olds!  (Also a bunch of thirty-somethings, and a couple in their forties, so maybe not exactly like I was 18…). We painted the town red at Bar Rouge, enjoying stunning views of the night skyline of the Bund again. 

(Blurry, but you get the idea)

We proceeded to a local (not touristy) restaurant for dinner and had….I’m not sure.  Even Vincy, who speaks and reads Chinese, wasn’t sure, and she ordered!  It wasn’t very good, but it did taste better than it smelled… An adventure on the subway delivered nine drunk Canadians back to the hotel with minimal incident (I did accidentally head-but some poor guy walking by me as I threw my head forward in the midst of laughter…which caused Charles and me to laugh even more…), then I proceeded to pack for – sigh – another early morning departure to Xi’an.

The day started with a trip to “the Venice of Shanghai”, which is one of the few remaining towns reflecting a lifestyle that hasn’t changed since the great canals were built several hundred years ago.  It really is like Venice! We even started with a “gondola” ride down to the grand canal.

Oh, sorry, that actually is Venice… ;)

This scaffolding is made of bamboo, tied together with twine.  Not exactly as sturdy as what we’re accustomed to…

Ok, so this was really cool!  As is my tendency on this trip, I stumbled into a residential area where tourists don’t normally go.  I finally got to a dead end where a severe looking woman scolded me and gestured for me to turn around, but not before coming upon the kind of scene I don’t see every day:  a woman preparing dinner…with a dead, plucked, raw chicken, still with head and feet, lying on a table in the alleyway beside the bowl into which she was cutting potatoes.  Very cool, but I’m glad I wasn’t invited to dinner!

The endless maze of shops could have entertained me for hours, but traveling with a group means stricter timelines (as for my earlier comment…apparently those girls didn’t get the memo!).  We made our way back to the bus and back to the hotel for a quick change before heading downtown for the afternoon.

Charles, Vincy and I hitched a ride with the group heading to an optional activity (lunch, shopping, and a show), and then ventured on our own to the streets of Shanghai.  The Bund is awesome!  I wasn’t the only one walking around with my head craned back, looking at the stunning skyscrapers all around us.  Like Chicago without the history! Being on the opposite bank also afforded new views of the old waterfront across the river.

Given that water levels were over 5m higher than current levels during a relatively recent flood, I’m not sure that the modern Bund will last like it’s counterpart across the river.  

Oh, randomness!

So picturesque, with the grassy water plants in the foreground, the river, and the elegant buildings.  The shame of it is that the water is the colour of untreated sewage, and has a thick sheen of oil floating on top.  This is an active commercial waterway in a crowded, polluted city. Sigh… They are working on it.

Win a trip to Canada?  What are the chances?

As with dinner, Vincy was instrumental in our lunch selection. Namely, she recommended we go to:

Yep, we ate at Shanghai Hooters.  I’m not entirely sure why, but it was fun…for Charles and me.  Vincy seemed less excited that Charles did glance at the waitresses once or twice, and that – in her mind at least – our waitress was interested in Charles.  Vincy clearly had nothing to worry about, though.  Our server didn’t exactly fit the Chinese stereotype:

Server: Where are you from?
Us: Canada
Server: But you look Chinese?
Vincy: That’s because I am Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong.
Server: But you’re Canadian…?

After lunch and some wandering, we found the sightseeing tunnel.  Yes, “sightseeing tunnel”. Under the river. Anyone else a little curious about that? The sightseeing shuttles passengers back under the river to the old side and…..they’ve made the trip interesting. Blinking lights, flashing images, even a couple of inflatable clowns...and a voice announcing the theme of each section as you enter: “Space exploration”….”Time travel”…  Worth $8 for the novelty, I suppose.

Last afternoon in Shanghai, and I wanted to walk Nanjing Road.  It’s a high-end pedestrian shopping street…picture Sparks Street in Ottawa meets Fifth Avenue in NYC, except with one hundred times as many people!  Major crowds everywhere, and endless flashing neon lights for all the stores. (Picture Sparks Street, Fifth Av, and Times Square at its busiest, and you’re getting the idea.)

