Day 20 - Taken by Shanghai

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2012

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Last night, the Diamond Princess approached the Shanghai Traffic Separation Scheme on a westerly course before picking up our local Shanghai pilot at the pilot boarding ground.  Various northwesterly courses were then set through the Changjiang Kou river toward our designated berth.  What is a Traffic Separation Scheme, you might ask, since I have used that term in numerous sailing descriptions.  Basically, when a ship sets a course for a designated port, a traffic scheme is in place that looks like lanes of a major highway, and the ship’s pilot is mandated by a control system which traffic lane to line up in to steer the ship into the port.  (I went to a ship’s navigator’s talk about this and learned many interesting facts about how ship navigation works.) 

I was taken (is that the same as Shanghai-ed?) by Shanghai.  Amazing city.  Beyond words. But once again I'll attempt to describe something pretty indescribable!

On this day I woke up way early and was able to observe our ship’s entry into the Shanghai harbor from our little balcony.  I have done this on previous days, but today’s venture was quite different from others.  The port of Shanghai had been closed for two and a half days due to fog and smog, but fortunately for us, it opened shortly before our scheduled arrival (or we would have had to skip the port entirely and missed SO much).  Even the airport was closed, so transport into the city was stopped.  When this happens, the ship traffic piles up out in the ocean in a traffic jam just like it sometimes does on a highway.  I really could see the Traffic Separation Scheme, because parallel to our ship (and very close upside, I might add), were ships of many sizes and shapes – from huge cargo vessels to small fishing boats – all heading in with us.  It was so interesting to watch.  Our Captain later said that we were a bit late into the harbor because of this heavy load of traffic.  It reminded me of our Chicago commute from Berwyn to south Chicago, when every lane of traffic was jammed and sometimes stopped!  Having not grown up with any knowledge about oceans or ships, this was quite a new experience for me to watch.  The closer we got to our berth, the more I saw of the bustling commercial activity – large cranes loading and unloading shipping containers, and all that is part of harbor life
Shanghai is described as the most heavily populated city in China.  It is a fabulous mix of enchanting ponds, rock gardens, pavilions, and much history from the Ming dynasty.  Set against that in sharp contrast is an ultra modern city with brilliant architecture and tall, looming skyscrapers which house major financial centers, as well as top grade shopping districts boasting most of the best known world designers.  The city dazzles with lights and glamour, but also reflects a great deal of ancient history in its Old City.  With such dense population, most people are forced to live in crowded high rise apartments, oftentimes with many families living in one apartment about 50 square meters in size.  Literally tens of thousands may live in one building, as the city’s population is more than 20 million people (a little less than the whole country of Australia).  The Chinese government owns all the land; people are able to buy or rent their housing but never own their own land.
The government also has a “one child only” policy, meaning people are mandated to have no more than one child. When I asked about what happens if someone has more than one child, the response was that the second child does not have rights to health insurance or compulsory schooling, and the parents are heavily fined by the government.  Chinese people we talked to said they understand this policy because of the need for population control, and also that they cannot afford more than one child.  Our guide also said that with one child, the parents concentrate on this child and give them opportunities in the arts and sports which would not be as possible with more than one child.  Ping Pong is one of the top Chinese sports and highest paid, so often parents try to develop this skill in their child by sending them to special Ping Pong classes!

We took a very fast elevator to the 88th floor of the 1380 feet high Jin Mao Tower, the sixth highest skyscraper in the world, I think (not sure of that).   It took nine seconds to reach the top!  Even through the haze in the air, we had stunning, almost eerie views of Shanghai, including the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is one of the world’s tallest TV and radio towers.  Across the street from Jin Mao, another tower is under construction, and upon completion in a year or more, is designated to be the highest in the world.  The atrium of the Jin Mao Tower, which we could look down on from the 88th floor, is the world’s highest 5-star hotel atrium (the Grand Hyatt Hotel), which occupies floors 53-87 and has 555 rooms that open to the circular atrium.  Each floor is lit with a ring of light, and is quite spectacular.  The picture posted in this blog will give a small idea of this spectacular experience.

