Archive for the 'China' Category

July 5th 2008
The Grand Finale

Posted under China

Preface: This story ends sadly in later detail. It would normally be a private matter but the stories surrounding our experience simply must be told.

The tale of my emergency visit to a Chinese hospital begins with the funny story of how we found out that I was pregnant. I knew it in my heart on the date of conception. I knew it so surely that I immediately swore off caffeine and alcohol and began taking prenatal vitamins. When the time came to take a pregnancy test, we were in Xi’an. Sometime between the Terracotta Warriors and the Giant Pandas, we managed to find a Walmart and picked up two tests. Although the instructions were in Chinese, I felt confident in my ability to interpret the results. However, this proved not to be the case. Rather than two possible results, the instructions showed six possible results. Neither Aaron nor I could conclude anything more definitive than “maybe”. Aaron suggested asking the girls on the hostel staff to translate but I wasn’t ready to bring strangers into our private situation. We decided to save the other test and try again at the next opportunity, which turned out to be in Shanghai almost a week later. Aaron picked up two different kinds of tests and asked the hostel staff in Shanghai to translate. Between those and the one left over from Xi’an, we had three undeniably positive pregnancy tests.

We were over the moon. Suddenly our entire focus switched from trip plans to babies…to when and how to share the news of our blessing. We immediately scoured the internet to research the safety of traveling while pregnant and made an appointment for a first pregnancy exam with a UK-trained OB-GYN at a travel medical clinic in Kathmandu.

During our last days in China, I stayed in and rested a lot. We took the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a room booked there for one night and then an early flight to Kathmandu the following morning.

Around 5:00 on the evening of our arrival in Beijing, Aaron had just returned from a day of solo sightseeing; I had been lying around all day with the guiltlessness of a self-indulgent Mother Hen. We were discussing the news that Tibet had just reopened to foreigners when I felt a sudden horrible pain shoot from my abdomen down through my cervix. The first shot scared me more than anything but, within two seconds, I was writhing on the bed in agonizing pain. It was excruciating and relentless, literally paralyzing my mid-section.

Aaron sat on the chair in shock and fear, not knowing what to do but knowing that something was terribly wrong. After a minute of debate on whether to call for an ambulance, I acquiesced. Aaron disappeared into the hallway to get help and soon returned with three people from the hostel staff, including one man who claimed to be a doctor. He felt my forehead – my temperature had skyrocketed almost instantly and I had broken out in a cold sweat – and saw the agony on my face. He told us what we already knew…that I needed to go to the emergency room.

A girl from the hostel informed us that the hospital refused to send an ambulance due to the short distance but a taxi was on the way. Great. The taxi arrived less than ten excruciating minutes later and Aaron carried me outside. The girl, named Judy, from the hostel said that she would accompany us and we would soon discover how crucial her presence would be.

At the hospital emergency entrance, Aaron carried me inside – the pain had subsided somewhat in the car – and we were directed to a large room with two beds. The other bed was occupied by a snowy-haired Chinese woman who was moments away from death’s door, her saddened adult children huddled around her.

Several minutes passed where nothing happened. Finally, Aaron was called upon to fill out paperwork (with Judy’s help) and two nurses arrived with a saline drip. As they came at me with the needle, because I didn’t actually see them remove it from its sterile wrapping, the thought crossed my mind to ask them to wait until Aaron returned but I was complacent or intimidated by the language barrier, maybe a little of both.

When Aaron returned, he said that the desk clerk was trying to get him to pay cash in advance for each individual task performed, starting with the paperwork filing fee. They wouldn’t take his credit card and since it was our last night in China, we were down to our last notes of local currency. Finally, in lieu of running to the ATM every half hour, he convinced them to hold his passport as collateral until the end.

