WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11, 2009 – 62/82 – SHANGHAI, CHINA
We are up early to see our arrival in Shanghai.Then our day starts with the Chinese fire drill called immigration control. I do not understand why they think anybody would want to stay who did not have to do so! We are supposed to go through the process at 7:00AM but do not get called until 7:45AM. Fortunately, we are in the first group to process due to the perquisites of our suite. After getting our landing card and breakfast, we leave the ship and meet our driver at 8:45AM.
Mr.Hu is from the China Car Service and he informs us that our first stop, the “Water Town” of Zhujiajiao will take an hour to reach. How can that be one asks since it is only 37km or 23 miles! That is known as a foolish question! The traffic is the worst we have ever seen! It is even worse than Cairo! Every street is torn up, there is no courtesy and cooperation between drivers and bicycles and mopeds think nothing of going against traffic.
After about 45 minutes, we have driven about 3km and finally escape from The Bund area and get on an expressway that is packed. At some point, we slow and stop, slow and stop for two kilometers while everybody picks up a toll ticket. There is no sign of any automation of the process. On the return trip, this crawl to pick up the toll ticket took 22 minutes to cover slightly less than two kilometers. Actually, the drive was most interesting even if very slow. The freeway is elevated so we can see the different types of city housing. It runs the gauntlet from low one-story 100 plus year old traditional housing compounds to multi-story, modern, high rise apartment buildings. Some of the buildings are quite stylish; to the point of being ornate! As we get out into the more rural area there are many canals. The open land is either used for ponds for fish farming or vegetable plots and there are scattered small old houses.
Our destination is a village that dates back over 400 years and which is built around canals. As we enter the village, we see new apartment buildings and I wonder about what we will actually see! Mr. Hu parks in the large, but currently empty, car park and guides us though a modern shopping street then through a gate to an area of narrow streets and canals lined with ancient, low-slung buildings. Most of the buildings date from the 19th century. The alleyway streets are lined with small shops with the living quarters either above or behind the shop, and, while now most are tourist oriented, they do give a feel for life as it was lived in the past. It makes one feel like they are definitely in China! Entry for all three of us is 90 Yuan (¥) or $13.50US. We are lucky in our timing as there are virtually no tourists, Chinese or otherwise. The village has the feel of just waking. People are opening the shops and cleaning the sidewalks in preparation for the day’s business. Down the alleys and narrow canals, women are hanging out the wash and washing the morning’s pots in the canal! During our exploration, we take a water taxi, more like a gondola, for a cost of 60¥ or $9US. After the water taxi ride, we get off and continue our explorations.Carolyn buys a silk, hand-embroidery piece from an older woman doing the fine embroidery in one of the shops. Carolyn asks the price and it seems high. Mr. Hu asks if we like the piece and we do, so he gets about 20% off. He acts as our translator and tells us the woman has been doing the embroidery for 30 years. We continue our wandering around the village and over the famous Fangsheng Bridge. It has five arches, a 72-meter span and was first built in 1571. We walk back to the main entrance of the town while enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of this unique place.The car park is now full of tour buses and we are glad we were there early.
Our return to Shanghai is even slower than the trip out. If Houston had traffic this bad, there would be rioting in the streets. At one point, we see four men pushing a truck in the traffic waiting to pick up toll tickets! Our next stop is the Taikang Road Art Center in the French Concession. This is several alleyways of shops, art galleries and cafes set in the part of Shanghai that was settled by foreigners in the early 1900’s. So far, it has resisted the wrecking ball that has hit much of Shanghai.It definitely has a different look and feel about it; much more European.
Next, we ask our driver to take us to the nearest Silk King store. Mr. Hu had been doing very well up until now, but we either have a total breakdown in our communications or he has enjoyed all of us he can stand because he drops us at the Shanghai Museum, gives us his card and tells us to catch a taxi back to the ship. Now, we know where we are and there is even a ship shuttle bus pickup point in the area so we are not concerned and Dick is glad to be back on his own and not dependent on a driver.
Carolyn needs a WC and a very nice museum volunteer, seeing her walking cane, invites us into a staff only area to use the facilities. There is a long line to clear security to get into the museum so we pass on that and wander through the Museum groundsand find the ship's shuttle bus drop. It is in front of a silk store but they do not have what Carolyn wants. One of their staff hails us a taxi and instructs the driver to take us to the Silk King store on East Nanjing Rd. Two kilometers and 15 minutes later, we arrive as directed. The total cost of the cab was 13¥ or $1.95. Not wanting coins back, Dick pays him 15¥. After 45 minutes of shopping with sales ladies falling all over her trying to find the perfect pieces, Carolyn leaves the Silk King store with four pieces of silk and we are 1,100¥ ($165) poorer.
The Silk King is near The Bund and we walk over to the embankment, take some photos, are hustled by several scam artists and finally catch a cab back to the ship (cab costs $2.25US). It is turning colder and is pushing 5:00PM so we are glad to return to the comfort of the ship. Before our 8:30PM sailing, we take photos of the impressive buildings of The Bund and the Pudong District. The Bund is late 19th and early 20th century style architecture lit in a traditional manner while Pudong is 21st Century and lit with multi-colored neon lights; many of which flash, spin and whirl.