Today was our first full day in Shanghai, and we made sure to hit the big sights.
We had a leisurely breakfast at the buffet downstairs (which, sadly, did not stock Ice Fruit is Treasure) before strolling over to Old Town. We took some well-frequented side-streets that were lined with tiny shops. These shops are everywhere – everywhere – in urban China, but it was The Missus‘s first chance to peruse their many wonders, so peruse she did.
We weren’t in Old Town yet, so we kept strolling. We soon came to a park where a number of older Chinese couples were dancing. We stood and watched for a bit. It was very nice. Then I asked The Missus if she wanted to dance.
Of course she did. So we danced.
I had been concerned that a couple of foreigners busting in on what had been an all-Chinese dance party might be one of those things that we ought not do. These concerns were dispelled when, immediately after that dance ended, we began being approached by people who simply insisted that we dance with them. So we did. Even me.
After our authentic and personal local experience that all of you hippies should find very touching, we moved on to the City God Temple.
Like the Big Goose Pagoda from a few days before, the City God Temple is also a functioning Buddhist shrine. This means that it is full of all of the incense.
Inside the shrine there was a monk (or, at least, I believe he was a monk) playing music by the offering desk. I thought that this was a very nice way to draw attention to the offering.
The City God Temple actually housed many statutes of gods and their companions. The City God was housed in a shrine at the far end of the temple, presumably presiding over it. Along the way there were many other gods, including Wen Chang (the god of literature), Lord Guan (god of war) and no fewer than five gods of wealth (three for treasure, dressed in gold, and two for the economy, dressed in what I imagine to be the garb for ancient Chinese accountants).
I should note that the gods had varying levels of popularity. For instance, the gods of economic prosperity were much more popular than the gods of treasure (which surprised me) and the god of literature was more popular than the god of war (which I took as a good sign for international relations). In addition, the gods were depicted with a variety of skin tones and apparent ethnicities. The god of war, for instance, appeared to be Mongolian, whereas the gods of literature and the economy were identifiably Chinese. The gods of treasure had solid gold skin, so obviously some differences were more fanciful than racial. Still, I thought that it was interesting.
After the temple we passed through a commercial square on the way to a nearby teahouse that came highly recommended. We stopped briefly in a department store that featured distressingly enthusiastic mannequins.
Kat ended up buying a Gorilla-brand-knockoff tripod and a new purse-slash-portable-swimming-pool (Kat likes large purses) and The Missus got to try her hand at haggling for a small trinket that I had considered buying for a friend. She was successful, and now one of you will be getting a gift when we get back. It’s probably you, because you deserve it.
It was around this time that I set up my fancy new VPN on my phone and discovered that Jack Layton had died. For my non-Canadian readers, he was the leader of a Canadian political party and was generally well-liked despite the often-divisive role that party leaders must play. All three of us found the news quite upsetting. He will be missed.
Since talking about emotions tends to make me physically uncomfortable, that is the last that you will be hearing about that here.
Turning our attention back to China, we eventually escaped the store and found the teahouse, which really stands out. I mean that literally – it was literally standing out in the water, as it was positioned in the middle of a pond. We had to take the “nine zig-zag bridge” to get there, which was no easy task as each of those zig-zags was absolutely packed with tourists. It occurs to me that being tourists would be a lot easier if we were the only ones.
We went in to the teahouse and ordered three kinds of tea and two small snacks: quail eggs and Japanese green tea cakes. I’m not much of a tea drinker, so I only vaguely recall that two of the teas were said to have jasmine in them and the other was an oolong of some variety, but the teas were good (if you’re into that) and the eggs were excellent.
The tea was all described and made in front of us by our server, who stayed at our table the whole time. She knew a lot about tea. We asked her how long it took to train to be a professional tea brewer, and she told us that it took three or four months. We also asked her why she chose to pursue that path. She said “Economics.”
After the tea we all felt sufficiently refreshed to traverse the other half of the nine zig-zag bridge. It was gruelling, but we made it. We took a photo to commemorate the occasion.
We went from the pond containing the teahouse to Yuyuan garden, adjacent. It is a traditional Chinese garden that has been preserved as a historical site. It was very nice, and was full of ponds, bridges, traditional Chinese buildings and lots and lots of fish.