A nurse joined us and began hooking me up to a machine that looked like something out of an Austin Powers film or an old Star Trek episode with large metal suction cups attached to a series of brightly-colored tubes. The cynic in me was bubbling to the surface as Aaron and I exchanged knowing glances. Soon, Judy returned with the news that we needed to go to another floor for an ultrasound. She and Aaron, along with a single nurse, wheeled my bed to the ultrasound lab. The lights in the empty hallway were off, which seemed eerie for a hospital, but we later discovered that they were motion sensitive. My bed was wheeled next to the ultrasound machine. The technician squirted the jelly onto my belly, positioned the wand near my navel, and then abruptly stopped. Her explanation was in Chinese, of course, and it took nearly twenty minutes of discussion in the hallway to help us understand that the tech wanted me to have a full bladder. She wanted me to go all the way back to my room with the dying woman and come back in half an hour. It seemed ridiculous but what else could we do? I started chugging water.

While we waited for the liquids to swell my bladder, I was wheeled (by only Aaron and Judy this time) to another floor to see a doctor. A middle-aged male doctor, surrounded by a swarm of curious nurses, asked me a few questions about the pain and pressed on my stomach in several places before quickly concluding that it was probably just something I ate. No ultrasound, no bloodwork…it must have been the two pieces of fruit that did it! Are you kidding me? Upon hearing his diagnosis, I wanted to scream from the rooftops about this physician’s total incompetence and, of course, throw in a few “I hate Chinas” for good measure. Instead, I kept my composure and calmly explained, while Judy translated, that we had over 36 hours of international travel scheduled to begin the next morning so, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’d like to have an ultrasound and some bloodwork to determine that my baby is okay and whether it is safe for me to travel. The pompous ass seemed a bit put off that I didn’t accept his conclusion outright. After proactively managing my own hospital visit, I finally got my tests.

The ultrasound took a long time and the tech refused to give any explanations, although it was not hard to tell that something was wrong. For the blood test, Aaron and Judy wheeled my bed up to a window where I stuck my hand under the glass and a technician pricked my finger. The transaction was impersonal and we never did receive the results of the tests or learn what tests they ran.

We were baffled by the lack of orderlies in this place and the bizarre passivity of the staff. We wheeled ourselves around and essentially ordered our own tests; there didn’t seem to be a single doctor in charge of my case. Aaron had determined from the number of military personnel wandering the halls that this was a military hospital and Judy confirmed it. No one spoke English, not even the doctors, which led me to conclude that they were trained in China which in turn filled me with a natural distrust in their abilities; not because they were Chinese but because they were not trained in a Western country. This is perhaps unfairly discriminating but my experience so far had supported that notion and, when you’re in an emergency room in a developing nation, where no one can communicate with you, you cannot help but let a few crazy thoughts into your mind. Mine was swimming with paranoid possibilities.

Back in my room, Aaron and Judy left to pursue the next stage of my treatment and I was left with the dying woman and her family. The scene reminded me of the day my grandmother passed away with her three daughters and one granddaughter (me) around her bedside. Seeing the Chinese family grieve and pray in the same way made me feel a bond of human suffering. We kept glancing at each other and then shyly looking away. I wanted to comfort them but I didn’t know how.

Aaron and Judy returned soon followed by a general surgeon. He had been much too busy to see me but Aaron and Judy persistently stalked him until he became available. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as Aaron likes to say. This doctor pressed around my mid-section, apparently to rule out Appendicitis, and then disappeared as quickly as he came.

I was alone once again. Aaron and Judy had gone to the front desk, the staff had dissipated, and my bladder felt like an over-filled water balloon. In our earlier haste at the hostel, we had forgotten my shoes. I flagged down a passing orderly and attempted to mime my need for some slippers but she just shook her head confusedly as if it was a crazy notion that a hospital would have slippers for its patients. Well, there was no way in hell that I was going barefoot.

