Shanghai: The Heart of China

I think, maybe, that first impressions count for something, then again maybe not…but one thing is for sure: I have fallen completely and totally head over heals in love with Shanghai! Thump, thump; thump, thump; thumpety; thump, thump… goes the beating of my heart!

China may be a huge working machine consisting of arms, limbs and lungs and yes, by all means, Beijing may be the capital of China but truly the heart of the country is in Shanghai. The city is vibrant and buzzing with pent-up energy! Like one of those spinning tops you wind up and as you are slowly getting closer to last few twist, you feel the accumulated vigor, then, … whoosh, off it goes and… “Where it stops nobody knows”!

Truly, if Shanghai be the heart, then it’s resting pulse rate, (should you be able to take such a thing) would be over 100 beats per minute; fast, strong, alive and pulsing with ambition! I’ve forever heard that the movers and shakers make their camp in cities like New York, Munich, Milan and, and, and…Well, now I may have had a small glimpse as to why and all I can say is WOW! The city is impressive and in so many ways.

We arrived on Friday the 24th of September, late afternoon, and made our way from the airport: a long, seemed-to-go-on forever winding and spread-out conglomeration of streets, stores, factories, warehouses, houses and apartment buildings, but mainly high-rises and a full hour ride into the city without ever leaving the periphery of Shanghai!

In the distance the famous Pearl Tower and SWFC tower (the latter being the 3rd tallest building in the world and the worlds highest observatory) sits in the distance on the horizon, seemingly never far away. With arms open wide, the city welcomes you into her arms and wraps herself tightly and comfortingly around you. Like the embrace of a “welcome home”! Unexpected from a huge city of 20 plus million people! Is it the sight of the river Bund zig-zagging through the core of the city? Is it the feeling of openness that comes from being a port city? Or the accompanying smell of water that brings all those feelings of hominess? Who’s to know. But I do love the feeling of rightness that comes with the place.

As we wandered the streets from late afternoon into the night, our sense of awe spreading from mild fascination to intense enthrallment… the same, as you would while being catered a five course meal by a world-renowned chef who wants to showcase his talent and creation! He begins with the appetizer, soup, salad, entrée; forever teasing you with luscious little bites, working and building up the excitement towards the crescendo of the evening, the main course! So it is with Shanghai, a feast for the senses: horns honking, boat horns a-going, a festival of lights spread onto tall humongous buildings that are turned into gigantic TV screens and advertisement posters, a show of multi-colored lights of different designs are flashed from skyscraper to skyscraper with upcoming events of all kinds. An ongoing stream of lit, vibrant, multi-hued river cruise boats, (also poster showcase for one company or the next), traffic galore; a gazillion people talking, walking, taking pictures, an “in your face” scream for attention! Overwhelming to say the least but hypnotizing also! The smells too are different from Beijing and seem to crest on a smaller scale but nevertheless very much present: probably due to the constant breeze that accompanies the downstream current of the river!

As you step away from the hubbub of downtown Shanghai and venture into the side streets that certain underlying energy- more subdued but still there- surround you as you walk through the innards of the city far from the core. Fascinating city indeed!

Most mornings find me up at the crack of dawn with the boys still asleep. Computer and glasses in hand I make my way to the lounge downstairs to enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on the mail, Facebook pictures and my journal… It’s my quiet time. We are located a stone’s throw away from the River Bund, actually across the street (thank God for and the sight that greats me every morning is heartwarming. The hustle and bustle begins at 5am with a plethora of people walking, jogging, and running along its shore or casually taking a stroll in their pajamas for the morning business of their dogs! There is time and space for Tai Chi, and from what I hear every morning, at precisely the same time. I have yet to see what must be some sort of group doing exercises with what sounds like the pace of military training… the commands and shouts of acquiescent that sounds like Hou-Ha (think American army movies here…lol).

Even today I witnessed a most fascinating thing: this older gentleman, dressed in his pajamas came up the stairs onto the walkway that makes it’s way along the river and began playing an imaginary game of air tennis (racket and no opponent) but with all the back and forth movements you would find during a real game! On and on he went quite intent on the game he was playing! Then just a little while later, the game of tennis still going on, (and I still can’t quite figure out who is winning) someone else quietly untangles a thick ball of thread and just like that, a medium size kite is in the air, flying in all of it’s glory with the greatest city skyline for its background! This entire production all taking place before or around 6am… surely as a way to beat the crowds that are sure to follow come 9 am. Like I said, fascinating city indeed!

Having made it all the way to Shanghai, a trip to the Expo is a must. We reserve a full day and decide to wait out the weekend as we have been told the crowds are like nothing we have seen before and weekends are just that much worse! Just to put things into perspective we did some quick math… Here is the picture: 190 participating countries in an area of 5.28 square meters, the duration of the event is 6 months… They expect 90 million visitors during that period (broad assessment). That adds up to 500,000 thousand visitors per day, everyday for the next 6 months… another way of look at it is imagining the whole population of Quebec City, then squeezing it into 5.28 square kilometers, every single day for the next 6 months. Talk about wall-to-wall people! UNBELIEVABLE! Of course we were not disappointed even for a Monday morning: crowds galore!

