Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
59Trip End Apr 30, 2007
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Monday, March 5
We arrived in Shanghai last night. The pier is not glamourous, but we have a great view of the city from the ship. Here's the view from our balcony:
Unusual for a port, we have to sleep with our blackout curtains closed. There is light outside our stateroom all night long. We don't hear the construction noise, even during the day, because we're just a little far away, but we can see it going all day long.
Excursion 1: Ancient Water Town of Zhujiajiao-Shanghai's Venice
6 ½ hours, $75 each
This was a fabulous tour-fascinating subject and an informative, pleasant, and understandable guide. This was such a big adventure that I'm putting the story into chapters.
It is cold as blazes (to mix a metaphor) in Shanghai. This morning when we left the ship it was in the 30's (Fahrenheit) and it stayed below 50 all day, with a steady wind.
The cruise info said the temperatures for this segment (Singapore through Hong Kong) would average lows in the 60's and highs in the 70's. This segment has included the heat-stroke cities of KK and Manila, so the average is still correct, but Shanghai must be pulling the average down to 70.
This is, we found out later, unseasonable weather; our guide said it should have been around 70. However, if you look at the map, Shanghai is way north. If I'd checked weather.com before we left home, I might have packed for this eventuality and we would have been able to feel our hands and feet during the tour.
First, let's discuss the bathrooms. The most interesting so far! The first bathroom stop was as we left the bus, going into the town. You had to pay (the guide did that) and there were 3 stalls in the ladies' room. One stall had a toilet but no seat, just the bowl. The other 2 stalls had holes in the floor-ceramic bowls flush with the floor so you had to squat to use them. They did flush. There was no tissue. I didn't get a photo because I forgot to take the camera. The other ladies waited for the regular stall, but I used the floor because I wanted the authentic Shanghai experience. I did get a picture of a similar bathroom on day 2, so here it is.
I was the only woman on either of our tours who used this kind of toilet. I think the other women haven't been practicing squatting for the past few years like I have; also, maybe they did not have years of practice as little girls peeing between the open front and rear car doors by the side of the road on car trips back and forth between Baltimore and Lynchburg.
Here's the bathroom in the restaurant where we had lunch-it's clean, "western" but still no tissue.
The bus ride to and from Shanghai took about an hour each way. We had previously decided that long bus rides to reach tours is always a bad idea, but the tour concierge on the ship convinced us that this tour was worth a long bus ride. It was described as 1 ½ hours each way, but this was the end of China's Spring Festival so traffic was very light, especially in Shanghai.
Here we are, obviously cold, and wearing jackets that were gifts from Regent at the beginning of this segment.
Our tour guide (here she is)
I believe she was lying when she told us that Shanghai imports fruits and vegetables from Taiwan to help the Taiwanese people, who need the trade. Her voice changed when she told us that. And as far as I could tell, that was the only lie she told. She had a terrible habit of saying: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please look out the (right or left) hand side and ....' By this time, whatever she wanted to point was long gone from sight.
On this view from the bus window
The expressway into and out of Shanghai is called a viaduct or, sometimes, the elevated road. This interchange looks like the High Five in Dallas.
During rush hour only vehicles with license plates issued by the City of Shanghai are supposed to drive on this road. The penalty, if caught, is $200 US. You have to buy a Shanghai license plate at auction-only a limited number are offered each year. The usual cost is $5000, a one-time fee much like a New York taxi medallion. The license plate can be inherited from generation to generation. There is a minimal or no cost for a license plate from the surrounding towns and cities. In Shanghai you must pay an annual license fee of $500 US.
As we re-enter Shanghai, the white building you see is the concert hall.
When the expressway was built several years ago, the concert hall was moved 66 meters because it was in the path of the expressway. It took 6 months to move; a series of cranes working simultaneously lifted it 3 meters above the ground and inched it along. This took six months. The reason they moved it is because it's acoustics are exceptional, and creating great acoustics is apparently like making a Stradivarius-it's a matter of art more than science, and no one really knows what the acoustics will be until the building is complete, at which point you can't do much to change it.
During the bus ride on the way to the tour, I felt, for the first time since we began the cruise, a feeling of excitement about the day. That feeling is staying with me, so something has finally clicked or released.