Minutes later, Aaron returned and lent me his size elevens to make the trip to the restroom. I fished my roll of toilet paper out of the backpack and shuffled slowly down the hall. What I found there was appalling. There were three filthy, germ-infested stalls: two squat toilets and one Western. The Western stall was cluttered with miscellaneous debris as if it doubled as a janitorial closet. The lights were dim but I could see that the toilet seat was soaked with droplets of liquid. I gasped in disgust. It’s all part of the Twilight Zone nightmare, I told myself. Just do your thing, don’t touch ANYTHING, and get the hell out of here! There was no toilet paper or soap in the restroom and I was glad to have brought my own. I know…I should be at a point in my life where Third World restrooms cannot shock me anymore but this was in a hospital!

After some more waiting, a woman claiming to be the OB-GYN reported that my baby was not attaching properly and there was a chance that I would lose it. She said that she could give me a shot that would help my chances. She prescribed Progesterone and a week of bedrest. Bedrest…in China! Now, in case you haven’t followed our China travels, I should explain that we had already stayed about a week too long. A week of bedrest in China would be torture for both of us! And even then, the odds weren’t good.

Aaron settled the hospital bill, which came to the equivalent of US$60. The hostel had sent their car and driver to pick us up. It was 9pm. We settled back into our room and ordered dinner from the café. We did some quick research online about miscarriage and the efficacy of bedrest. Almost every source agreed that there is no conclusive evidence that bedrest helps to prevent miscarriage, although many physicians still prescribe it.

While Aaron was getting dinner, I had some time alone to think. I thought about the emotional and financial effects of spending another week in China; about the intense travel schedule – four flights and a twelve hour layover in Bangkok – that lay between Beijing and Kathmandu; about the possibility of a medical emergency in flight; and about our scheduled appointment with the Western-trained (and likely English-speaking) OB-GYN in Kathmandu. When Aaron returned, I told him that the best thing for our family was to get out of China. He hesitated but, in the end, he didn’t object because he knew that I was right. The first leg of our itinerary departed at 10:00 the next morning and, with our hearts full of prayers, we were on it.

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July 4th 2008
Getting Out of China

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Our last several days in China were a blur. We checked back into our Shanghai hostel for one last night and, on the recommendation of some fellow travelers, we went to see a Chinese Acrobatics show. We arrived early and watched the small theatre fill up as foreigners in enormous tour groups filed in behind their dutiful guides. The show began with a group of high-energy gymnasts bounding across the stage and soaring through narrow hoops, barely dodging one another in precisely choreographed stunts. Another performer was a young girl, who mounted a small elevated platform in handstand position, and did a ten-minute routine supporting her body weight with only one arm. The men and women were equally impressive; the men with their strength and agility, the women with their grace and poise while lifting and maintaining enormous heavy loads. The show was spectacular and we were mesmerized for ninety minutes by the talented performers.

After a rainy business day, we took the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a room booked there for just one night because we were unable to change anything about our original flight itinerary and that meant we had to return all the way to Beijing to begin our marathon journey to Nepal.

After four months in Asia, Tina proclaimed that she was officially “templed-out” and had no desire to see anymore temples – Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu or otherwise. This meant that our last day in Beijing I went out sightseeing solo. Despite the rain, I was determined to see two temples that we missed the first time around – The Temple of Heaven and the Yonghe Temple.

The Temple of Heaven is actually a complex of Taoist temples and parks covering nearly three square kilometers. The main Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests pagoda has become somewhat of an icon for Beijing; it’s pictured (along with the “Bird’s Nest” stadium) in nearly every Olympics advertisement that we’ve seen. The large triple-gabled circular pagoda stands atop a tiered platform in the middle of an enormous paved square. The temple complex was constructed in the early 15th Century during the reign of the Yongle Emperor (the same emperor responsible for building the Forbidden City) and was visited by subsequent dynasties praying for good harvests. Like so many of the other temples that we’ve visited, tourists were prohibited from entering any of the sacred buildings so I simply wandered about the grounds snapping pictures of the naturally photogenic Chinese architecture. The similarities to the Forbidden City were obvious – the enormous scale of the complex, the colorful detailed artwork adorning the temples, and the overall architecture design. This was definitely one of my favorite temples.

