15 July 2004

Shanghai.

On our way into Shanghai, we spent over an hour coming up the Yangtze River to the port- the river bears a closer resemblance to the Gulf of Mexico than the St. John’s River! Our ship docked along The Bund (waterfront); the famous Shanghai skyline- even with the yellow smog hanging over the city, it’s still beautiful. On the first day, I did an all-day city orientation, visiting most of the highlights of Shanghai. We started off with a huge lunch at a hotel restaurant- China's Chinese food is very different from takeout Chinese in the US, and I’m not sure it’s necessarily in a good way. It was a lot more recognizable than most of the Korean food, which was comforting in some respects, but disturbing in others (chicken feet in the soup, anyone?).

After lunch, we took a bus through the city to the Jade Buddha Temple, which features a 6-foot tall white jade statue of Buddha. After the temple, we walked through a market to the only Chinese garden in the city- most are on the outskirts of town to leave room for urban growth. The gardens are composed of four elements- water, tree, stone, and pagoda, and thus are very different from the Western idea of a garden with flowers or vegetables. It was arranged in a maze-like fashion, with lots of small walled areas with gates separating them. Although it was warm and crowded, the garden was still beautiful. After the garden, we took the bus to the Bund museum, featuring a collection of old pictures of the skyline- it changes drastically every year, with new buildings being built and others destroyed constantly. After the Bund and dinner, we went to the theater at the Ritz Carlton for a Chinese acrobatics show. It was similar to Cirque du Soleil, only ten times more impressive. Contortionists, acrobats, jugglers, a magician, and many other talents I don't even have a name for!

The next day, I participated in a field program called "Tasting the Everyday Life of a Shanghai Citizen," which ranks as one of the best trips so far. We started off with a visit to a kindergarten, where we played with the kids, and they put on a cute song-and-dance routine for us. They were young and hadn’t learned as much English as the kids we met in Korea, so they were a little shy, but they warmed up eventually. After the school, we visited the meat and vegetable market, which was quite an experience, in a disturbing sort of way. There was an enormous selection of fruit and vegetables, many of which I'd never seen before. The meat stands had every part of cows and pigs on display and for sale- everything from the tails to the feet to the liver! There were also live frogs, turtles, snakes, eels, fish, other sea life, and scorpions for sale – hopefully not for eating, but sometimes it’s better not to ask questions. The poultry area was especially disturbing- cages crowded with pigeons, chickens, ducks, and quail, and geese tied to the tops. If you're in the market for poultry, you only have to point to your bird, and they kill and skin it right there for you- it was a bit nauseating to watch, especially for the vegetarians in the group!

After the market, we visited an elder Community Center. The center provides a place for elderly people to go during the day, and organizes many activities for them. In the computer room, a young student was teaching the elders how to use the Internet, and in another area, a prom-like dance was being held. Our senior adults on the trip said they wished the US had programs like it. The sex-educator in me almost passed out when I saw condoms in the bathrooms at the center – in the women’s room nonetheless! Even the Chinese have jumped on board comprehensive sexuality education, so why is it such a foreign concept in the United States?

After the center, we went to a residential area and divided into small groups to have lunch with a Chinese family. At the house I visited, she served us 17 different courses, from a variety of meat and seafood to fruits and vegetables. Our host's mother was slaving in the back of the kitchen for half the meal – we didn’t even realize she was there until she came out carrying an enormous tray of homemade wontons for soup. We stuffed our faces for over an hour- it was all amazing! She showed us around her home, which, like in Russia, was small but beautiful. In place of pictures on the wall, the Chinese people often hang calligraphy, and I can understand why- it's so much more beautiful than paintings!

After lunch, we departed from the traditional lives of the Chinese, and visited an upscale shopping area, complete with a Starbucks, before returning to the ship in the afternoon. That night we went to a massage parlor, where we had one-and-a-half hour massages for about $18 American- I love the exchange rate here! We walked around downtown and went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The menu was entirely in Chinese, but included pictures for about 20% of it, so we picked from the pictures. Turns out “bite sized” pieces of chicken result from taking a cleaver to an entire chicken, so you’re supposed to chew the meat off the bones and then spit them back out into a pile on your plate. Call me a snob, but I think I prefer the American takeout Chinese de-boning technique.

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