Traveling through the downtown business area on the bus, we viewed many of the city’s historic buildings,  gardens, temples, businesses, and restaurants.  The Bund is one of the most recognizable landmarks, which is a riverside promenade on the Huangpu River.  It is a well-developed area offering contrasting views of 19th century buildings on one side of the river and contemporary, modern structures on the opposite side.  Many vendors line the Bund and folks stroll along the walkway, but we did not have enough time to do that.

We continued to Old Town to the internationally known Yu Gardens, touted as one of the most lavish Chinese gardens in the region.  It was completed 400 years ago and was built by an officer of the Ming Dynasty for his parents to enjoy their old age.  “Yu” means “pleasing and satisfying”, which was his hope for his parents.  Stretching out over five acres the Gardens contain six general areas, including stunning pavilions and grand pagodas.  The dragon symbol is a national symbol of China, and is integrated into all of the ancient architecture. In 1956 the gardens underwent a five-year restoration and has been open to the public since 1961. 
At the entrance to the garden is the Great Rockery, the largest and oldest Rockery in this region of China at a height of 50 feet.  The gardens contain a number of pavilions, corridors, streams, and courtyards as well as many other natural features. Tall clusters of bamboo frame structures, and there are two trees that are believed to be 400 years old.  A noted feature of Yu Garden is a very large jade rock, almost 11 feet high, and is considered a very famous rock in this region of China

We wandered about for some hours in the Old City.  We watched a presentation about silk production at the Julong Silk and Craft Exhibition Hall, with (naturally) opportunities to buy silk goods.  I did buy some nice products that were not too expensive, but there were many very beautiful expensive silk products as well, to say the least.

About twelve of us from the ship attended a Chinese Tea Ceremony which was staged on the second story inside a rather questionable looking storefront shop.  A woman brewed probably 6-8 kinds of teas while telling us about their healing capabilities.  She passed around samples of each tea.  The most interesting were two teas she called Romeo and Juliet.  When boiling water was poured over each dried tea bundle, they slowly opened to display a flower in their clear glass goblet!  We were intrigued enough to purchase some of these two teas to try out on guests when we get home.  The shop also sold mugs with pictures on them; the heat of tea brewing in boiling water caused the pictures to change to different scenes, and when the picture completely changed, the tea was finished brewing!  (Yes, we bought two of those mugs, too.)

We stopped with friends at a McDonalds for a hamburger and diet coke.  McD’s are ALL over in these large Chinese cities, as well as KFCs, Pizza Hut, Subways, Burger Kings and many more recognizable US businesses.  Little English is spoken so one is a bit at risk ordering in a Chinese restaurant.  Sometimes deep fried scorpions and lizards and other creatures appear on a plate, so we felt less at risk at McDs, where food seems to taste the same all over the world (I rarely eat it at home!).

I did, by the way, inquire of one of our guides about the legendary eating of dogs in China.  It is true that dog has been a traditional dish cooked for centuries, but in recent years animal advocates have protested about it enough so now one cannot find dog on the menu anywhere.  At least not in obvious ways.
We shopped a little at a large department store, but with no room in our luggage for trinkets, we limited our purchases.  

When we arrived at the very modern International Cruise Terminal this morning, we were greeted by Chinese folk dancers, and when we returned to the ship, they danced again as the ship pulled out of our berth.  We were told that the dancers were senior citizens who participate in local senior centers, and learn these dances as exercise.  But also, before we left the harbor, we were entertained in the Princess Theater by an amazing acrobatic troupe, Zhoukou Acrobitics, that came on board for a show.  Acrobatics is another of the prime arts that children are “pushed” into learning by eager parents.  The entertainers were mostly quite young but incredibly flexible and professional with routines that made me gasp!  What a great closing to our time in Shanghai. 

(We noted the performance of the Shandung, China, acrobatic team at the 84th Annual Oscars this week.  If you saw that performance, you saw the quality of acrobatics we saw here!)

As if the day in Shanghai wasn’t long enough, once we had dinner back on board and set sail, we attended another show by the amazing singer, Lovena B. Fox, backed by the ship’s fabulous orchestra, and then at 10:30 we went to The International Crew Show, with crew members showcasing various talents.  It was fun – a bit hokey, but it was nice that the crew has this opportunity to entertain passengers.  We went to bed the latest time of the whole cruise so far - midnight! 
Yet again – another great city of the world.
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