The Yonghe Temple, or Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple, is most commonly referred to simply as the “Lama Temple”. The Lama Temple is a Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The expansive grounds contained five main halls separated by courtyards, and numerous other unimpressive buildings. I stumbled upon a religious ceremony at its conclusion and was fascinated by the costumes of the presiding monks. Their orange robes were standard issue, but they each wore large, yellow hats resembling the comb on a rooster’s head – a very entertaining sight indeed. The highlight of my self-guided tour was a 26-meter tall, gold-covered statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood and housed in one of the pavilions – it was truly impressive. After my brief visit, I left the temple complex unimpressed and boarded the metro to return home to my wife…and ready to leave China.

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July 1st 2008
Lost in Translation

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“In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou” –Chinese proverb

We boarded the morning train with our bags in tow, excited to spend a couple of nights in the quaint canal town of Suzhou, the “Venice of the East”, known for its beautiful Oriental gardens. The ride was quick and comfortable and we arrived at the Suzhou train station in wonderful spirits. We had a hostel room booked and planned to take a taxi from the train station. As we exited the station, we discovered that the city was in the midst of a torrential downpour. There were at least 300 people waiting in line in the rain for a taxi. After quickly exhausting all other options, we joined the taxi line.

We had not been waiting five minutes when a woman approached us and asked where we were going. I handed her the slip of paper on which I had written the name of the hostel and a diagram of the crossroads (in English letters). As she scanned it, I spoke the name of the hostel “Mingtown”. She nodded and handed the paper back. “Thirty yuan”, she said. This was about double what we thought fair so we declined. She shrugged and started to walk away. About thirty more seconds of standing in the seemingly stagnant taxi line in the rain caused us to reconsider. We followed the woman to a small shelter and waited for our car to arrive. Five minutes later, we were riding through the potholed, rain-soaked streets of Suzhou with no regrets about our decision.

Fifteen minutes later, our driver pulled over on an overpass. He gestured toward a stairway leading down to the streets. Hesitantly, we collected our bags and stepped out into the pouring rain with our single umbrella for shelter. We descended the stairway to a series of gray, narrow streets decorated with red Chinese lanterns. We picked a direction and started walking, looking for a familiar street name. After several minutes of frustrated wandering, we began to ask the locals for help finding our street. They all seemed confused but agreed that we needed to walk back up the stairs and take a taxi. Their collective response was disconcerting but we didn’t have a better idea so back up the stairs we went. Then, across the street, we spied a Hostelling International sign. Halleluiah! That had to be it! We made our way across the street and over to the entrance of the building. The hostel staff was welcoming and the lobby was warm and dry. Aaron gave his name to the reservation desk; they did not have our reservation but said that they had a room available for us. It was then that we saw the hostel name: Mingtaughan. Sounds a lot like Mingtown, right? It immediately dawned on us that the woman at the train station could not read the English name on my piece of paper. It was only after I had spoken the name “Mingtown” that she claimed to know the place.

The staff at Mingtaughan naturally tried to convince us to stay there instead, which would have been a fantastic idea had we not secured our reservation at the other hostel with our credit card. We would have been charged at the other hostel anyway. After we explained the situation, the staff explained that Mingtown was on the other side of town and we would need to get another taxi. They wrote the name and address of the hostel in Chinese and sent us back to the overpass to hail a cab. Back out in the rain, we watched several full taxis pass by. When a car finally stopped for us, we showed the driver our Chinese paper from the hostel and, for some unexplained reason, he refused our fare. Five minutes later, the same thing happened again. I probably don’t need to mention that I was beyond seething at this point. The usual “I hate Chinas” transcended the confines of my inner monologue and escaped my mouth (despite my best efforts to hold them in), colored with some especially unsavory adjectives.

