Friday, January 23, 2004

China Trip: Touring Shanghai

Shanghai!! One of the largest cities in the world, and we certainly experienced the biggest crowd I had ever been a part of! Our first stop was The Pearl Tower. Since Shanghai is known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” this tower is a symbol or landmark of the city, and is the tallest building. The main portion of the tower is made of three round shafts, arranged in a triangle, that reach up most of the height of the tower. There is a large ball built relatively near the ground, walled with pink glass, and a smaller ball at the top of the three shafts, high in the air. Above that there is an even smaller ball and a spire that completes the height of the tower.

Out in front, groups or individuals would perform various things for entertainment. A percussion group was there when we arrived. All of the performers were older men, dressed in red flowy clothes, and making very interesting sounds with the rhythms of cymbals, drums, and rattles. It was fascinating to watch them.

Notice the heavy smog

We went in and had to pass through a metal detector, and then we got on the elevator to go up to the second ball high in the air. It took over a minute to reach the top, and once we were there, we could walk all around the circumference of the circle, looking out the windows that were on every side. The view of Shanghai was incredible. I am used to seeing Chicago, where there are a lot of tall buildings grouped together in one place, so that you can scarcely see where one leaves off and another begins. Here, the buildings were not so closely packed, but there were so many of them in all directions that they went as far as your eye could see through the hazy smog. I bought a doll as a souvenier from the shop that was there, and before I knew it, I looked around and didn’t see any of our group. I walked around about twice before I deciphered the funny English on the signs and figured out how to get out, and I caught up to them pretty fast.

At the bottom, we took a group picture and then got back on the bus to go eat lunch. We all agreed that the restaurant was our favorite one that we had eaten at so far. I suppose they had plenty of MSG in the food, and it sure was good! The service was also very professional and attentive.

From the restaurant, our bus took us winding around and around narrow streets. I have no idea how that driver did it. We went east and west and east again, and south and north and south again so much that he must have had to search for roads somewhere, somehow, that he could actually have a hope of making the turn down them. The closer we got to our destination (the Yu Yue garden), the more and more people there were, crowding the streets, the shops, and the alleys. It was difficult for us to get anywhere with all sorts of people crossing the road anytime they felt like it, so we proceeded very slowly. We arrived at a lot where a lot of other buses were parked, and had to walk to the entrance to the garden. 

Once we got to the street from the relatively quiet lot, it was as if we had stepped into a swiftly flowing river. People were everywhere, and it was all we could do to stay together. We went from this street into an even narrower, more crowded one. I was glad most of the guys in our group were taller than the Chinese! We could see their heads sticking up above the mass of people all around us, and squeeze and elbow our way through to them when we got behind. They also blazed a tiny trail through the people if you stuck close enough in their wake.

We all gathered at a square that had a hill built in the middle of it, decorated with colorful monkeys climbing all over it. This was now the year of the monkey in China, so monkeys seemed to be abundant decorations. At the square, our tour guide told us to follow her to the garden. The only problem was, the square had no space to walk, because people occupied just about every square foot, and it seemed like half the people in the square had the same destination we did, while the other half were going some other direction. It was a game of edging around people, sidestepping, trying not to bump into people, while going as fast as you possibly could and keeping your eye on somebody you knew in front of you, who presumably could see the way to go from somebody in front of them. 

The whole crowd had to funnel down from the wide square onto a zigzagging bridge about 8 feet wide that led to the garden. This goes down in the memory of everyone who experienced it as the famous “Bridge Ride.” If we thought it was crowded before, now we were squeezed on all sides like sardines and simply carried along by the sheer force of the crowd. We didn’t have to walk. Oh no. We just had to pick up our feet. They were sure to go down in a different place. All the people in the back were pressing forward onto you, which made you press the people in front of you, and so the crowd oozed along, filling every conceivable space on the bridge. I had so much fun! I was laughing to myself the whole time, thinking about the sort of ridiculous, helpless situation we were all in, and enjoying every moment of it! It’s a good thing the rails on each side were sturdy, because that bridge was bulging at the seams! What made things really interesting was that a chain of people holding hands from up ahead suddenly decided they did not want to go this way, and forced their way back out, against the crowd. How they did it I have no idea.

Finally, we all made it to the other side of the bridge, where things opened out a bit and we were able to breathe again. It was quickly decided that it was too crowded to go in (wonder where they got that idea!)­, and it would take us so long to see the garden that we wouldn’t get to do other things. Everyone wanted to shop anyway, so it was a welcome decision. We planned to meet at the “monkey mountain” at a certain time, and then we all went our separate ways to shop. Marie and I stuck together, shopping to our hearts’ content, and buying all the souveniers for all the people we needed. There were tons of shops, and tons of people, and little streets going this way and that way with more shops in them, but we kept our bearings and never got lost.

I bet you've never seen a Starbucks that looks like THIS before.

Silk ties for 10 RMB ($1.20)

We all met up at the appointed time, comparing purchases and talking excitedly about the fun we had had. Then we went back to the bus and returned to the same restaurant where we had eaten lunch. Dinner was equally good, and afterward we strolled along the river, enjoying the lights of the city. The pearl tower was especially pretty all lit up, and I took several pictures to capture how it looked.

Overall it was a very exciting day. Since we stayed till dark to see the lights of the city, we were a little later getting back to the hotel than usual, so we were a little tired, but it was worth it.

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