Lunch was the highlight of this tour, so we're going to discuss that next, even though it was the last event of this tour. The restaurant, Majia Garden, is the most beautiful garden restaurant in Zhujiajiao. All 61 of us (two tour-bus loads) who were on the tour ate together, 10 to a table (the Chinese good-luck number). In the center of each table was a lazy Susan. At each place setting were a bread plate, a small soup bowl, a Chinese soup spoon, chopsticks, gold-colored fork, a tea cup, and a beer glass. There were cocktail napkins stacked on the lazy Susan. As the lazy Susan turned, we each took a small portion of whatever was in front of us. Our plates were soon filled remnants of tasted but unfinished food, so the waitresses changed them for clean plates periodically.
A pot of green tea was on the table all during lunch. At first we used the heat from our filled cups to thaw our hands. The waitresses poured Chinese beer throughout lunch. I had a taste and it was good and like a light beer.
Once they started bringing food, it never stopped. The first 9 dishes were small amounts, so these were appetizers, obviously. We didn't figure that out until we were already full. Later dishes were much larger, with 10 full portions on each platter.
Here's what we got:
1. Salted ham (pretty good)
2. Lunchmeat style ham in a gelatinous base (I liked it)
3. Orange-colored tiny sandwich wraps (everyone liked them, no clue what was inside)
4. Fresh cucumber pickles (I really liked them)
5. Raw shitake mushroom and lettuce salad (allergic, didn't eat it)
6. Raw green salad, looked like Tabouli but wasn't (I didn't like)
7. Breaded chicken strips (allergic)
8. Steamed sliced chicken thigh (allergic)
9. Some kind of dipping sauce, no idea what for
10. Pigs legs & feet (good, in traditional leaf wrapping)
11. Pork ribs (fatty)
12. Crabs (very good)
13. Shrimp (with pineapple, our favorite)
14. Whole fried fish (good, presented with head and tail, like restaurant on Beltline)
15. Jellyfish (good, served marinated at room temp, with celery)
16. Pig tendons (nasty, gummy things, thought to be a health food by the Chinese)
17. Cooked oysters (good, with a topping)
18. Frogs (good, cooked in a sauce, just chopped in half, you could see all the little bones)
19. spring rolls (might have been chicken, I didn't try)
20. Mushroom soup
21. Cooked bamboo shoots in a sauce (good)
22. Sweet dumpling soup (I didn't like it although I really tried to)
23. Fresh peeled pears (excellent)
Replacement batteries (more on this later) were giving out, so I only have one picture of our table. Look how fancy the chairs are.
Frogs in the market look like our lunch dish except ours were cooked.
Here you can see how they prepare the pigs' feet, stuffing a leaf and tying it before cooking in a sweet sauce. There were dozens of shops offering this.
We were served the ones on the left of this picture-the right tub looks like a ham hock, prepared the same way.
Before bathrooms and lunch, we started the tour by walking from the parking area to the shopping section of town. Here's what the town looks like just before you enter the "old section".
We walked through the open-front shops and we all wanted to stop and shop, but our guide kept moving us along. There were cookie shops, prepared food shops, jewelry, junky souvenirs, traditional musical instruments, hand-embroidered pictures, and faux-Pashmina shawls (starting price $20 US). Our TV guide told us to start bargaining at 25% of the asking price and end up in the middle. Since our guide didn't let us stop, I don't know how that would have worked out.
By this time our camera batteries had died. There was a short blaming session as I asked (again) if we couldn't have a spare rechargeable battery, at which point John again pointed out that we can use non-rechargeable batteries in an emergency, at which point I said we didn't bring any...shortly after this, we passed an open-air battery store, and we paid $5 for 2 batteries that lasted almost til we got back to the ship. We could have bargained to get the batteries for probably $2 US, but our guide was waiting for no man, so I was keeping the guide in sight as John was getting batteries, so bargaining was the least of our problems at that point!
We saw a bit of everyday life in this land that time forgot.
Daqingyouju, a post office in the Qing Dynasty, was another highlight of the fabulous tour. This is the actual building, not a reconstruction. You can see the original post box, which is still in use, although the post office itself is not functional.
We arrived at the post office via a gondola ride through the town.
We toured a small classical garden within the town.
Lions precede entrances throughout China. The female lion is always on the left facing the entry, and the male is always on the right. The male has a ball under his foot and the female a baby. The saying in China is that the man can only play; the woman takes care of the children. It was funny when the guide said it.
Last, we visited a small rice museum. It, like everything on this tour, was well worth the visit.
