If you read my last post about my layover in China you might think that I did not enjoy myself in Shanghai. This is not the case, thanks to a friend, I had a lovely itinerary that brought me to many amazing places (with destinations in Chinese characters so I could show cab drivers). It is true that my morning was a bit trying – but travel is not supposed to be relaxing, it is supposed to be an experience that expands your life and your humanity – an experience that really, at the end of the day, makes you a better human overall.
At least that is the approach I take to travel – which has not put me on many beaches in this world – and has put me into quite a few write worthy adventures. But this isn't a story about my philosophy of travel – it is a story of the rest of my remaining 13 hours in Shanghai, China.
When I finally got back to the airport I went to the ATM and got out about 1000 Yuan (about 166 US dollars) and followed the signs to the Maglev. The Maglev is a fast magnetic levitating train of sorts. I wanted to ride it because it was fast and I thought it would get me most of the way to the city center. It reached the speed of 300 km per hour while I was on it. That was pretty cool. It got me here
which was part of here
I saw some cabs below and decided since I had this itinerary
from this lovely person
I was going to take a cab the rest of the way to Tianzifang. I was in good spirits and knew where I was going. I went down the escalator and was hanging a left when my thoughts were interrupted by "You need cab!?" and a very tall man standing over me. I said "Y-Yes. But I'm walking toward…" He grabbed my bag before I could even finish and motioned for me to follow. Since he had my carry-on bag and Jimbo (whose head was popping out from the top) in his position I proceeded to run after him in an attempt to get my bag back. His gait was quick, but luckily not a run so I was able to keep close enough to him to not lose them and end up standing in front of a cab. The tall man put my bag in the trunk then said "Where are you going?" I looked at him and cab driver and said "I would like my bag back, thank you. I am going to Tianzifang." Their eyes lit up. "On holiday? to hotel?" they asked in unison. "No, just to look. I would like my bag back please." The tall man gave me a cordial pat on the back. "No problem! You get in the car. This man will drive you. Enjoy!" My bag was finally handed back to me and I got into the cab.
As we drove he told me it was a Chinese holiday. I asked what kind of holiday, religious, state, historical. I received a very confused silence and a "People no work today." So I did not learn about the holiday – I was just left to wonder if things would be open.
Meanwhile I learned there were 24 million persons in Shanghai, and everyone lives in the sky in high rises, except of course people like my cab driver who lived outside the city because it was too expensive. My driver had one son age 14. I asked "Is he a good student?" Trying to think of something personal to ask since we had gotten into the subject of children. I got more confused silence in return. So I changed the subject. "What is your favorite place in Shanghai?" I asked. The cab driver gave me a laundry list of obvious tourist destinations. I decided to sit in silence until I arrived at my destination at this point.
I was eventually dropped on a narrow street and told walk into a little alley and there would be my destination. A shopping district maze filled with people.
And interesting shops
filled with interesting things
Like "odor" and
little things in little bottles and
school girls on cell phones and
hot dogs baked into bread and other curious pastries and
strange Buddha heads and
men making meticulous pictures with paper.
I got a coffee and took stalk of my cash situation. The coffee was 45 Yuan ($7.50 US roughly). My cab ride cost me a bit more than expected, and I had just bought a nice necklace and found out that none of credit cards worked here because they were not "Chinese visas." They all had the same symbol on them, but for some reason it was a no go. I needed to get a little more cash if I was going to have enough to get cabs throughout the city and back to the train station. I asked the young woman who brought me my coffee about where one might find a "cash machine" or an "ATM" or "bank." She understood my question, looked up a bank on her phone, then drew me a map to the nearest ATM. Sort of. I happened to be inside a subway food court.
I practiced photos of repeating patterns so as not to panic while I looked for signs of the ATM. By pure dumb-luck I found it and took out way more cash than I could possibly need (and was probably safe to carry on me) just in case this was the only cash machine I saw for the rest of the day. I also found a bathroom. Where I learned that public restrooms in Shanghai are a "bring your own tissue" kind of place. Luckily, the lady behind me in line had pity on me and gave me a tissue when I pointed. I hoped that my stomach issues of the morning had passed, especially now that I risked adding something into my stomach other than sparkling water.
Cash in hand I decided to go back for some of the cheesy bread I saw because for some reason I thought that would work well with my hesitant stomach. I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't what I bit into. It was something like American cheese meets mozzarella inside an Italian loaf of bread – not bad but very different than what my tongue was expecting. Two bites was good enough for my sensitive stomach. Now it was time to catch a cab to the next place on the itinerary.
