Better City Better Life

Travel Update: Shanghai, Day 3

Today we met with Kat’s cousin Iris, who has been in China for the last 11 months as part of her position in a hotel management training program. We had arranged to meet her at a metro stop, which proved to be challenging because we (a) slept in and (b) had not used the Shanghai metro before.

We arrived about 15 minutes late, but managed to find Iris despite our tardiness. She took us through a stroll in the park, where we saw a roller-coaster ride and an art museum celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pixar.

Dragon Roller Coaster
The roller coaster was shaped like a dragon, because we were in China.
Pixar Sparring
In front of the museum there were two men sparring. Because we were in China.

We made our way to an urban planning exhibition in a large building at the edge of a park. This one-upped the city pride of the exhibits of the previous day by about 1000%.

Golden City
The first floor was devoted to this not-at-all-altar-like golden likeness of the city.

The exhibit was spread out over five floors, each focusing on a different aspect of Shanghai’s awesomeness. The second floor (and first level of exhibits) presented a history of Shanghai, focusing on the Bund. As you may recall, the Bund is the old district of Western architecture in which we are staying.

The exhibit was odd in that it focused almost exclusively on the history of Western influence in Shanghai. Although there were a few pictures and signs of historic Chinese districts, the majority of the exhibit conveyed the view that Shanghai’s history began when the West arrived. The informational plates spoke adoringly of the old Western banks along the Bund, along with the wealth and power that they brought. They bemoaned the removal of statues of historical Western figures. They even came close to being disparaging of Party policy when they talked about how the government ordered the banks out of Shanghai for a couple of decades.

I guess I was expecting a chillier reception of the colonial oppressors. At any rate, we continued on to the upper floors, which featured Shanghai’s urban development plans for 2000-2015.

It is at this point that I should note that Shanghai is a very strange city. Not strange in a bad way, necessarily. Just different from any city that I have ever been to. I’ve noted that it appears to be more Western than Chinese in many respects (indeed, Iris does not consider it part of China). It could be said that Shanghai is also more Western than the West. It’s bigger. It’s cleaner. It’s faster. Shanghai’s motto is “Better City, Better Life.” This slogan can be found everywhere in the city, and it is said with conviction.

Illuminated City Model
Every illuminated building did not exist at the time the exhibit opened in 2000.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the upper floors featured a 360º projection theatre devoted to Shanghai’s improved road system. And an exhibit touting the half-million square metres of sewage treatment plant that were being created to handle the city’s waste. And a large area proclaiming the wonders of the new deep water port. In most cities, these developments would be invisible, but in Shanghai they are a matter of considerable public pride. After all, in order to be The Best City Of All Time (Of All Time), one must have the best sewage treatment system. Of All Time. This is Shanghai’s goal, and they are not shy about letting people know about it.

Thoroughly impressed, and only slightly terrified, we decided to break for lunch. We could not find any Chinese restaurants in the vicinity of the exhibits, so we went to a Japanese restaurant nearby. It did not serve sushi. Coming from Vancouver, this was baffling to me, but upon further reflection I suppose it makes sense. I ended up ordering a teppan dish, which consists of rice, raw meat and toppings served in a very hot dish. You mix the food up and the dish cooks it right in front of you. The closest thing I’ve had is teppanyaki (which I imagine is a related culinary style), but this mode of presentation didn’t require a chef to stand in front of me.

Shanghai Day 3 Lunch
Take-away point: We ordered a lot of stuff.

By this point it was raining and all four of us had sore feet, so we ditched our plans to ride a boat down the Huangpu River and headed back to the hotel instead. The ladies then elected to go for massages. I entrusted Kat and The Missus to Iris’ care (she is, after all, a comparative expert on all things China) and stayed in to spend some quality time with my laptop. By which I mean blogging. Get your mind out of the gutter.

The ladies came back from their trip flushed with freshly-massaged bodies and interesting stories. The one that sticks out most in my mind is a conversation that they had with a masseuse about cousins. The masseuse had asked whether Kat and Iris were sisters. Kat replied that they are cousins. The masseuse found the distinction between sisters and cousins confusing – to her, Kat and Iris were sisters. Iris explained that, in China, having biological sisters or cousins is quite rare, due to the One Child Policy. After all, not only do most urban people have no siblings, but their parents have no siblings either. Thus, apparently it is common to consider anyone who is even vaguely related to you to be a “sister”. Unless they’re a dude, I suppose. You can probably figure out how that case works on your own.

Kat and Iris got traditional Chinese accupressure massages. Kat followed up with a foot massage for an extra hour. She tells me that it was worth it. The Missus got a head and shoulders massage, which she tells me is the Best Thing Ever for a stressed graduate student.

Ladies at the Massage
Is it OK to call a woman “glowing” if she is not pregnant?

They also stopped by a bookstore on their trip. The Missus bought three books and Kat bought a Moleskine notebook. They spent roughly the same amount of money. I feel that it is worth stating that Moleskine notebooks are sold blank, whereas the three books The Missus bought actually came pre-loaded with words.

At this point Iris headed home and we headed out to dinner. Feeling hungry for some local cuisine, we walked a few blocks until we found a Chinese restaurant. The Missus had been craving dim sum, so she ordered some of that, whereas Kat and I ordered broth-based dishes. We found it fairly enjoyable.

Shanghai Day 3 Dinner
Home cooking is always nice, even if it’s someone else’s home.

Having had a comparatively quiet day, we went back to the hotel and got some sleep.

We’ll need it, because tomorrow we travel to Beijing.