Notes on Life in Shanghai.
Until 10 years ago, each family was limited to having one child. Today the Population Control allows up to two children.
In the country the farming communities are all collectives. Each farmer is also given a small plot of land to use for themselves; they can sell excess produce from their personal plot in the market. At the end of the season, the collective sells the produce (rice, vegetables, fruits) and distributes the proceeds to the members of the community.
No one in China can own land. You are given the right to build a house (if in the country) or apartment, and you own the building but not the land.
When you buy a new apartment in Shanghai, you buy ownership for only 70 years. Private ownership of new apartments has only been possible in the past 15 years, so there is now some discussion planned for next year to change that, since owners are starting to feel anxious about that limitation. Modern apartments in Shanghai cost $300,000 US for a modest 2 or 3 bedroom unit and cannot be afforded by the regular working class; they are for wealthy people. The regular working class (like our guide) could buy an apartment outside of town in 2002 for $50,000 US, but it has appreciated to $150,000 US today. These people are not poor; Shanghai has a relatively high standard of living.
All of the buildings higher than three stories have been built in the past 10-15 years. Construction runs 24/7 on new buildings. The character of the city is obviously very different in recent years, creating a huge difference in lifestyle between young and old generations. The older generations still live in the low-rise apartments without plumbing in the individual apartments, and with charcoal heat and cooking.
There were clothes hanging from bamboo or metal poles everywhere we went: Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, collectives in the countryside. Many families have washing machines, but no one has a dryer. So clothes are always hanging from the windows. Many times the clothes are threaded onto the bamboo poles, e.g. the pole runs through the sleeves of a garment, so no clothespins are needed. Other times there are wooden clothespins, and in a few instances there were fat poles and huge plastic clothespins that fit specially on those fat poles.
The air is polluted in Shanghai. My contacts burned the whole time, even inside our stateroom. The air was always hazy, as you can see from our pictures. It was just like in Los Angeles-the locals proclaimed it a beautiful, clear day and said how lucky we were, and it was just as hazy as it could possibly be!
Monday, March 5, 6:30pm-9:30pm
Chinese Acrobatic Show (ERA)
Free for all guests
This show was a gift from Regent for all guests. We were split into two groups, one on Monday evening and the second on Tuesday evening. There were 275 of us the first night and 240 on the second.
Big buses took us to the performance hall, an arena that normally seats 2500. We had a tour guide even on this ride, which was only about 20 minutes. This guide had a sing-song inflection which was very entertaining-his voice would rise and fall regardless of the content-but his English was more than adequate.
Regent's block of seats was in the first balcony, center-great seats. We happened to get 3rd row, making our seats some of the best.
Because the performance ran during dinner hour, the Compass Rose restaurant opened an hour early, at 5pm. Although we felt like we were having the Early Bird Special, we ate a full dinner.
The performance ran from 7:30pm until 9:15pm, with one 10 minute intermission. The intermission was exactly 10 minutes, too-they projected a clock running backwards onto the curtain. John left for a smoke, and came back to the section next to ours. When he didn't see all of us in our row waving at him, we called his name across the theater (in a "pass-it-along" mode, since we couldn't shout that loud), at which point he couldn't have missed us if he'd tried! The lights went out before he made it to his seat, so everyone on the row held his hand and moved him along, kind of like his own personal Angel Wash.
The performance was similar to a Cirque du Soleil. It was worth staying up late for, so you know how good it was. There was a live mini-orchestra and a live female vocalist. The music was similar to Cirque du Soleil for us because we couldn't understand any of the words, except for one song which was in English.
There was everything you'd expect: a strongman; those rubber-jointed acrobats who contorted into different beautiful shapes; trapeze artists on ropes and swings; trapeze artists on those huge silk scarves that hang from ceiling to floor; gymnasts who were bounced off seesaws into people-pyramids; giant trampolinists and trampolinists who bounced on a long bamboo pole; and the finale, 10 motorcyclists, all going around in a small metal spherical cage.
On our ride home we saw the Bund lit up, and it was breathtaking. The Bund is Shanghai's waterfront boulevard, like Chicago's. In the 1920s the Bund was the city's foreign street and the architecture is from that wealthy period. Since the revolution in 1949, the foreigners have been displaced by government offices, but the building fronts are being preserved and the government has highlighted the area as a major tourist attraction.
Although he did both excursions today, John is still sick.