Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lion cubs

In a few weeks I might be holding a lion cub. I just have to take four finals, pack up all of my things, move out of my old apartment (hovel), move into my new apartment (awesome condo), pack my luggage, book a hostel, participate in a writing competition, and then I'll be in Johannesburg. About 45 minutes outside the city is a lion park where you can walk a cheetah, feed a giraffe, and even hold a fluffy white lion cub.

And that is exactly what I plan to do.

The cub looks more comfortable in this picture.

Monday, May 23, 2011


After yet another leisurely morning, we decided to go see the Jade Buddha Temple, renowned for its large statutes of Buddha carved out of single pieces of jade. The uncomfortable humidity we'd been experiencing all week finally turned into thunderstorms, so we were glad to be mostly indoors for the day. When we arrived at the temple, we were greeted by a friendly guy who spoke English very well. He graciously gave us a tour. There were a few different buildings filled with various large non-jade statutes of Buddhist gods and kanons. Our tour guide explained a little bit about the sitting jade Buddha, which came from Myanmar, then talked about lady Buddha ("just like Mary") and Happy Buddha. He then escorted us into a gift shop and encouraged us to touch all of the very expensive merchandise. We were not swayed by his saletalk, however, and we escaped his wiles for the two statues. They were both lovely, but the second one (reclining Buddha) was truly fantastic.

Awkward smiles.

Almost 7 feet long and weighing 3 tons, it was carved out of one large slab of jade from Myanmar.
We next went to the French Concession, a surprising find in the middle of futuristic Shanghai. It was a quiet tree-lined neighborhood with European-style houses, boutique shops and Irish pubs. I dragged J into a specialty cooking supplies place and we came across a real live French family.

Later that evening we went back to E. Nanjing St, the main boulevard downtown where the souvenir shopping was centered. There was an underground area where one could find cheap brand name products*. One gentleman even showed us a false wall and invited us to see his collection of watches and purses. We declined and instead went to another stall where a woman had authentic (looking) soccer jerseys. She offered us a price for two kits (jersey plus shorts) and then we (J) haggled. We thought we were driving a hard bargain by offering half of what she originally asked for, but as soon as she heard the number she threw the merchandise into a bag thrust it into our hands, grabbed our money and ushered us out.

*Later that evening we saw a number of police cars stationed outside the underground market.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meteor Shower! Magma!

"After riding the Maglev, we tried going to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. It looked cool from the outside, but it is closed on Mondays and apparently today was a Monday."

The closed Science and Technology Museum
Near the museum was Century Park, the biggest park in Shanghai. It had an amusement park in it with a few rides. J and I rode the bumper cars, which probably would not have met the safety standards of the US. The cars went crazy fast and we were both left with some serious whiplash. We also rode a rotating roller coaster that I found exhilarating while J continued to worry about the lax safety standards. Afterward, we went to the lake and rented a boat. It looked sort of like a paddleboat it was actually a motorboat. We strapped on very old life jackets and climbed in. The boat was very slow, maybe a little slower than the current. Steering was a fool's errand.

It was only a problem with our boat though, all the others whizzed by us.

Later, "we" went looking for the Sex Culture Museum. "Unfortunately" we were not able to find it, so instead we took the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which goes from one side of the river to the other and which we assumed would give us an interesting view of the Bund. In fact, we boarded a futuristic pod thing that went through a tunnel laden with flashing lights. A speaker shouted random words like "meteor shower!" or "magma!" while we passed screens displaying sea creatures. It was all very strange and we were glad we only got one-way tickets.

Once we were on the other side of the river, we walked around the big buildings in awe and took some pictures.

Cool unnecessary walkway thing.

The Oriental Pearl Tower

The Shanghai World Financial Center (or "bottle opener") on the left and the Jin Mao Tower on the right.
The Shanghai World Financial Center is the tallest building in China and third tallest in the world.

Look, we were really there!
We eventually found a huge shopping mall owned by Samsung (go Korea!). We wandered the numerous floors and when we got to the 7th or 8th we came across an enormous arcade. It had every game imaginable and some I could never have imagined. There were the classics of course - air hockey, shoot 'em ups, car games - but also ping pong on a full ping pong table against a robot, soccer, baseball in a cage, Formula 1 Racing in a race car, billi bowl* and so much more. We spent a lot of money and many hours there.

It was dark by the time we left so we went back to the Bund to admire the Shanghai skyline by night.

A lit-up yacht in front of a lit-up museum.

*Mini bowling where you hit the bowling ball with a pool cue.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shanghai Continued: The Bund

8/28: "I've had a few wonderful emails from past students. It feels good to know that I was able to connect with some of them in the short while I knew them. I hope we keep in touch. I wonder what will happen with the friends I made in South Korea, or the ones I have in Berkeley. I wonder what this wanderlust will do to my relationships and how long it will last."

J and I decided to take it easy while in Shanghai. The past three weeks of traveling had finally caught up to us and we were ready for the stability of home.  The common room at our hostel had a collection of DVDs and every night we stayed up late watching movies.

The Bund: This is what they call the embankment along the Huangpu River. On one side, old Gothic and Renaissance buildings echo the banks of the Seine. On the other, futuristic buildings scream of China's technological prowess. The Bund reflects Shanghai's fascinating status as a place with one foot steeped in history and the other placed firmly in the future. Western influences remain even while Shanghai is unabashedly Chinese in nature.

At night, the buildings on either side of the Bund light up in fascinatingly different ways.

The Oriental Pearl Tower on the left.
I was curious about the mixing of cultures in the city, so a quick visit to Wikipedia gave me fascinating insight into its history. It was briefly ruled by the British during the Opium Wars (summed up to me as, "The British wanted stuff from China but had nothing the Chinese wanted. The British decided instead to get them hooked on opium. It worked pretty well.") A large international settlement remained. The French, unwilling to play along with the rest of Europe, had a settlement in an area now called the French Concession, which I'll talk more about later. In the 1920s and 1930s, Russian Jews fled the Soviet Union for Shanghai. After the Sino-Japanese War, Japan too settled in Shanghai.

Despite being the most advanced of China's cities, Shanghai still had some of the annoyances of Beijing. Jam-packed with people, oppressively humid, and enshrouded in smog, every movement was difficult. Because it was so hot, we wanted to see some of the museums (and gift shops), but couldn't figure out how to get to the Shanghai Museum. We stopped into a tourist information center, where the employees were decidedly un-helpful, and eventually found it anyway.
The Bund in the smog.

Ever since our un-exciting arrival by subway*, we had been dying to go back to the airport so we could ride the Maglev. Yes, it may sound silly, but seriously, how many times does one get an opportunity to ride the fastest land vehicle on earth? The train goes different speeds depending on the time of day, with higher speeds during rush hour and lower speeds at other times to conserve energy. When we rode it, it reached a top speed of 431 km/hr, or around 270 mph. The ride took under 8 minutes. It was pretty awesome. When it turned, the whole train lifted up, and when the other Maglev passed by us we could feel but not see it as it whizzed by.

That night we found a great Chinese restaurant near our hostel. I know it sounds odd to say since we were in China, but it was pretty fancy, had an English menu, and a very friendly waitstaff. We had a feast and it only cost us around $12 total.
One of the dishes we ordered, "explosive prawns."

*Don't get me wrong, the Shanghai subway is fantastic. If you've never been to Asia, it's impossible to explain how great their subways are. Clean, fast and efficient, they make Western Europe look third-world.