After a relatively painless, though lengthy (about 14 hour) flight, we arrived in Shanghai. Not too surprisingly, given that it is a communist country, immigration and customs were a fairly long, drawn-out process. After exiting the plane, being bused to the terminal, we were herded down a hallway towards fingerprinting machines. After scanning our passports, we were directed to place four fingers on our left hand to be scanned, then our right hand, then both thumbs. If all went well, a ticket stating “OK” was spit it of the machine and you could proceed to the next long line – immigration. At immigration, your fingerprints were scanned (again), your picture was taken, and your arrival card was taken. Next up was customs. Even if you had nothing to declare, you had to feed your luggage through a security scanner and could finally exit.
We were extra happy that we had booked a transfer through Gate 1 Travel to our hotel. Though it was only about 7:45 pm, we were exhausted and were happy to have someone meet us and drive us directly to our hotel, rather than having to try to get a taxi. The communication barrier in China is huge; it is very rare to find a person that speaks English so trying to communicate with a taxi driver could prove to be an enormous challenge. The drive took nearly an hour; the airport is located quite a distance from the main part of Shanghai. The Shanghai skyline is quite pretty at night. Many buildings have light displays so are quite pretty. Buildings get lit up from 7 to 10 pm nightly; the government pays the cost of the electricity.
We were booked into the Courtyard by Marriott Shanghai Puxi which turned out to be a very nice hotel. Neither of us slept particularly well, though we were both quite tired. There is a 15-hour time difference between Seattle and Shanghai so even though our bodies were fatigued, our brains said that it was 6 am and time to wake up! I am sure we will adjust within a few days. Breakfast at the hotel was quite spectacular. There was a huge buffet of both Chinese and Western food; enough to satisfy the pickiest palate. Clayton focused on the Western food; I consumed mass quantities of the Chinese. It is a real treat for me to be able to eat different types of food than we normally do at home.
Our tour for the day was a city tour of Shanghai. We were in Shanghai a little over a year ago as part of our cruise of China and Japan so were already familiar with many of the main tourist attractions. Nonetheless, being part of an organized tour was new to us, so we were curious to see who our fellow tour members would be. We met in the hotel lobby at 9:30 am before loading up the bus to head to the Jade Buddha Temple, our first stop.
Buddhism was brought from India to China in the first century. Buddhist beliefs and practices vary by country, so the Buddhism practiced in China is different from other countries. Buddhism is the #1 religion in China, despite the fact that it was not allowed during the cultural revolution (from 1949 until Mao’s death in 1982). Many Chinese are atheist, though religion is now protected in China’s constitution.
This particular temple is famous because it is home to two jade Buddha statues that were imported from Burma (now Myanmar). The larger of the two is over 6 feet tall and weighs 3 tons! Our tour guide, who goes by the English name Sean (after Sean Connery), explained the significance and beliefs behind each statue of Buddha seen in the temple. The temple is composed of multiple buildings, each housing statues of Buddha. Photography is allowed with the exception of the two famous jade statues. You are encouraged to buy postcards of those.
We observed a ceremony being performed by the local monks. Someone had just purchased a fancy new car and wanted the monks to bless it, so they were walking around the car whilst chanting. This service is performed for a fee, so the new car owner hired the monks to do it. On a side note, for a city of over 24 million inhabitants, the traffic is not as bad as you might expect. This is probably due to the fact that most Chinese cannot afford cars. Scooters are a very popular mode of transportation here; they have their own dedicated lane on the roads. I think many of the scooters must be electric because they are silent. I ride a scooter and it makes plenty of noise, so electric is the only thing that makes sense to me! On another side note, Sean told us that the souvenirs that are sold around the temple cost more money than souvenirs sold elsewhere. This is because you can haggle to get a better deal in other parts of the city, but people feel guilty doing so in the temple.
Our next (and final) stop for the day was the Bund. This is a one mile long boulevard that runs along the west side of the Huong Pu River. The river divides Shanghai into east and west. The western portion is the “old” part of the city, but is not really that old – only around 100 years old. The eastern portion did not even exist until 25 years ago. It was rural land and no one wanted to live there. Now, it is the thoroughly modern portion of Shanghai – nothing but skyscrapers. We were lucky to be able to visit on a clear day (at least by Shanghai standards); it wasn’t so smoggy that you couldn’t see the skyline.
The Oriental Pearl Tower is the probably the most familiar landmark on the Pu Dong (east) side of the river. There are multiple other skyscrapers, the tallest of which is the Shanghai Tower at approximately 2000 feet in height.
We stayed on the Pu Xi side (west) side of the river. There are some famous buildings on this side but they are still fairly new – only 100 or so years old. The Bund itself is quite picturesque. There are flowers that line the walkway and many tourists and locals stroll the riverfront. We saw several couples posing for wedding photos (red is the traditional wedding dress color in China). The bull is not a replica of the famous Wall Street bull; it is one of 3 statues that the same artist created. Besides the statue in New York City and the one in Shanghai, there is also one in Amsterdam.
We completed our day by having a lovely dinner with our tour mates at the hotel.
Other than the occasional (rare) temple, Shanghai is a thoroughly modern-feeling city. I was surprised to learn that there are 24.4 million people that live here. Our guide said that there are an additional 4-5 million “floaters” – I guess people that are here on a temporary basis. The city is the financial center of China, as well as its largest port. Actually, it is the largest port in the world. So, if you visit, don’t expect to see much in the way of traditional Chinese architecture. We are looking forward to seeing more of the “real” China as our tour progresses.