We were constantly being approached by people asking if we wanted knock-off watches, purses, electronics….it quickly got to the point that I would glance and decline without paying attention.  Which is how I found myself confused when I noticed one guy didn’t have the requisite flyer in hand showcasing the knock-offs.  “Sorry?” I said. “What did you say?” “Hashish?  Marijuana?” was his reply.  Um…..yeah…….I’m REALLY not interested in getting involved in illicit drugs in Shanghai.  I don’t want to go to any prison, but I especially don’t want to see the inside of a Chinese prison!  I’m getting so cavalier about Shanghai’s tourist traps, I didn’t even blink an eye when the prostitutes tried to get some business out of me and Charles (at this point Vincy was ahead with some of our tour-mates).  I didn’t blink, but I did decline….just for the record.

Last day in Shanghai.  I will definitely be back.  Maybe incorporate it into a trip to Hong Kong and Macau?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 6: Do I need my passport?

These are some early mornings!  We left the hotel in Beijing this morning at 6am to catch our train to Shanghai.  Shortly after 6am, anyway.  For any naysayers out there, I’d like to point out that I have never been the cause for holding up the group on this trip – I am always on time! I can’t necessarily say the same for some others, especially two obnoxious girls who have held us up several times already.  Once having the gall the say: “Sorry guys; priorities!” as they got on the bus where everyone else was waiting.  They had been shopping!  So it didn’t entirely surprise me that as we were driving to the airport, those same dolts realized they had forgotten their passports and money in the hotel safe.  Really??!!  The good news (for the rest of us...I don’t really care about good news for them) was that the other bus hadn’t yet left the hotel, and so the other guide retrieved their stuff.  Back in a good mood, and on to Shanghai on the bullet train!

The bullet train is the equivalent of the TGV in Europe.  Cruising at an average speed of 300km/h (we hit as high as 312, and sometimes slowed to 290 for curves), the bullet train is not only as fast as a plane, but it is also a much better way to see the countryside.  With around 1500km between Beijing and Shanghai, we saw a lot of countryside!  It is such a smooth ride, I had to remind myself that we were, indeed, traveling faster than the Via back home…until another bullet train passed up in the opposite direction – Wow! Sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing; always interesting countryside in China. We passed through a lot of agricultural land, and even saw the farmers with oxen working their fields. (With oxen!! Not tractors.) We passed through a number of cities that would rise up from the fields with a dramatic thrust to the sky – the perpendicular line of a 20-storey building would introduce the edge of the city; no suburban sprawl to herald the onset. Unfortunately, we also passed forbidding looking power plants and other smokestacks spewing filth into the sky.

In Shanghai, our Beijing tour guide Tony handed us over to Simon.  Simon is another excellent guide!  Knowledgeable on seemingly every topic, passionate about his city and his country; he was also realistic about some of the shortcomings of the Chinese government and socialist policies. (At one point, we were outside as Simon began to answer a question relating to the government.  After a moment he paused and said: “I had better answer this once we’re back on the bus.”) As our hotel was on the outskirts of the city (this tour was very reasonably priced, so I suppose it’s fair that we weren’t staying in one of the posh downtown hotels), we first went to the waterfront to see the skyline of “The Bund” – the new development on the banks of the river in downtown Shanghai. 

“Bund” means “dirty swampland, and that’s exactly what this land was back when it was first given to the Brits. In an earlier era, Shanghai landlords would gladly provide housing to British expats who were looking to make their fortunes in Shanghai.  Those landlords would then sell tickets to curious Shanghai natives who had never seen a European.  Partly as a product of the tensions these kinds of behaviours incited, the Shanghai government decided it would be easier to manage the city if it were divided into self-governing areas – the Brits in the British area, the French among the French, etc.  Incidentally, crime flourished in this setting, as police jurisdiction aligned with the borders of these districts. If you could run, you could get away with murder – literally! (Just saying…running once again proves to be valuable!) ;) The Brits were granted swampy, mosquito-infested land on the far side of the river.  It’s only been in the last twenty years that land development techniques and technologies have progressed to the point that this land can support skyscrapers, so virtually everything there is less than twenty years old.

