Focus on Shanghai's History & Chinese Art History

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Sunday, August 7, 2011


At 4:30AM we wake up from the wind and rain beating against our windows.   When we check around 7 AM, the rain has stopped but it is really windy, no boats are on the river and there isn't even one person walking on the Bund.  By 8:30AM the rain is back again!  I guess it will be that sort of day.  We have our waterproof jackets so we’ll be fine.  We check the internet and learn that the Shanghai Airport is closed.  We are grateful that we arrived yesterday!

Aid, our guide, puts our trip in historical perspective.  She says that Xi’an has 5,000 years of history, 500 years in Beijing and 100 years in Shanghai.    This morning, our focus is on the Jewish history of Shanghai.  The first building of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is the orthodox synagogue, the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue.  From the moment we walked in, I could see in Harvey’s face and voice that he was moved.  The congregants face west toward Jerusalem (in the U.S. and Europe we face east toward Jerusalem).   The text over the Torah says in Hebrew, "Wherever I am, God is in my heart".  Our museum guide provides an overview of Jews in China from about 1840 to current times.  There never has been a large Jewish population in China, but we learn that China was more open than our own U.S. in accepting Jews from Nazi Germany.  In total 30,000 were able to escape to safety and live here in Shanghai.  After WWII, most immigrated to Israel.  Today about 250 families now live in Shanghai near the airport.

On the second floor of the synagogue is an art museum on the theme of the Jewish experience in China.  Many artists creatively expressed the themes of friendship and tolerance and it is inspirational.  I took lots of photos so you can experience some of these works and their descriptions.  In a separate building we learn more about the stories of the individuals and families and their Shanghai experience.  I took photos of some of the stories so in this way we can share them with others.   Issues of tolerance have been a thread through my life and coming here to learn about this perspective on the Jewish experience in China moved my spirit.

We started to walk around the Old Jewish Quarter but the wind and rain was just too much.  We pass on the Huoshan Park with a memorial and several key buildings that can only be seen on the outside.  We consider ourselves fortunate that the Museum was open today given the typhoon, so we are thankful for what we have seen.  Aid called our driver who picked us up and we went to our next stop in the French Concession, and what we are to see is walking outside also!   If I blinked to block out the Chinese signs and looked at the street we are walking on I would surely think I was on a charming Paris street.   It has been totally restored, but there is an arch from the original area.

We break for lunch and then do some time travel arriving in the present day at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.   The Shanghai historical display of photos is really well done; for example there will be two photos side-by-side of the same location in the early 1900’s and present day so the contrast is evident.   But for me the most dramatic section is of Shanghai’s construction achievements letting photographs tell the story.  The investment in infrastructure and the quantity and scale of the projects is slightly overwhelming.  For example, the Shanghai Pudong Airport is undergoing an expansion so that in 2015 they will handle 50 million people a year, and the long term plan is to handle 80 million.  Just a few of the other projects include: an elevated roadway, a road out & over the East Sea, a transportation hub, deep water port, an entire section of the city including high rises around a park, a ship building base, a wet land reservoir, a synchroton radiation facility (what is that?) and the re-do of the Bund pedestrian walkway.  Whew.  Truly impressive.

The Shanghai Museum is very well organized and has audio guides to explain the objects on display.  The permanent galleries are divided by categories and include bronzes, ceramics, furniture, jades, seals and coins, minority arts.  The galleries that I am keen to see are the Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting.  The Oracle Bone Inscriptions on turtle shells are over three thousand years old and it was very cool to actually see one that I had read about in Peter Hessler’s book, The Oracle Bones.  I loved gazing at the different writing styles in the works displayed in the history of calligraphy gallery.   I am not quite sure why the attraction, but maybe I would like to try my hand at calligraphy or perhaps use some of the photos of the calligraphy in a composite.  I jot that down in my journal for follow up when we get home.  I also grooved on the walk through the long history of Chinese Painting with examples of the styles of each period.  There was a brush painting done in 1675 of the Yellow Mountain or Huangshan that we are going to tomorrow and has been a source of inspiration for poets and painters for thousands of years.  I make a note to myself to read more about the Xieyi style painting by Xu Wei (1521-1593). 

We are looking forward to spending more time with Ming tonight.  During the day Ming is meeting with the parents of a student who is attending the University of Miami.  He has a habit of befriending and helping Chinese students who come to Miami.  Although he really does not know this young man, he goes out of his way to assist the parents.  It can be very difficult to keep track of a young man who is experiencing a new culture without any parental supervision!

After reviewing various alternatives we decide to watch the sunset from the Revolving Restaurant in the Oriental Pearl Tower.  There are long lines to go to the observation tower, but because we buy the tickets for the restaurant we get to go in front of the lines to get on the elevator up to the observation deck and to the entrance of the restaurant.  It is a plentiful buffet with lots of variety.  But the main attraction is the view and our conversation.    It was really fun.  Of course we have already been exposed to many different dishes, but a buffet gives us the opportunity to try even more options.

Recalling our lessons from Beijing on the art of gentle pushing we approached the buffet lines.  Of course in China, one must use the work “line” loosely. 

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