Shanghai Adventure

Becalmed off Shanghai

This message comes from 54.2 nautical miles off the coast of China, where we are resting in a deep fog that apparently has completely shut down the area for the last two days. We had been sailing slowly and loopily from Hong Kong toward Shanghai since our 2 January departure. The Captain explained to us one evening that we could easily cover the distance in less time, but because of the class schedule, we were not to arrive in Shanghai until 10 January. So he meandered up the stretch of sea between China and Taiwan. Well, the students soon realized how wasteful of fuel that was and persuaded those in charge that we should go directly and just anchor for a day or two. So we actually arrived some 54 miles from Shanghai on 8 January, but pretended to be at sea so classes could be completed. (I have to tell you about Blue days and Green days later—or maybe David will explain the class schedules.)

Lido Deck in the fog

Lido Deck in the fog

Anyway, the evening of 9 Jan, we were to start for land, only that morning we woke up to a total, dense, white blanket of fog. It is really strange to be on a ship, used to seeing the sea on all sides of you, and find that there is no sea, no world beyond the railings of the ship. Eerie. We went ahead with all the pre-port day schedule, with country briefings, Learning Circle meetings, itineraries, safety briefings, etc., etc., but when it came right down to it, we couldn’t go in. We have to get a pilot for the trip from where we are up the Huangpu River to Shanghai—and the Chinese government declared that no pilots were to try to bring ships upriver until the fog clears. Then David saw a news item that said the entire coast is blanketed by such a dense fog that not only are the port and airport closed, the roads into the city are closed as well. Perhaps this has even hit the news in Alameda, though probably not.

10 January. Another fog day. Students set up an Asian film festival—I saw The Girl in the Café, which is excellent. Never even heard of it before. It was a weird day but relaxing. At 7:30 p.m. the Captain called a general meeting to talk about how widespread the fog is and how nothing like this has hit Shanghai in the past 10 years. Much talk of global climate change. BTW An Inconvenient Truth plays non-stop on one channel of our shipboard TV. A Chinese movie plays on another (I saw The Little Seamstress, but have not followed the latest one which seems quite violent), and an American movie with Greek subtitles (the ship’s officers are Greek) plays on another. One more tells where the ship is located and how fast we are moving when we move. And then we got a couple of Chinese talking heads, but understand nothing of it. Although we have an amazing number of Chinese speakers onboard; David King, one of the teachers, keeps us up to date on the local news.

11 January. Senior staff met to try to decide whether to head for Thailand immediately (a no-go because we had students to pick up in Shanghai and besides the fog is there too) and then they met with teachers in the early afternoon and decided that if we are still befogged tomorrow, they will go on with the class schedule that was due to start after Shanghai. Much rewriting of classes ensued. Meanwhile, the students had relay races, a scavenger hunt, and various other activities to keep them active aboard ship. At 6 p.m. we had the Captain’s report that we probably wouldn’t go in to Shanghai that night.

To Shanghai at last

At 11:30 p.m. I was awakened by the ship moving, so I turned on the TV and sure enough we were heading up the river to Shanghai. The fog had suddenly cleared up and off we went. On the morning of the 12th we docked in Shanghai. The Beijing trip was a no-go because of lack of time, but after all the passengers were cleared by Immigration, we were allowed to leave the ship. David and I took a bus tour of the city—not so much fun since it was still foggy and hard to see out the windows. But Irene, our guide, gave us an overview of the two sides of the city, so we did pretty well the next day when we went out on our own.

