August 13, 2012
Shangai is an impressive city for its ultra-modern skyscrapers, shopping, culture, night life. You can easily think you are in a Western city with a grand Chinatown. With camera/disk problems I have few pictures to show you. The night scene photo above has no attribution but it came from a tourism website. Our first night in Shangai, after our daytime city tour, we have dinner at the gorgeous Hilton Hotel and ate bland food. It was decent, but by comparison with the rest of China, we decided it was our worst meal so far. On balance, we had our first real alcoholic drink. Good scotch.
It has been a long day but that night, we are taken to visit the tallest building in the world with 88 floors. (Since eclipsed by the 105 story Japanese building with-in sight of it.) We don’t go up an elevator, we ascend, seamlessly, all 88 floors in 45 seconds, with no sensation of being on an elevator whatever. An endless line of tourists paid $7 for the ride. It goes without saying the views are spectacular. It is a Saturday, and the waterfront is alight with skyscrapers projecting ads 20 stories tall on the sides of their buildings. We see a video of men who illegally parachuted from the building. We drink it in, reluctant to leave. The waterfront buildings are alight on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week, the lights are turned off as a cost saving measure. Smart!
The next morning, we visit the Children’s Palace, very aptly named since Mau took over mansions from the decadent rich ministers and government employees and devoted them to boarding schools for gifted students. The education is free and only those identified by their teachers with special talent may attend. Children move to cities all over China where other “palaces” are located. Some concentrate on art, or music, science, dance, sports, martial arts, gymnastics, etc. We were impressed with the pictures these young kids drew and painted. The walls going into the school are filled with exceptional artwork.
Another room held a music class with students age four to sixteen learning the violin. First they tap out the music, then hum the notes, then strum the notes. The teacher strikes her stick loudly when a mistake is made and scolds. We cannot understand her words, but we understand her tone.
Next we watch as five girls play for us on a zither-like ancient instrument, similar to a harp in sound. It may be admirable to help children achieve their special potential, but we found the fierce discipline offensive. Not a smile from any student and we can’t help but wonder where goes their childhood? Talented and unhappy is not a good goal. The parents are honored that their child is chosen and wouldn’t think of turning down this opportunity.
After lunch, we visit a silk factory. Employees stand. Again, we see poor working conditions. The cocoons are drowned and the larvae removed. The fine fibers are twisted into a fine yarn size, then dyed in special batches of color to be woven into shirts, scarves, ties and rugs. Hard work. Bats of coarser silk, are used to make comforters with a reputation for being very warm compared to their light weight.
The process of making a comforter was fascinating. Each bat of silk is stretched and stretched and fit on a form like a fitted sheet fits a mattress. After several bats are stretched, it becomes a comforter and is fitted into a case for size, queen, king or double. I bought two, at $10 each. Of course, a fancy cover to make them beautiful, costs twice as much. One woman from our group opted to make her own cover. A machine squeezes them so tightly, they fit into a small purse sized case with a handle. Cool!
After dinner we attend a show that is the highpoint of Shanghai and all tickets have been sold out for months. Chinese acrobats are famous for their extraordinary muscle control and balance as they do difficult feats in slow motion. A girl balances a tray of glasses in her mouth while doing carefully modulated trapeze acts. Another balances on one hand while doing contortions with her body, forming a butterfly, frog, cricket, then she jumps to the opposite hand and becomes her own twin. Breathtaking twists, falls, jumps from unbelievable positions. High jumping, hoops, tumbling comic acts…we hold our breath and gaze entranced at such talent. On the way back to our hotel, we catch our last look at the fabulous lighted Yangtze River boats and skyscrapers and know we are looking at a burgeoning new capitalistic economy that is rocketing skyward to awe the world.