Our sixteen-hour overnight train ride delivered us safely to the beating heart of China's third largest city, Shanghai. As we stepped out of the train station we were met by our tour guide. His school class had been the first to be able to take the government university entrance examination. He scored well in English due to his grandfather’s, a catholic missionary from before the revolution, efforts to educate him at home. When he graduated, the Party gave him a job as a teacher. He pleaded with the authorities to give him a different job. His father had been a teacher and he did not want to follow in his footsteps. He was assigned to be a tour guide and has been ever since. By far the funniest tour guide we have had, he was actually quasi-critical of the CCP and their policies. This was a welcome change from our previous tour guides.
Our tour day started with a visit to an ancient residence of one of the city’s founding fathers. For his mother's birthday he had a pavilion and artificial mountain built to honor her. At the time of construction, one could climb the 25-foot-high mountain and see the barges floating down the river. It was the tallest building in the entire city. Today, the view is completely obstructed by skyscrapers and apartment buildings.
Our next stop was the Shanghai TV tower on the new Pudong side of the river. Imagine the Space Needle but beefier. From the top we could circumambulate the tower and see a full panorama of the city. This view could have been gorgeous except that a dense smog covered almost everything. Our visibility was about a mile when it should really have been all the way to the ocean.
From the TV tower we had an opportunity to go back to the hotel and clean up before going to a Chinese acrobatics show. The tumblers and contortionist were frightfully good. At one point six chairs were balanced on top of each other like a stair case and six women got on top of them to do simultaneous handstands. I was certain that I was going to see someone die that night. Luckily, everyone made it through in one piece. The show was truly something unique.
The next day was a free day with people all going their separate ways. There are many non-Pacrim students from UPS studying in Shanghai and they were gracious enough to act as tour guides around the city. They took us to the French Concession in the southwest of the city. It is an amazing sight to see. In the middle of a distinctly Chinese city is an entire district built like the street of Paris. We intended to eat dinner in the area but, realizing that a single entree was $50, we decided against it and just got a baguette and some pastries.
I think everyone had a great time in this quickly developing city-of-the-future. It sits in my mind in stark contrast to where we have been already. The flatness of the Gobi is a whole world away from the sky scrapers of Shanghai.
(Pictures coming soon)
(Article by Reed)