So, I guess today was the start of the tour proper, but we did get off to a flying start with yesterday’s extra excursion!
Charlie turned up bang on time (9am) and we headed off for Shanghai Central - again! Naturally, we spent a long time on the coach, but we just accepted that as part of the deal - cheap tour, a long way out of town - too bad! That said, the hotel is fantastic and definitely 4-5 star, so we’ll take that!
Our first stop was at The Bund, where Charlie wanted to show off the architecture, particularly of the colonial era, by way of contrast to the bright lights we saw last night. The buildings have been beautifully maintained, although their purposes have been changed over the years. With the advent of the openness that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, the City Hall and other, more traditional businesses were moved out and The Bund has become more of a financial district. This is emphasised in a rather unsubtle manner by the installation of a copy of the famous Bull of Wall Street in the middle of The Bund. The views across the river to the new districts of East Shanghai, with their amazing towers, are just as spectacular as the night views from yesterday.
Our next stop turned out to be our first “shopping opportunity”, albeit with a very interesting front story. We were taken to a government silk factory and were given a very comprehensive summary of everything from the life cycle of a silk worm to how the silk is graded and processed into clothes, doonas and a range of other products. Naturally, the sales pitch followed but, surprisingly, we were not pressured to buy - although we did! it was actually a very interesting visit.
The same could not really be said of the next place. After a good, although not exceptional, lunch at a shopping centre restaurant, we were taken into a embroidery gallery. Here we were treated to a detailed explanation of the history and skill of Chinese embroiderers, along with a demonstration by an artisan at work. We were then invited to peruse the gallery, take whatever pictures we wanted and buy what took our fancy. All of that was fine and expected, but we were dogged every step around the gallery with offers of discounts, requests for “what you like to pay” and not left in peace to admire and make our own decision. We know this is the way in much of Asia, but the constant badgering got to us and, as a result, we bought nothing. We do have some lovely pictures, though!
In the afternoon we returned to tourist mode. We spent an hour, which was scarcely enough, exploring the Shanghai Museum. Exploring is a bit too cultured a word for what we did - a Philistine run through is more like it! We could easily have spent a day here, but we did see enough to get a sense of the ancient nature of the various races that comprise modern China. For example, we saw beautifully carved Jade dating back 12,000 years and pottery from over 8,000 years ago. A stark reminder of how far and how rapidly China has modernised was seeing the various traditional outfits that were in common use as late as the 1960s and 1970s.
Our final stop before dinner was famous Nanjing Road. We have no idea what this road was like when it was first opened to Western tourists, but now it is just like many other high end shopping streets in the world - think 5th Avenue or Oxford Street. We wandered up and down, admired the attractive buildings and kept our money in our wallet.
We walked to a restaurant for dinner and observed a grittier side of Shanghai. Again, like many cities, the glittering facade hides a more prosaic reality of grimy streets and some decay. That is not a judgement, just an observation, so that we do not get too carried away with the shiny bits.
Dinner was pretty good, perhaps the best meal yet,and then we settled down to enjoy the last activity for the day - an acrobatics show. Some aspects of the show went over our heads as there seemed to be a story woven through the action that would have held more meaning for the locals in the audience. Nevertheless, the physical displays of trapeze, tumbling dance and balance were excellent. The show finished with an act that would be familiar to fairground goers in England in the 1960s - the motor bike wall of death. The differences were that it was done in a sphere with up to seven motor bikes zooming around in a very tightly choreographed show. Quite the spectacular finish!
So ended the first phase of our Odyssey to China. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Shanghai and are now looking forward to our long trip to the Yangtze River. Time to pack!