Pearl Tower at Night

Pearl Tower at Night

Because of the delay, the Field Programs were compressed into two days, so we had a half-day on the 12th and a full day on the 13th to see the city. Our big adventure was going to the Quipu Market (pronounced more or less Cheapo). It was a shopping center of 5 floors with hundreds of booths on each floor. As you went up, things got more expensive, and also less interesting. By the third floor it was all designer knockoffs. But the first floor with sweaters and jackets and shoes and Chinese dresses and pashmina shawls and bead bracelets and on and on was fascinating. We had the hardest time shaking off the “guides” who were trying to get us to come to certain shops, but managed pretty well. I had seen a green turtleneck sweater when we first came in and decided that was what I wanted to buy. So we had to find it first (many similar sweaters existed, but with V necks or short sleeves or whatever) going around rows and rows of identical stores looking for the entrance we had come in. Finally found it, bargained seriously for the sweater and got it down to 150 Yuan ($20.) That seemed reasonable. Then we found we had a total of 125 Yuan left. Oops. Well, they gave it to us for 125, but they didn’t look happy. Fortunately, I was wearing a “gold” ring that I don’t much like, so I gave it to the sales girl, who was delighted. So we left the market on a wave of smiles all around. Then we got outside and tried to figure out where we were. Because we had not a Yuan for a taxi, we started walking. We saw a sign for Beijing Road, and we found that on the map. But we didn’t know whether we were inside the curve of the street or outside. Fortunately, after walking several blocks, we came upon the New Asia Hotel, which was marked on the map. By the way, there are street signs on every corner but only the major streets are in English. That’s why we had to walk several blocks to locate ourselves—and we came upon the hotel before we could find two English street signs. BTW, it was drizzling all this time as well. So we thought maybe we could get some directions at the hotel. What a bonanza! They changed our Hong Kong dollars for Yuan, they had bathrooms, and when we went outside, it had stopped raining. So we decided to continue walking. It’s an amazing city—there are immense high rises and under them six story apartments built in the 80s. This in the center of town. The high rises are also apartments, but very new and very expensive. Our guide showed us four of them that were so expensive that only three apartments have been sold so far. She said a square inch of the apartment cost a cubic inch of gold. The really expensive and fancy places are in Pudong (east of the river) but when we got there, we thought Pushieh (west of the river) was more interesting. So we got into the neighborhood of the ship, but we’d missed dinner so we stopped in a local restaurant where no one spoke a word of English and had a lovely meal.

14 January. So then it was time for the AFPs or field programs. Since I (Elizabeth) am working with Port Programs, I was told to drop in on several AFPs, which I did. I got to see all the best of them. The first morning we all went to Fudong University, one of the consortium that runs TSS. We were welcomed by a Fudong student who had been on the Ship last semester and the Vice Regent for International Students. We sat in an extremely comfortable lecture hall (in fact, by sliding down just a bit, you could easily catch a nap). Dr. Liu gave us a powerpoint presentation on The Harmonious Society—the latest buzzword in China. The idea is excellent—that no one should have too much so everyone can have enough. And it’s on billboards all over the place as well. Interestingly, Thomas Chow, who was the leader of our mentors and tour guides (about whom more later) said that his first boss told him that for each $10 he makes in a country, he should always give $3-4 back to the people of that country. He’s from Hong Kong, but has a fund that is building schools and centers in China. He and his wife Kathleen are lovely people—in fact all of the people they had in their group from Hong Kong were intelligent, thoughtful, and willing to talk about all sorts of subjects. We also had local guides from Shanghai who also were amazingly knowledgeable, but more likely to emphasize the high rises than the older places.

Model of the entire city of Shanghai

Model of the entire city of Shanghai

Anyway, Dr. Liu’s lecture was very realistic and he encouraged us to realize that Shanghai is a dynamic, growing city and that most of China is much less modern. This would not be news to me, but many of our American students thought they had never seen so much poverty as in Shanghai. But there are very few beggars and they seem pretty professional. Not as many as in San Francisco, for example. Some of the students had gone out of the city and they thought the farming areas looked much poorer. Anyway, then we had a tour of Fudong from the 100 year old two story buildings to the 50 (?) storey twin towers that are the tallest buildings on any college campus in China.

Also tallest university buildings in China

Tallest Buildings on Fudon University Campus

It’s a very large campus with buildings of every style in between as well. We ate in the immense cafeteria, but they served us a sumptuous lunch—not ordinary student fare, I’m sure. The University is on winter break, so 8 more students, having finished their exams, have joined us.

And it went on and on

First course of Fudon lunch

In the afternoon I went with the World Art and Culture group to see the old town of Shanghai. In fact, we walked through a beautiful garden with lovely lattice-work houses, on designed rock paths, around streams and over bridges crossing a pond filled with carp. On summer days, this must be a fantastic place to sit and appreciate the little forests and mountains (all imported rocks and trees of course) or watch the carp swim by. It was a little cold (the temperatures have reached highs of 50-53 this week) and drizzly, so we just walked through and didn’t stop much.

