I am happy to report that we managed to spend a day here without getting “Shanghaied”! We took a full-day excursion with Shore Excursions Asia (set up by a fellow Cruise Critic member) to see the port city that sits along the Yangtze River (the longest in China). This particular city, though it is on the coast, has no beaches and gets no sunshine. It was extremely hazy on the day we visited, which is the norm. In a city of 25 million, there is bound to be pollution. When the city is in China, it is guaranteed.
Our tour guide today was a very personable young man named David. I somehow doubt that it is his actual name, but it is the name he gave us. He was happy to answer most of our questions rather than sticking to a script which made the day much more enjoyable. He said that the big news of the day was regarding Trump and his trade sanctions regarding aluminum. He told us that normally no one here cares about Trump and what he says and does, but that all of the news in China was focused on him today. He told us that there had been a world-wide stock market negative reaction to the announcement.
Some random information from the group’s random questions:
- Most people here work Monday through Friday but it is becoming more common to also work Saturday, even though you don’t get paid for it
- It is very expensive to live here; housing is quite expensive. However, food is cheaper here than in outlying villages
- Family Mart is the largest convenience store chain. There are also 7-11 stores as well as other chains
- Shanghai is the most westernized city in China
- It has the best metro system that includes 600 miles of track and 18 lines
- The commute time has increased recently from 10-15 minutes to 45-60 minutes because many are moving to the suburbs
- There are not sufficient services to support the population so the government has capped it at 25 million
- Most city families voluntarily limit themselves to one child; it is too expensive to raise more
- Many families don’t want children at all
- The divorce rate is about 30%. This is considerably lower than what we were told by our last tour guide
- Contrary to what we were told by our last guide, ultrasounds to find the sex of a child are allowed here. I am not sure if there are differences between provinces or if we are being given incorrect information
- It is expensive for men to get married. In this culture, the husband most provide a house and pay for the wedding; the bride’s family pays for the car and home furnishings. Many choose not to get married at all
- You can have multiple wives (again, conflicting with what we were told in Xiamen)
- School runs from 7 am to 5 pm
- Students learn to read and write English starting in 3rd grade. However, speaking English is not tested (yet) and so is not taught. Many families pay for on-line tutoring of their children so they learn to speak English as well. Yao Ming owns one of the companies that provides English tutoring.
- As part of schooling, you receive military training in how to stand, walk, and run like soldiers. However, you are not trained to fire weapons. You are also trained to do labor and farm
- The army here is volunteer and has been shrinking in size in recent years
- Chinese people are able to travel anywhere in the world, including North Korea. Our tour leader said that N. Korea is “charming and mysterious”. Indeed.
- It is difficult to get a visa to visit the US
- Trump is not important here (not talked about). Obama had a better reputation in China
- Older people receive a small pension from the government, like Social Security in the US
- Festivals here are about honoring family. Ancestor worship is still practiced
- 99.9% of people are cremated; ashes are interred at graveyards
- There are lots of hybrid cars here. There are 5 million cars in the city; the government is trying to encourage cutting down on auto emissions. The car brand Roewe is manufactured here; they make electric cars
- Scooters here are electric; there are no motorcycles because the government does not support them
- There are no guns here
- Crimes against tourists are taken seriously; crimes against residents not so much
After a half-hour drive we arrived at the Bund (riverside); a popular area for locals and tourists to walk along the river. The area used to have docks; it was a wetland. This particular part of Shanghai was leased to the British for 100 years; it was returned to China 100 years ago. Buildings here are about 80 years old. One thing that we have noticed is that the buildings in the city are quite modern architecturally; most have been built in the last 20-30 years. The places we visited on this tour were more of the older places; what one might expect to see visiting China.
One of the more striking buildings is the Oriental Pearl Tower. I am sure it has a beautiful view on a clear day; unfortunately, one doesn’t really get clear days in Shanghai.
We were given 30 minutes to wander the Bund area before heading to Old Shanghai Town.
Due to the changing river, the city center has moved over time. A city wall was built 400 years ago as protection against pirates. The opium wars of 200 years ago caused China to isolate itself from the rest of the world. There was no trading for many years.
We passed by a park where people were dancing on the corner. David called it square dancing, but I think that is because they were literally dancing on a square rather than participating in the American version of square dancing. David pointed out that we were walking through an impoverished area; no one wants to live here. However, it was nicer than some of the places we have visited recently.
We walked through a busy market on the way to Yu Gardens which means “garden of happiness”. This garden enclosed houses where the very rich lived. There are not many flowers here because people don’t like them. The area is supposed to look like nature. This is the philosophy of Taoism.
The passageways were made of limestone that had been shaped by water running through it. It was very cool. It reminded me of sculpture, but formed by nature, not man.
Along one wall was a dragon with a ball in its mouth. This is a symbol of the emperor; the ball is a precious jewel from heaven. The frog underneath is there to catch dragon saliva.