We did a marathon of nearly 12 hours of strolling around and still did not manage to see everything. The waiting line, for the more popular pavilion, was up to 9 hours each! And some you could not even cue as a VIP pass was required. Refusing to stand in line for 4 to 9 hours per, we resolved our lack of time dilemma by concentrating on the lesser-known pavilion, some of which were still quite spectacular nevertheless. One exception to the rule was broken and that, for the Canadian Pavilion: Proudly in line did we stand, heads held up high humming along the National Anthem, (Yes! Really, all 3 of us singing along. Can’t you just picture it?) displaying the purchase of our Canadian flag sewn on our backpacks and grinning like fools; Go Canada! The boys actually convinced me to make a stop at the “Canadian” restaurant and buy a “poutine”!!! Have no fear the Quebecois style poutines reputation is intact! A tad different due to the lack of cheese curds and it did cost like 14 bucks for 2 small poutines (that’s usually the budget we spend on food for a whole day) but what the hey! They were happy campers. After nearly 12 hours we had our filled and finally returned “home” to quickly pass out from exhaustion! A day well spent all the same!

It would be remiss on my part not to mention how the space, in such a crowded environment, was found to accomplish such a feat. Keep in mind that the location of the Expo makes its way along both sides of the River Bund, a 15-min. cab ride from where we are- so very close to what is considered downtown! That the duration of the event is a mere 6 months and that near 20 million people live in Shanghai and the greater Shanghai area…which really is just one long unending city. Altogether, a neighborhood consisting of 18,000 families, 270 factories (where 10,000 workers had gainful employment) was destroyed to make room and the people were “displaced and re-educated” (the governments terminology) and moved to high rises, spread out every which way and loosing their community. We heard the same thing happened for the building of the Birds Nest and other areas for the construction site of the Olympic where 10,000 people were moved and re-educated! The Hutongs (remember…small communal alley ways that have become the peoples “living space”) was destroyed, with not a word to say, and whole neighborhoods were re-located into “better” and “bigger” places. There is always two sides to every story and I should not neglect to say that though the community at large was unhappy, many others welcomed the move to more current and up-to-date locations with running water and the likes! Such is life in Communist China!

Before leaving Shanghai there was just one more thing we wanted to try. We read in the Times Magazine about “Ten to do while in Shanghai “. Most of them we covered: climbing to the top of the CWFC tower, the 3rd highest in the world and the world’s highest observatory, strolling along the Bund River, visit the Shanghai museum etc etc etc… but the one that caught our attention was number 6: To get a green massage: I must point out at this juncture that my love of getting massages has unwittingly created an unexpected result: My oh my, we have created a monster in the name of Miguel. Son number two has developed a fondness for massages that are unparalleled even to my own. Every other day is “ can we get a massage hey mom? Can we?”

Now keep in mind that for 60Yuan (less then 10.00$) you can get a full hour body massage or a good 45-minute session of reflexology for half that price! Green massage is a Traditional Chinese acupressure session and since it had been recommended in the Times Magazine we decided to go check it out. Upon arrival, this huge swinging door that brings you inside first greets you. Once in, a dimmed atmosphere of candles, running water down a long brick wall into a little canal where flowers are floating to the rhythm of the waterfall, soft music prevails and you automatically breathe a sigh of relief…ahhhhh, peace your body seems to say! The attendants are many and at your elbow the minute you walk in with tea and offers of assistance. They then escort you to change into these luxurious silk pajamas and direct you into this spacious but peaceful room where individual beds line up each sides. The mood is quiet and the atmosphere calming; a five by eight foot Chinese type lantern/lamp in subdued white hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the room acting like a divider separating both sides. I feel like a princess at this point…and so do the boys as they have accompanied me step by step. Water is offered to drink and then you are directed to sit and soak your feet in a concoction of tealeaves and medicinal herbs water filled basin that is all ready for you. Ahhhh the session begins! I think it is the most sinful, exquisite and decadent two hour I have ever spent!!!! The boys concur!

I still do not know where the time of two hours went but it was over before I knew it: two hours of cleaning, rubbing, kneading oil and cream into worn out feet, moving on to the back and tired shoulders with manipulations and massages that sometimes felt like caresses but managing still to take away the stress and tightness of the muscles…All of this for the amazing price of 500Yuan (app. 80$, so 27$ dollars each) the three of us were treated like king and queen to a combination of green massage (one hour), reflexology (45 minutes) and 15 minutes of God knows what. Of course the latter requires some explanation and as tendency would have it, Miguel seems to be the recipient of “interesting” moments to live since the trip has begun! I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the “add-on” we decided to tag onto our already amazing package but it was suppose to remove “accumulated toxins” from the body… Another typical Chinese treatment along the same line as “cupping”! So why not! With tool in hand they proceeded to scrape our backs, not quite unlike a back scratch but more intense and near uncomfortable! It was not the most pleasant of experience but none the worse for wear we still wondered what the purpose had been (other than removal of toxins!) The next morning as Miguel is splayed out on the bed the covers fall and his back is exposed! OMG! Bruised all over and tender to the touch… Stefan and I both had something like that but not to same the extent! It looked raw and painful. Of course we took pictures and will certainly remember never to have that treatment again, nevertheless it is one experience we will never forget! The only good we’ve been able to deduce from that little experience is for Miguel; in that he got out of carrying the daypack for the next couple of days! LOL …need to keep an optimistic look on things!

That about brings our Shanghai moment to an end. We left in style and made our way to the airport in the Maglev train. Unbeknownst to me, until now, the maglev is a system of transportation that uses electro magnetic field to propel vehicles, usually trains at great speeds. It took us an hour to make our way to the city center by taxi, upon arrival. Traveling at speeds upward to 405 kilometers our return trip was made in less than 7minutes… Amazing! Leaving Shanghai on a high!!!

Next stop…Katmandu, Nepal…




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