It was 3:30 PM and raining in Shanghai when we arrived. My daughter and her husband met us at the Pudong Airport. Katy, my granddaughter, spotted them first and said, “Oh, my God, Mother’s gone blond!” Clare’s hair was colored dark blond. There were hugs all around.
The taxi drove at high speed through brownish mist and rain on crowded freeways past miles of high rise apartment buildings to the city streets of shanghai. The city was a beehive of activity. There was lots of traffic; cars, trucks, mopeds, bicycles, tricycles carrying huge bundles of packages or piled high with all kinds of goods, construction materials and refuse. There were throngs of people on the streets, bustling along the sidewalks carrying bags of purchases from the multitude of small shops and markets, darting across streets, dodging vehicles. There were elegantly groomed dogs on leashes. Young women were dressed stylishly, usually wearing spike heals and short skirts or skin tight pants. It was striking to see that there were no overweight people. In China almost all, even older people, are pencil thin. I saw few children.
Clare and her husband Jason had moved into their apartment just 2 days before we arrived. They were new to Shanghai; they had been living in Guangzhou for a year and a half. The apartment was on the seventh floor of a high rise in the French Concession area where the streets are lined with trees. The apartment is bright, modern and sparsely furnished. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a balcony at either end with sliding glass doors. I spent a lot of time on the balconies, watching the activity below: on one side a delivery company
and on the other construction of a building terrace.
The second day Katy and I went to the museum. The bronzes and ceramics were amazing. I took more pictures than I can show here. Here are a few of the objects I saw.
I neglected to note their title or period.
I got to see more of central Shanghai with its modern architecture and tall buildings. The air was thick with smog and from time to time a light rain fell. My eyes stung. The colors of the cityscape were muted neutrals punctuated by splashes of red. Sometimes the red was the flag of China,
sometimes it was the laundry hung from the apartment balconies.
The next day we all went to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town suburb of Shanghai.
This was the only day I saw sunshine. Zhujiajiao was a pretty town on a river with houses, pagodas, tea rooms and shops along the water and many bridges and canals lined with little vendors.
There were gondola like boats, some for rent, some carrying goods or picking up garbage along the river and canals.
You pay an entrance fee to go into the town.
We wandered around crowded alleys of shops,
walked along some of the canals and had lunch in a tea room where we had a light meal of vegetables (probably lily leaves) with chopped tofu, some delicately flavored cucumber, and stir fried lily bulbs.
That was one of the few meals I enjoyed while I was in China. In general I found the food unpleasant, and the cooking smells as we passed street food venders were not enticing.
When we came back to the apartment Jason and I went out on the streets of Shanghai to grocery shop. As I thought, China is a dangerous place. Street crossings are risky. Bicycles and mopeds are everywhere and do not stop for traffic signs or lights or pedestrians; they shoot down the roads as fast as cars.
We went to a “wet market” where we shopped for vegetables. There were many individual venders with tables piled with colorful fresh vegetables some of which I couldn’t identify. Others were selling live fish that were swimming in plastic tubs, clams, squid, crayfish, mussels, meat, bacon, eggs, a variety of beans, grains and corn, and leaves and roots that were being ground for customers to make medicinal teas.
The highlights of the rest of the trip were:
The Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai which were astonishing.
They were a connected network of winding paths and bridges over pools filled with huge goldfish which followed the crowds hoping to be fed.
There were multiple pagodas and ancient tea houses, very few flowers even though there was a courtyard labeled “Garden of 1000 Flowers.”
The rooftops were decorated with animal and bird figures and military groups with horses and spears.
And on the wall surrounding the garden I found the dragon of my monotype (the one I did from a photo my mother took in China — I had no idea where).
It was oppressively hot and, like everywhere in China, packed with people.
Hangzhou. We took the bullet train and stayed over night. It rained hot rain the whole time we were there.
We cooled off on a river boat trip to an island on the lake there where there were pagodas, water lilies, fast food venders and souvenir stalls and little bridges.
It was packed with people.
We also went to the silk museum, where I was struck by the fact that fashion in China was pretty much the same over thousands of years until the 20th Century and western influence.
The circus. This was an acrobatic show where people did all sorts of balancing and jumping tricks and stunts with mopeds. There was a bit of aerial display, but less than I had expected. That was not really my sort of thing, but Katy, who had taken lessons in gymnastics and tumbling, enjoyed it. I found the music far too loud for comfort, but then, I am almost 80.
What was my overall impression of the trip? I was glad to be with my family, and to see that my daughter had coped well with a difficult place. I enjoyed traveling again with my granddaughter. There were places and things in China of great beauty.
But I found China close to my idea of what the end of humanity will be like. It was crowded; packed with people everywhere. It was polluted and hot. The water is dangerously undrinkable. My daughter warned me not to brush my teeth with it, and to be sure to keep my mouth closed when washing my hair. The internet is unusable because of government bans on almost everything — news, blogs (all of them) social networking of any kind. Police and the police state are ever-present. Though traffic is chaotic and noisy — drivers blow their horns constantly — there is a feeling of regimentation in the crowds.
China has a superficial overlay of western style consumerism; capitalism has been embraced with oppressive enthusiasm, but, from conversations with my daughter, I believe that conformity to a rigid social order and a tradition of obedience to authority (both to rulers and in family structure) is the core of the Chinese culture.
Jerry met me at the airport with a pink rose. We drove home to Lummi where the air was clear, the trees and fields green, the ocean sparkling. I got in the shower and stayed for a long time, washing China away.