When a rickshaw driver pulled up, I didn’t even want to bother with him but Aaron was feeling more optimistic, or perhaps more desperate, and handed him the paper. The driver quoted us another 30 yuan and we didn’t argue. We just got in. There was a cover atop the rickshaw but the sides were open and we were almost completely exposed to the elements. We huddled together on the tiny seat, barely wide enough for two little Asian butts, much less our collective junk in the trunk. We rode for a good thirty minutes, passing the train station from which we’d come; the driver stopping several times along the way to ask other rickshaw drivers where the street was. After many stops and a few u-turns, we FINALLY arrived at Mingtown. I was ready to give that rickshaw driver a big smile and a hug. Aaron pulled out a 50 yuan note and handed it to the driver but rather than dipping into his little box for 20 yuan in change, he tried to tell us that we owed him another ten, that the fare was 30 yuan per person. Suddenly, I felt a powerful rage come over me, a rage fueled by three weeks of squat toilets, secondhand smoke exposure, pushing, shoving, spitting, lack of queues and basic manners, foods soaked in oil and MSG, foul smells, constant gray skies, pedestrians never having the right of way (even in the crosswalk)…and I channeled all of that rage toward the rickshaw driver in a wild-eyed, high-volume, curse-filled rant that he likely didn’t understand a single word of but still understood the point perfectly well. When the stunned driver attempted to maintain his ground, I lunged forward, snatched the 50 yuan note out of his hand, and told Aaron to get out of the vehicle. At that point, the driver realized that he was in danger of getting paid nothing; he reached into his change box and quickly produced two 10 yuan notes. The transaction was complete.

Inside the hostel lobby, we began the check-in process. As Aaron attended to the paperwork, I noticed a sign on the wall, warning travelers not to patronize cyclos or rickshaws in Suzhou and not to believe anything they say. Well, it was a little late for that. We were shown to a room on the top floor with leaks in the ceiling that soaked nearly every surface except for the nice wooden canopy bed. We later switched rooms and began to unpack our bags, the contents of which had been soaked through from the rain.

Since we were already drenched, we decided to brave the downpour once again for a hot meal. After getting a few unpromising suggestions from the hostel staff, we ventured out onto the narrow canal road to see what we could find. We found nothing but a smoke-filled coffee shop, a bar, and a tiny dumpling shop where the women inside shooed us away as quickly as we had entered. Despite our rain gear, the ubiquitous wetness of the day soaked the exposed bottoms of our pant legs so thoroughly that the water spread all the way up to our waists. Fed up, we returned to the hostel empty-handed, pissed off, and resigned to sustain ourselves until morning on the fruit and nuts that we had in the room. It was a long night.

The next morning brought a reprieve from the rain and we rented a couple of bikes to explore the town. Suzhou is, in fact, a modern city with pockets of its former charm tucked away in canals and narrow stone roads lined with the original whitewashed buildings. Cars are prohibited from the canal roads, which makes them perfect for a relaxing stroll or a bike ride; and through the tree-lined streets and cobblestone lanes, there is a sense of beautifully preserved antiquity. Small wooden boats float the canals. Women fill buckets from water wells. Farmers push carts of fresh produce through the streets. Laundry hangs along the whitewashed walls of centuries-old residences. We even saw a woman bloodletting a chicken that fought for its life with all of its diminishing strength as blood dripped from its sliced throat into a metal pan. I found it disturbing but Aaron has a stronger stomach for these things.

Once you leave the quiet confines of the canal streets, Suzhou begins to lose its charm and morph into another bustling Chinese city with fast, noisy traffic, busy shopping areas and swarms of people. Normally, we would consider this a bad thing but the fact is that we were starving. Finding good food in China that does not contain MSG has proven to be a frustrating endeavor. They put it in EVERYTHING! Even the packaged cashews that I bought at the supermarket contained MSG! When Aaron located a TGI Friday’s in the town center, I considered it a gift from God. We parked our bikes and ate like kings.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the Humble Administrator’s Garden, which is said to be the largest and most impressive garden in Suzhou. Dating back to the 1500s, the garden was vast and lovely with the usual combination of lotus ponds, bamboo groves, pavilions, foot bridges, and stunning natural rock formations. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday and the garden was overcome with crowds of people, which detracted slightly from its charm and serenity, but it was still a great place to spend the afternoon.