There were a few magnolia trees in bloom; this is the city flower of Shanghai. We were a bit too early for Sakura (flowering cherry) but will see them when we reach Japan.
The figures on the roof are historical figures. They adorn the opera house and meeting rooms. There was a large koi pond that also had turtles swimming in it. Turtles, koi, crane, and pine are all symbols of longevity.
We were set free to wander the market area for a half-hour. The hawkers here were much more aggressive than other places we visited. None of them wanted to take no for an answer! Our group met up again to walk to the bus. As we walked through the park we noticed a woman dressed in traditional garb. There was a policeman yelling at her in a very loud voice. He was quite angry. We asked David what she had done wrong. Apparently, she was a prostitute and prostitution is illegal here. We also walked past the “square” dancers.
Our next stop was the People’s Square. Of course, this has to do with communism. It is located at the very center of shanghai. On the drive, David pointed out the spire of a church. He called it a “Jesus” church. The only churches here are Catholic though they are not affiliated with Rome; they operate independently under the auspices of the government. There are no other Christian denominations. Just like our last guide told us, Buddhism is practiced here and about 2-3% of the population is Muslim.
People’s Square is near where the largest racecourse in Shanghai used to be. It was shut down by the communist party; aka “liberated”.
Books are sold by weight here! I am not sure how e-books are handled…
There are 360 Starbucks in Shanghai.
I think originally we were supposed to visit the museum but instead we sat and relaxed for a bit. The shape of the museum represents the square earth and round sky. There is a large collection of bronze here. Across the street is the government building. It looks just like you would expect a communist office building to look.
We had a fabulous lunch before heading to the Xintandi area. This part of the city used to be the French sector. As we walked there we passed by the place where the communist party held there first meeting. People were taking pictures outside the building holding their flags. Apparently you are not required to join the communist party in China; about 90,000 are party members. If you join you have to pay a membership fee and attend educational courses every year. David couldn’t give us an answer as to what benefits you receive by being a party member. I wonder if it was because there was a really tall guy that was obviously listening in our conversation; he may not have felt free to respond. He did tell us that it was an honor to join the party…I did look up party membership when we reached dry land (free wifi). In order to join you must have graduated in the top 5% of your university class and have an IQ of over 125 according to the source I read. Perhaps that is why David is not a member!
Our last stop was the obligatory “tour” aka shopping stop. One of the members of our tour group said that it was required that we visit one of these places as part of our tour; I have no idea if she is correct or not. This one was pretty interesting at least; we visited a silk factory and learned of the process of creating silk.
We were given a brief demonstration. She started by showing us two silkworms. The female is the larger of the two. She can lay about 400 eggs at a time. Over a period of two months the worms grow larger and larger before shrinking into a pupa inside a cocoon. The silk is pulled in a single strand from the cocoon.
A single cocoon can provide 1500 m of silk and is easily unwound. The double is thicker and more tender; hence, more difficult to unwind. The quality of each is equal, however.
We moved to another room to watch a machine unwind the cocoons. Dry cocoons are put into hot water ; a claw-shaped brush is used to pull out the thread and find the end. From there, 6-8 cocoons are put together to make a spool of thread (raw silk).
Double cocoons are soaked in cold water. The pupas are still inside. These are removed and used to create cosmetics. Because the thread isn’t easily unwound, instead it is stretched over a frame. When 10 layers have been placed on the frame, the silk mat is removed and placed on a larger framed to be stretched further. From there, the small square of silk is taken to a table to be stretch by 4 workers into a quilt.
Will it surprise you to find that we had the opportunity to purchase these quilts? The silk is hypoallergenic and has hundreds of layers. It takes 8,000 to 9,000 double cocoons to create one. The quilt cost from $150 to $200 depending on weight. Not a horrible price, but then they add the cost of the silk cover on top of that and you are looking at closer to $600. How will you take it home, you ask? They can magically compress it down to practically wafer thin for your packing pleasure. However, it will still weigh quite a bit. I honestly think they would sell more if they offered to ship them for you. I would’ve probably purchased one (minus the overpriced cover) but had not desire to haul it around with us for the next 5 weeks.
While members of our group debated on whether to buy quilts, we headed back to the entry and outside to sit. David caught us and told us we had gone the wrong way – the correct way would have taken us through a huge gift shop. I needed to use the toilet (they had western toilets here!) so went back through. I looked at the items for sale but to me they were grossly overpriced. I saw scarves that looked just like the silk scarves I bought last year for about $3 each in the middle east for sale here for $20 each. There were many items for sale but none of them seemed to be any cheaper than I could find them elsewhere.
That wrapped up our day in Shanghai. We definitely enjoyed our excursion here much more so than in Xiamen. A good tour guide makes such a difference. We have one more port in China – Tianjin. It is close to Beijing but NCL shortened our time in that port to the extent that it would be impossible to get to the city and back in time. At least our lungs will thank us – Beijing is known for its horrible pollution.