I had noticed that many of the tourist areas in China generally have nearly as many safety precautions as public venues in North America. On occasion, however, they appear to choose not to when it might impact the historical quality of the site, such as when choosing not to add railings to stone walkways over ponds (railing-less walkway not pictured). This caused me to wonder about the legal liability of Chinese state bodies. I began to wonder about this aloud, and was promptly shut down by my companions.
China is no place to think about legal liability.
After the garden we went an authentic Chinese eatery for lunch. By which I mean McDonald’s.
We’ve been on the lookout for differences in treatment between The Missus and Kat. Kat and I have noticed that we get treated a bit better than the locals by just about everyone, including the locals. Officials are nicer, local people appear to be friendlier, security checkpoints are more cursory and everyone just generally seems very eager to please. The Missus is half Portuguese and half Phillipina, but is commonly perceived as Asian (and, more specifically, South-East Asian) in Canada. The Missus is clearly a foreigner to the locals, so we wondered whether people would treat her like they treat Kat and me (who are visibly, eye-searingly white) or if she was treated differently.
We’ve found that it is a bit of both. Individuals vary between offering deference and impatience. For instance, at the McDonald’s, when Kat went up to the counter she was immediately offered a special menu in English. When The Missus approached, the server stared at her expectantly until The Missus asked for an English menu. What we took away from this is that, although we’re sure that it is obvious that The Missus is not Han Chinese, at least some local people see her as Asian and expect her to speak the local language. This resulted in only a small difference in treatment at the McDonald’s (and usually has very little, if any, effect while I’m standing next to her), but it had more of a visible effect at our next location.
We made our way to the French Concession, which was home to numerous markets and one delectable bakery. Also some birds.
The Missus and Kat went shopping for shoes and pants, respectively. The Missus found a perfect pair of shoes at one little shop. The shopkeeper offered them for ¥150 (about CAD$25). The Missus counter-offered with ¥30, which was at least twice as much as one would usually counter-offer. If one is a tourist, that is. As it happens, The Missus (who went in alone) had actually been offered a fair price, and the shopkeeper was quite insulted by the lowball counter. The Missus was sent packing.
Kat soon found some pants (in size XL), but they required hemming, which would take about two hours. So we wandered around the concession some more, and partook in its many wonders. By which, I mean the bakery.
We looked for other shoes for The Missus, but did not find suitable replacements. Eventually, she swallowed her pride and returned to the shop with the perfect shoes, where we discovered that they are normally offered for ¥300. The Missus‘s apparent non-whiteness had scored her a 50% discount on the asking price. This time she offered up her ¥150 without complaint.
Now, I’m not saying that being a non-Chinese Asian in China is some sort of awesome back door to bargain-basement deals. What I am saying is that, when The Missus isn’t wandering around with her white travel companions, she notices a difference in how people act. We are on the lookout for examples of this behaviour, and I will keep you posted as new examples pop up.
I’ve tried to keep the race stuff pretty breezy, since people get uncomfortable with that talk. Just in case you found it too heavy, however, I offer you this meme-tastic massage parlour for your consideration:
At long last we headed back to the hotel, new shoes and hemmed pants in tow. Being as it was The Missus‘s birthday, Kat had kindly arranged for a fancy evening at The Vue, a bar on top of the Hyatt hotel on the Bund. The ladies got all dolled up for the evening. I, on the other hand, had neglected to bring a nice shirt, so I got to play the role of the slob who’d landed the impossibly attractive lady. You know, the same role I play every day.
We got to the bar and were fairly famished, so we ordered a cheese platter and a mixed tapas plate. They were pretty OK.
It bears noting that we didn’t just have a spot at the bar – we had the spot (kids still say that, right?). It wasn’t a table, it was a bed on the rooftop terrace of the hotel, positioned directly across from the Bund and Shanghai’s famous skyline. It was also pretty OK.
We stayed out ’till midnight. The terrace had a Jacuzzi for patrons to dip their toes in just a few feet away from our extremely-baller bed. Kat took full advantage of it. She tells me that she met two very nice Bavarian boys – I assume that they are in the sausage-packing game. Kat is informing me now that they are doing their Masters’ degrees in Shanghai. I assume in sausage-packing. They take it very seriously.
Anyways, tomorrow we will see more of Shanghai. If you come back here, maybe you will see some of it too.