Our visit to Suzhou ended much less dramatically than it began and we had already reached the point of being able to laugh at our own misadventures. As our cab reached the train station after an easy, ten-minute ride, we couldn’t help but laugh at the 12 yuan fare. It can be infuriating when a transaction as seemingly simple as a taxi ride turns into a wet and wild goose chase. Though, as seasoned travelers, we are constantly on guard against scenarios like these, they cannot always be avoided and, unfortunately, the potential is significantly higher in a non-English-speaking country. The truth is that situations like our Suzhou adventure cause me to marvel at the resilience and problem-solving capability of Team Young. The old saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger,” has been reaffirmed a hundred times over throughout our travels and every day in China alone.


June 29th 2008

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We boarded the morning train in Shanghai, and, after a wonderfully comfortable ride, reached Hangzhou by lunchtime. We had already booked seats on the 6:30p train back to Shanghai, which left us with just over six hours to explore. We took the city bus to West Lake in the center of the city. Hopping off the bus at the first sign of water, we grabbed a bite of lunch and then rented a pair of bikes to ride around the lake. A nice wide sidewalk bordered the lake but we soon learned that no bikes were allowed on it. After only fifteen minutes, we returned the bikes and began an hours-long stroll on the sidewalk. The surface of the lake was a pale blue that blended with the hazy sky. We spent the day walking leisurely, stopping to rest when we found a particularly pretty place. The lake was sectioned off by land bridges and islands, which made it seem like many lakes, each with its own unique atmosphere with gardens, parks, boats, pagodas and pavilions.

Our favorite area was the Quyuan Garden, a collection of gardens with willows, lush grasses, abundant lotuses, rivulets and pavilions, all combined in a series of picture-perfect landscapes. These are some of my favorite days on the road; the ones where beauty, harmony and romance seem to fill the air as I walk, happy and carefree with the one that I love. Asian gardens are among the most beautiful gardens in the world. Of all of the things that I will miss about Asia, its gardens are at the top.

When the time came to head back to the train station, we had barely traversed a third of the lake’s perimeter. Nevertheless, our legs were thoroughly stretched, out paws achy from pounding the pavement, and we were ready to go “home”.

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June 27th 2008

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In Shanghai, we have been trying to give China the benefit of the doubt. Shanghai City Central Youth Hostel turned out to be one of the best that we’ve seen on the road and we stayed indoors the entire first day, recovering from the Yangzi River debacle.

On our second morning, we woke refreshed and ready to explore. Taking the metro to the People’s Square in the city center, we walked leisurely through the park toward the Shanghai Museum, which had been highly recommended in our guide book. A large fountain decorated the courtyard in front of the museum, which was crowded with locals playing in the spray, selling kites and souvenirs, and just enjoying the day. The entrance was around the back and when we made our way there, we found a line of at least two hundred people waiting for the museum. This was at lunchtime on a weekday. We grumbled about the overpopulation in China and decided to move on.

We headed down East Nanjing Road on a wide pedestrian walkway lined with several stories of restaurants, retail shops, billboards and flashy neon signs with Chinese characters. The walkway was crowded with walkers and we were almost incessantly pestered by people peddling cheap watches, jewelry, handbags, leather goods and electronics. None of them spoke more than a few words of English but they were all quite assured that they had what we wanted, whatever it might be. They all had identical laminated picture cards showing an array of tacky accessories. The street itself was a spectacle, both fascinating and dizzying, with bright lights and people everywhere. We walked the length of it to the Bund, a famous street in Shanghai where a grand façade of Old European buildings face the modern architecture of the Pudong skyline across the Huangpu River. An elevated promenade along the west bank of the river was bustling with tourists and locals alike, taking in Shanghai’s best views.