The cab driver I was picked up by spoke absolutely no English and he was very annoyed with me that I kept speaking it. Before he exploded in anger I remembered my itinerary written by my friend Bonnie and showed it to him. He calmed down and waved a dismissive hand at me to sit back and relax.
We went directly to the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the longest surviving temples in Shanghai, in other words, it made it through the cultural revolution.
I know exceptionally little about Buddhism in China or how it is currently practiced. I used to know a lot about how Buddhism traveled from India through China to Japan. But that is what I used to know and not what is happening now. What I could observe about now is that people bow and bend in front of statues of Buddha and give offerings. This temple in downtown Shanghai had every shape size and story of Buddha statue available – depending on your flavor of Buddha statue. It also housed the largest jade Buddha, a beautiful piece I could not take pictures of, but was struck by its enormous and intricate nature.
I learned by listening to the tour guide standing next to me when I nonchalantly walked up to the reclining Buddha statue that one current mainstream Chinese belief is that Buddha was a human being while he was alive, but after he died he became a god. The older white gentleman listening to this tour guide asked "Can women become enlightened?" I was a bit surprised by this question from an older white American tourist (for some reason) and waited on baited breath for the answer. The tour guide did not disappoint for interest. She said "When Buddha became god he had no sex. When alive, he was a man, but in death is god and no sex."
I pondered this as I stared at the jade Buddha housed in the building it this photo above. I also took it with me as I rounded the corner into what was called the "incense burning area" on the map.
Here I observed many people, including perhaps, a recently married couple offering lots of different burning things.
Meanwhile, from the corner there was much chanting singing going on by people in matching clothing. I made my way to take a closer look to try to figure out what exactly they were doing.
I saw a monk come from the interior and stand in the center of everything and open his cell phone (it was a flip phone). He spoke into it for a little bit, looked out at the crowd of chanting women than returned to the interior of the enclosure. So I learned that Chinese Buddhist monks have old school cell phones and use them in the middle of chanting sutras. I sat across the square to contemplate.
And then I watched everyone leave the mysterious chanting session.
It seemed like a good time for me to leave as well – so I meandered out to the corner and realized that catching a cab in this area was going to be a little challenging. I fiddled with my google maps and my itinerary to see if I should try to walk to the next area and determined that I didn't want to risk it so I crossed the gigantic street and put myself on what looked like a better corner to hail a cab. I succeeded.
Here I am failing to take a picture from the cab of the really cool looking thing in front of us as we made our way to the Waldorf Astoria.
I was sent to the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria for my "happy hour." I am ashamed to admit I was ecstatic to see pretzels. I was very hungry but my stomach was extremely sensitive so what a better thing to put in but bland starch and bubbles!
Jimbo and I were happy for the respite in the middle of the big city. We chatted with one of the bartenders about my experience in Shanghai thus far – he was very proud of his city and happy that I was visiting.
It was nearing dinner time. I checked in with the helpful staff on wear the restaurant I was recommended was – and they said it was just around the corner. Google maps agreed – so I started on my short march, around the block and around the block again and around the block again. Chinese characters and addresses are hard.
I eventually found the restaurant Lost Heaven and entered its red and black Chinese hipster oasis.
The tables were lovely and short, hitting me exactly at the knees. Making it officially difficult to sit, eat, and be comfortable at the same time. The staff were dressed in the "traditional" garb of the version of Chinese food the restaurant specialized in – and my waiter had a clicking pen. "How can I help you lady?" click.click.click.click. "Yes, I cannot decide what to order." I said. "OK – I'll be back." He said and walked away, click.click.click.click. when his pen as he walked away leaving me to continue wondering about the menu. So helpful.
I ended up with all of this food because when the waiter came back I asked, "How large are things? I can't eat much right now but I'd like the soup and something solid." Click. click. click. click. blank stare then he said, "Yes, yes the soup is large but as one person you can eat it, and the chicken you want is not that substantial." I ordered the food and soon a gigantic amount of food showed up at my table.
The soup was sea cucumber hot and sour, and the chicken was allegedly a traditional dish of the region of China being represented in the restaurant that I cannot appropriately describe without an essay. It was all good but there was way too much for little old me and I felt really bad that I could barely take a few bites before my stomach turned. I attempted to relax as long as possible before leaving to catch my cab to the train and back to the airport.
In all, it had been an amazing day, even counting the less than pleasant morning. I got to see a glimpse of a huge city in China on a layover on the way from someone else – total travel bonus – there is no way to trade or lose sight of the value of this experience. I am lucky, and so glad I have had this opportunity.