It has been a long and exciting two weeks. October 1st was China’s National Holiday, the day that the New China was established (kind of like Yom Ha’atzmaut for Israel). So in honor of Mao and his vision for this country, everyone in China gets a week off. Knowing that I was going to have a week off in October my parents made plans to come and visit me. The plan was to meet them in Shanghai, fly to Beijing, and then spend some time in Qinhuangdao.
So far, not one traveling experience has gone smoothly for me during my time in China and that includes this trip. I was to meet my parents at the Shanghai airport but apparently there are two airports in Shanghai, one for domestic flights and one for international flights. The day before I was about to leave for Shanghai I realized that we were flying into different airport.
The plan was to meet my parents as they came out of customs. My parents were already on the flight to China when I realized that we were flying into different airports so I couldn’t even get in touch with them to tell them I would probably be late. Also, in order for me to get to the airport on time (in Tianjin), I had to take a 4 hour train ride that left at 4:30 am. The train was packed. It was so crowded because everyone was heading home to see their families for the upcoming week off. Picture those trains in India that are packed to the gills where people are sitting on the roof of the train just to have a place to sit. My train ride felt similar to that. I was stressed the whole time I was traveling but in the end everything worked out and I made it to Shanghai and was able to meet up with my parents.
In Shanghai we stayed in this beautiful hotel called the Astor House Hotel. Since its construction in the late 19th century, it was the hotel to stay at in Shanghai. Even some famous people stayed there like Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin. While it is no longer the fanciest hotel in the city, it was recently renovated and we had a gorgeous room that was far too big for us to know what to do with it. What was really funny was that instead of a solid wall between the bathroom and the living area, there was a big glass window. So you could see into the bathroom. Initially my mom freaked out because she didn’t know that there was a shade that came down and she thought that everyone would see her when she took a shower. But she soon found the button for the shade and everything was saved.
That first night in Shanghai I spent some time walking around with my parents for a bit before they went to bed early (due to jet lag) after which I met up with a friend of mine from UMD, Becca Siegel. She is also teaching English in China, but in Shanghai. We went out for pizza and it was good. It was the first piece of pizza/western style food I had eaten in three months. We ate at this hostel with the most amazing view of the city skyline. I’d recommend the place for the view alone.
On our first full day together, my parents and I spent the day walking around the city. There was so much to see. We worked our way up from the river (Shanghai is split in two by the Yangtze River) along Nanjing Road (the commercial center, think Times Square) all the way up to People’s Park. The park was beautiful with a lot of green everywhere. From the trees to the bushes and plants everything was arranged in a beautiful fashion and kept meticulously. There was even a very cool art exhibit in the park with some very interesting sculptures.
As we were leaving the park, it began to rain. Luckily right next to the park, was the Shanghai Museum. So we ran in there for cover.
By chance we had heard that the World’s Fair was taking place in Shanghai so that night we made our way to the Shanghai Expo (what the everyone was calling the World’s Fair). As we got to the Expo and headed to the ticket counter, these kids came running up to us to try to scalp us some tickets. Of course my dad was interested (as he is always looking for a great deal), but as we were about to approach the kids a cop came out of nowhere and grabbed the kid by the collar. We were not sure what happened to the kids but good thing we didn’t buy those tickets, because who knows what might have happened.
The Expo is made up of different pavilions/buildings each representing a different country or group of countries. Each pavilion showcases that particular place. There were pavilions from almost every country. It was pretty amazing. We made a smart decision to go at night. I had heard from some of my students who had gone that they waited 5 hours just to get into one pavilion. By going at night we missed all the crowds. For the most part we were able to go straight into any pavilion we wanted. Some of them were really well done while others weren’t. I think the best ones we went to were Brazil, USA, and Italy.
The largest pavilion of them all was of course the Chinese pavilion. The architecture alone was impressive to look at.
We were not allowed to go into the Chinese pavilion because apparently you needed to get special tickets in advance and they were all given out in the morning. What we found to be the funniest part about the Expo was that we saw three countries put together in a row: Lebanon, Iran, and North Korea. It was like the three countries with the worst human rights violations in the world clustered together. I think that they were placed in the back corner of the park so no one would really see them, but who knows.
On our second day, we went on a Jewish tour of Shanghai. Apparently there is a very rich Jewish history of Shanghai. There were three main waves of Jews that came to Shanghai. First were the Iraqi Jews, many of whom were responsible for building the original buildings of Shanghai. The second wave were Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms and the third were European Jews fleeing the Nazis. We went to some of the places they settled in while living in Shanghai. The tour was very well done and we learned a lot.
Later that day we went to get some lunch, which turned out to be harder than I expected. Although I had been ordering food for the past couple of months I always had friends with me who could help me with my Chinese or I could point to what I wanted, but since my Chinese is super basic I was unable to order anything off the menu. Finally were able to get some noodle dish (without meat), and having lived in China for three months already, I had become pretty proficient with chopsticks, but my parents weren’t. My dad could barely pick up a pair of chopsticks without breaking into a nervous cold sweat. Luckily I reminded my parents to bring plastic forks with them before they came, but more often than not, we forgot to bring the forks with us on our days out and about. Don’t worry, no one starved.
On our final day in Shanghai we went to the other side of the Yangtze River, which is called Pudong. This is where all the sky scrappers are. It is the financial district of Shanghai. It was just impressive to walk among these gigantic buildings. Inside the Pearl Tower (the building that looks like a tripod with a two big balls on it), there is this great museum called the Bund Museum. It gave us a great history about the city of Shanghai and I recommend it to anyone who goes to Shanghai. We also went to the top of some of biggest skyscrapers. There was no need to pay to go up to the observation decks. The guidebooks my dad brought directed us to the two hotels that occupy the top floors and we just looked out their lobby windows. The view was amazing.
As we were about the leave, the city was getting more and more crowded. We arrived on Sept. 27th and were leaving on the 30th the day before National Holiday and the beginning to a week when a country of a billion and a half people were about to take off from work all at once. So we knew that any place we visited in the next couple of days would be overwhelmed with people.
Overall Shanghai was a lot of fun. Next stop, Beijing.