Happy New Year everyone. It is completely freezing in Beijing these days, so lets talk about a happy time when it was nice and warm. A few months ago I had to go to Shanghai for work to interview a bunch of potential students, so Erin decided to tag along for 3 days. Beijing is a huge city, but Shanghai is the one city that is bigger. It is pretty incredible how huge Shanghai is, because it a few decades ago it was a fairly small city. In the past 20 years, the city has seen an unbelievable explosion of growth, giving it one of the quintessential modern Asian skylines. Brand spanking new futuristic buildings are everywhere, and it has a totally different feel from Beijing. It has many times more foreigners than Beijing does due to it being the financial capital of China. It usually has a bad reputation among Chinese people that are not from there in my opinion, because they claim that the people only care about money, money, money. Whatever they are doing though, it is working, because there are few cities in the world that have grown more financially and in terms of population in the last few years.

After we arrived, we wandered around the city for a while, before going to People’s Park, a centrally located park with many different things to see. We walked past a lake and into a heavily wooded area, with little advertisements taped to all of the trees. We had no idea what the classified ads were for, it seemed like either paintings or apartments. There were height and weight measurements and the place was PACKED with people, most of them older. We kept walking and ran into a group of Chinese scam artists, who told us they were English teachers on a field trip, chatted with us for a while, and told us that the classified ads we had just seen were the large marriage market, where people desiring a husband or wife will sell their hands in marriage. Pretty incredible but I was feeling a little bit sketched out talking to these scammers, who then invited us to a tea show. Erin asked if I wanted to go and I just said “Ummmmmmmmmm” which did not convince her that I didn’t want to go. She walked with them for about 1 second and I told her to come here at which point she immediately realized my hesitations. We had a laugh about it because Erin hates these types of scam artists more than most people, and it is sad to think of how easy it would be to dupe some foreigners in that way (they invite you to a show or for coffee, then give you the bill and it is a ton of money, like $1,000). We have seen the same types of scams run in Beijing too, but luckily we made it out alive.

We continued to the famous Westernized area of Shanghai called “the Bund”. This consists of very European buildings that used to be where all the Europeans worked and lived. There is a river running next to the Bund, dividing the main area of Shanghai with the Pudong section, which essentially didn’t exist 20 years ago. Pudong looks like a city of the future as mentioned before, with some incredible buildings including the tallest building in the world (looks like a giant bottle opener). We wandered around the Bund for a bit, walking back to the subway, while admiring how modern everything around us was. The streets were not filled with cars, but there were more people walking around in this area than any I have seen in America. It was like the end of a massive sporting event, only it occurs all the time and every single day in the downtown of a major city. Amazing.

The next day I interviewed a group of students for work, who were impressive for the most part. Some of them had really amazing English and attitudes, and we had a good time meeting the Shanghai office that my office works with. Before the interviews we were able to visit the Yue Gardens, a famous garden that was historically renowned for its traditional style. As is the case with most populate Chinese tourist attractions, it was brand new, completely crammed with people, and selling the same things as everywhere else. Who needs tradition when you can have a McDonalds in a Chinese castle? It was really impressive and the buildings were very beautiful and “Chinese” looking. We then briefly stopped by the former French area of the city, which was not a hip place for foreigners to live. Later than night we went out to dinner with someone from my office and the head of the Shanghai office, to a real Shanghai style restaurant. The food was amazing, one of the best meals I have had in China. The dishes were flavorful and interesting, a little bit sweet with some great desserts. We are told that foreigners usually like Shanghai food more than Chinese people do, and I guess it is true. We stopped by a ritzy area that foreigners like afterwards, but we were tired and left after walking around for a bit.

It was Erin’s dream to go to a traditional water city while we were here, but the ones that she wanted to go to were pretty far away and potentially difficult to figure out, so we decided to go to one called Qibao, on the far east side of Shanghai. Luckily it was exactly what she wanted, and similar to the Yue Gardens, was renovated recently, packed, and filled with exotic snacks and typical souvenirs. It was also very cool, with bridges over small canals and traditional looking buildings everywhere. Qibao is not very well known, but we were lucky we discovered it. We were now in the area of Pudong, and I wanted to see some tall buildings. We headed to the more condensed area, and I went to the top of the tallest building of the world. Erin decided she would rather spend a bunch of money on a massage. The view from the top was pretty good, but the pollution limited visibility significantly. I did, however, notice smoke coming from a distant building. I pointed this out to some people, and sure enough, a high-rise apartment was burning down at the same time I was at the top of the world’s tallest building. Something like 70 people died in the fire and it was big news in China. I met up with her Worshipfulness after her massage, ate some burgers (veggie) at the Blue Frog (buy 1 get 1 burgers on Mondays), and headed to the airport.

I really liked Shanghai. People complain that it is devoid of culture, but there were a lot of interesting things to see, the city is brand new, there was almost no traffic when we were there (which is uncommon), the weather was warm, and the food was good. I imagine I will be back in Shanghai at some point in the next few months, and it will be good to go back. Been a while since I blogged because the site is now blocked on my computer, so I apologize if I am a bit rusty (I’m kidding I know this was awesome). It was good to see people over the holidays, it made me miss the USA much more than I had been. All the more reason for you all to come to China! Ta ta!

The Master said, “Do I regard myself as a possessor of wisdom? Far from it. But if even a simple peasant comes in all sincerity and asks me a question, I am ready to thrash the matter out, with all its pros and cons, to the very end.” – The Analects, 9.7