SHANGHAI: THE DRAGON RISES
Shanghai is the largest port in the world by tonnage; 2000 ships pass thru the mouth of the Yangtze River,each day,as it meets the Huangpu River, thru Shanghai. Shanghai is also the financial capital of China.
I didn’t have time to go. I had invited an old friend of family to travel with me on this first trip to Shanghai, won in a charity bidding contest. Family health issues came up along with a half million dollar deal that was to close toward the end of the trip. But I had to go, due to the old friend’s disappointment and my own need to simply be away to get ready for the long recovery and rehabilitation from surgery for my husband that would take place almost immediately on my return.
The 15 hour trip over was uneventful and I was so tired, that I was able to sleep almost all the way over. A direct flight from LA to Shanghai was the best way to go.
Our first experience and the most negative was the taxi driver who took us from the Megleve (Levitation Train) to our hotel. IN the end he had tried to charge us 320 Yuan and the Chinese bellmen who met us at the entrance were quick to look it up and tell the driver and us that the charge should only be 36 Yuan!!
Our room at the Grand Hyatt on the Pudong side of the river was fabulous with two beds facing out to the center of a pie shaped room with a floor to ceiling view of the Pearl Tower and the Huangpu River that runs thru the city on its way to the Yangtze River. We had a hot pot for water and tea or coffee in the morning and lovely Chinese vases as well as traditional cup and saucer with spoon for our morning ritual. A marble tub and shower were reminders of Ritz Carlton’s that I had stayed in many times and a desk and other seating; a lovely and comfortable room.
Really though, Shanghai is the new and modern China. You will find as we did, that you cannot almost find ‘old China’ anywhere in Shanghai. We visited the Shanghai Museum on the first day out and this was a good showing of the history of China, from its antiquities to the political thoughts that have developed into today’s system. Although very nicely done, it has been said that when Chiang Kai- shek established Taiwan, most of the best and most beautiful jade and other artifacts were taken to Taiwan from Shanghai. Taiwan is said to have the best jade exhibit in world today, as a result. Still the Shanghai Museum has much to offer including some traveling exhibits of European impressionists and other exhibits of the first mapping of the interior of China by a European.
As we walked through every part of the city, we saw Zhou Enlai’s, house and car. Zhou Enlai is a name I remember, that still echoes in my head from the many mentions on news reports on his movements, during his time as one of the leaders in China.His house and car were very Spartan. Also, the venue that housed the artifacts and photos of the very first communist party meeting was interesting. Then on a boat trip up the river to the mouth of the Yangtze, we were encouraged to visit the Urban Planning Museum. What? This did not sound inviting or culturally relevant, but of course, after we were inside, we viewed many exhibits that showed the planning and history of Shanghai and likely much of this work was done for the World Expo hosted in 2010 by Shanghai.
We were taken by an exhibit of a local artist, who had been drawing since 1949, to portray street life in Shanghai and his drawings and his notes on each scene were an extraordinary view of life right after WWII thru current times of the life in Shanghai. Mr. He is an archeologist of a different kind as he tells of the daily life in Shanghai from shortly after the war.
We took the Megleve (Levitation Train) travelling at 349 MPH from the airport to a station close to our hotel; we ate the XLB which were little dumplings with hand done crimps and a spot of hot soup waiting inside for you to taste as you took your first little bite of these tasty dumplings; served not in a soup, but in a bamboo steamer. Every night we tried a different restaurant and different kind of food. We walked for about 8 hours each day. We tried to get some tailored clothes made, but the place recommended in our guide books just didn’t seem right, so we passed on this as a possibly ‘old china’ process that was losing its cache and its usefulness.
The last day, we made our way over to the Ritz Carlton, Shanghai to have a drink and see the view. As we stepped from the elevator, there was the gift shop and most Ritz Carlton’s do have nice gift shoppes. I bought two small opera clutches; lovely and good prices and while modern they had the essence of ‘old china’ woven into them. Then we made our way to the restaurant and they were serving ‘High Tea’ from 2:00 -5:00 PM, so of course this is what we did for the next several hours! As we surveyed what we had come for; we noted that our education into China’s modern thrust was evident, but we had seen some of its history and managed to collect a few things, like small tea cups on one street of old shops, and a couple of Chinese pens in the museum shoppe of the Shanghai Museum, as well as a couple of items that would let us review and remember the Mr. He of the drawings of street Shanghai from the Urban Planning Museum.
We also did make time to visit the Waldorf Astoria and have lunch and drinks at the long bar of the old and famous ‘Shanghai Club’, where luminaries, artists and celebrities sat to sip and locals were forbidden to enter in its heyday.
While you will not find the ‘old china’ of your dreams with beautiful craftsmanship and fantastic pieces of cloisonné from the past; you will find a people ready to serve you; kind and generous for the most part and schooled in Western ways, but still anxious to tell you their great history of a culture centuries old, just now beginning to show that it can rise like a Phoenix from ashes, but transform itself into the mighty dragon as it becomes a world power, both politically and economically. China, this is no ‘paper dragon’!
By Sally Logan