We came out on the zigzag bridge that goes over a larger pond and into a well-preserved shopping area. There was a huge store with a whole floor of jade items (bored salesgirls elegantly made up

Old Town Shopping

Old Town Shopping

stood behind each individual display case) and a similar floor devoted entirely to pearls. We went up to the next floor where we sat on ceramic stools and tasted tea. It was just like a wine tasting—oolong, jasmine, green, black, black with lychee. Each was presented in a tiny cup and we had to smell it, and then take a small sip and then two larger sips to get the full flavor. It was very interesting.

Then we went downstairs to a place where they were drawing silk out of cocoons. The one-worm cocoons were soaked in warm water and then workers would find the end of a strand of silk and attach it through a loop and up over a wheel and onto a large spool. When the machine was turned on, each cocoon released a thread that was wound up neatly to be woven. But sometimes two worms get into one joint cocoon and then it’s impossible to untangle the threads. Those cocoons are also soaked and the worker pops out the worms and then stretches the cocoon into a 5-inch arc. Later the silk from several of these arcs is spread out into a 12 inch arc. Then these are combined and other workers standing around the four sides of a low table stretch the silk out into a flat layer. When there are 10-12 layers, they cover the mat with a cotton duvet cover, zip it up, and there you have a quilt. Except because silk doesn’t shift, you don’t have to quilt it. They sell beautiful silk covers to go over the top of the cotton too. Then we went into the salesroom where they had all sorts of silk jackets, pajamas, scarves, blouses—everything you could imagine. Fortunately, David only gave me 50 Yuan, so I couldn’t buy anything.

15 January. I traveled with the Global Cultures group and went to the very fascinating Shanghai history museum. It’s arranged as a long street that you travel along looking at dioramas of various periods of Shanghai history. At the beginning, the people are full-size and you are looking into Ming era shops and teahouses. I was so fascinated, I forgot to take any photos. The signs were in English as well as Chinese, so the story was easy to follow. It’s strange to see the whole foreign concessions story that is so much a tale of the Europeans being limited to ghettos and totally under Chinese control from the Western perspective. As presented in the museum, the foreigners took over Shanghai and even changed the style of architecture on the Customs House. Very different point of view. And of course, and legitimately, a lot of emphasis on the British introduction of opium and the war they fought to keep the Chinese smoking.

Again a lovely lunch at a fine restaurant. Dessert was a sesame seed covered donut—wish I could find them in the market—it was delicious. Then we went to a city within the city. Apparently, there are many of these districts that contain everything people need to live—homes, schools, stores, businesses. It was said that many of the women never leave their district, although many of the men work outside and travel by motor scooter to work. We visited the home of one woman who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband and college freshman daughter (who now only comes home one day a week). She had not left the district since she moved there 9 years ago because everything was easily available. The apartment was not large, but comfortable with a kitchen, bathroom, dining room (that fitted the 12 of us foreigners seated on stools borrowed from the community plus our guide and our hostess with no problem), and two bedrooms, the larger with a sitting area. Oh, and the dining room contained a 27 inch (or so) TV. That was very interesting. It seems that people born in Shanghai have rights and when our hostess lost her previous apartment to redevelopment, the government paid her 100,000 Yuan for relocation. They bought their current, better apartment for 200,000 Yuan and she worked as a real estate agent until it was paid off, but now they live on her husband’s salary and she is retired. She answered all our questions, but seemed to think we were pretty strange.

Then we went to a nursery school where the children sang and danced for us. One 6-year-old played a Western classical piece very well—those of us who had taken piano lessons were very impressed. The children were charming and loved having their pictures taken.

Pre-school dancers

Pre-school dancers

Then, finally, on to the community center, a four story building with lessons (dancing, painting, language, computer, etc.), a library of newspapers, Internet access, camera club, and plenty of room to sit and drink tea. The director said they often serve 1000 people a day, but late on a rainy afternoon, the place was almost empty. There are classes for both students, who were not there because it was the school vacation, and retired people and most of the classes are free. The director said most people walked to the center from their homes—a most impressive center for this community of 95,000 in the middle of Shanghai.

We have left Shanghai and are in the open sea on our way to Thailand. The ship is rocking and rolling, cabinet doors are opening, things are falling off tables, and some people (not us, luckily) are feeling a little green. And now I’m going to stop because it’s almost time to get up for another day.

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