Of course, these techniques aren’t perfect, and the whole area is very gradually sinking…. That’s ok, though – the half-finished building in the photo above will no longer be the tallest building in the world anyway, as a building in Dubai has taken those honours. The Dubai building, apparently, is less than half occupied, whereas this one is already fully booked.  Real estate in Shanghai is booming!  So much so that these fully occupied condos go for the equivalent of $9 million (USD):

The Bund isn’t the only place where interesting architecture reigns.  This building has a hole to allow a dragon to fly through.  You know…just in case!

Ok, back to the Bund!  Shanghai is focused on beautifying the city. Right along the riverwalk, there is a wall of flower pots that are watered three times per day!  About once per month or so, the plants are replaced – sometimes flowers, sometimes leafy plants. The confluence of cheap labour, government control, and central planning has its benefits.

I wandered away from the group, and was immediately approached by someone asking if I was interested in sexy girls for cheap.  Apparently they were really close by!!  Isn’t it a shame I had to get back to the bus? ;) (There are also downsides to this excess of cheap labour…)

Next on the agenda was the Shanghai museum.  I’ll admit it – I’m a big nerd, and this really excited me! J Especially when I learned it has an extensive collection of Bronze-age relics (made of bronze…in case you weren’t following).  It was like being back in archeology class all over again.  So cool!!

Though Shanghai is bigger than Beijing (24 million versus 19 million), traffic is actually lighter in Shanghai.  That’s because a license plate in Shanghai costs $15 000 (USD)!  “Lighter” doesn’t mean “light”, however.  The bus lurched through congested streets to our dinner.  At dinner, the woman sitting beside me explained that she doesn’t like Chinese food, and so only ate rice.  That’s how she’s been eating all week, because: “They prepare chicken and potatoes, which I eat, but they don’t taste like how I prepare them.  Why can’t they just prepare them the same way, and then I could eat them??” Great question!  Why do different cultures have to have these pesky cultural differences??  Sheesh!

Though what I really wanted was my hotel, a shower and…I’ll admit it, a clean hotel toilet (public washroom facilities in China leave a lot to be desired), I allowed myself to be talked into a cruise along the river to see downtown Shanghai lit up at night.  I’m inclined to say it was worth it. What beautiful sights! (I took videos to better capture the night, so forgive me that no photos ensue.) On the one side, there are brand new buildings showcasing the best of modern technology (a couple of buildings have converted their entire sides into giant advertising screens that are constantly changing), while on the other are the stately old waterfront buildings dating back several hundred years.  That these stately buildings continue to exist is a minor miracle in itself.  When the Communist Party took over, they began to demolish all signs of the colonial and capitalist past in China.  The Shanghai mayor launched a campaign to save these buildings as cultural relics reflecting Chinese development, and so paved the way for this fascinating juxtaposition of old and new.

I had good intentions of checking out the Shanghai nightlife after the boat cruise, but the 5am wake-up call (after 4.5 hours of sleep) was catching up to me, and the desire for a shower prevailed.  I headed with the group back to the hotel.  I think I feel asleep on the way…

Once showered, I did go for a walk around the hotel, looking for something more interesting than my room (I only have 48 hours in Shanghai, and want to make the most of it).  There wasn’t much, but I spent a while walking the streets of Putuo district in Shanghai.  Streets are pretty safe here any hour of the day or night, and I found myself in some very non-tourist areas. Though it wasn’t what I was seeking, it was a cool experience to be wandering through the city at street level.  Eventually I pulled out my phone and turned on data to map out my path back to the hotel.  Seems my phone was waiting to download some updates, as I immediately got notice that I had exceeded 5MB at $10 per MB.  That stupid walk cost me over $50. :P

Good night!