As the gateway to the Yangzi River, Shanghai began as a fishing town. After the first Opium War in the mid-1800s, the British arrived, followed by the French and Japanese, all setting up concessions that were immune from Chinese law. Shanghai’s prime location made it an ideal trading port and it quickly became known for its opium, silk and tea trade. The budding metropolis also lured big finance houses from around the world and soon became a bastion of opium dens, brothels and gambling halls. Shanghai was nicknamed the Whore of the Orient and the Paris of the East. (Lonely Planet: China, May 2007) Most of the grand buildings along the Bund were erected during this colorful period in Shanghai’s past. Today the buildings appear to be occupied by banks, hotels, and government agencies but it is easy to imagine them in their former decadent splendor. We agreed that the Bund would be even more spectacular at night so we walked back to East Nanjing Road to kill a few hours.

The Bund at night was an awe-inspiring sight. The promenade was even more crowded with photo-happy revelers, patiently awaiting the full-scale brilliance of the illuminated Pudong skyline. When the last remnants of sunlight had faded to dark, the skyline was a kaleidoscope of colorful twinkle lights against a midnight blue sky. The ships traversing the river bedazzled onlookers with twinkle and neon. The Old European buildings were bathed in white light, enhancing the grand details and timeless beauty for which European architecture is famous. By the Bund alone, Shanghai has won my vote as China’s most beautiful city.

The next morning began with a single piece of misinformation which led us on a wild goose chase. We wanted to take the two-hour train ride to Hangzhou for a day trip but were sent to the wrong train station. From there, we attempted a mad dash on the subway to the correct station but you can’t rush the subway and we arrived at the other station way too late. We made the best of our situation by buying train tickets for the next morning and taking in another day of Shanghai, although Aaron would continue seething over the misinformation for several days afterward.

We stopped for a quick bite at a popular noodle chain and then decided to try the Shanghai Museum again. The line was just as long as the day before but, with our Hangzhou plans foiled, we had little else to do. Luckily, we had our books with us and the literary escape made the hour-long wait bearable. Once inside, we went directly to the attraction that we were most excited about: a traveling exhibit from the British Museum called Ancient Olympic Games. It was an impressive collection of artifacts relating to the origin of sport in ancient Greece and its relationship to pagan Gods; the cessation of the games as pagan Gods lost favor in Greek society; and the re-emergence of the tradition centuries later in its modern format.

The permanent exhibits in the Shanghai Museum were decidedly underwhelming. We wandered through halls of ancient Chinese calligraphy and painting, sculpture and bronze works. The stone- and wood-carved sculptures were the most impressive despite the fact that the only subjects of the works were Buddha and Bodhisattvas (Enlightened Ones). We’ve seen so many Buddhas in our four months in Asia that we can hardly get excited about them anymore. Still, the Shanghai Museum was immaculate, air-conditioned, free, and had the best bathrooms in all of China, which is probably the reason that we stayed as long as we did.

The afternoon was for Yuyuan Garden in Old Town Shanghai. The gardens were first established in 1559 and took eighteen years to cultivate. They were ravaged once during the Opium War and later by the French in retaliation for Chinese impediment on their concession. (Lonely Planet: China, May 2007) The gardens have since been revived and are now one of the most popular tourist sights in Shanghai. The entrance was a bazaar of antique wooden buildings surrounding a glittering lake. The buildings were occupied by shops and restaurants, including Starbucks and Dairy Queen (the Chinese LOVE ice cream – it’s EVERYWHERE, much to Aaron’s delight). True to its reputation, Yuyuan Garden was thronged with tourists. We fought the crowds through the teeming bazaar to the garden where the ambience was considerably more serene. Inside the confines of the garden walls, wooden pavilions and halls were built upon artistic, porous rock formations. Willow trees wept over sparkling carp ponds. Rock gardens and centuries-old, meticulously-pruned trees decorated the edges of every pond and wall. As we wandered through the picturesque perfection of the gardens, we felt a renewed sense of excitement about China. Amid the plethora of unsavory cultural differences and discomforts is an abundance of unique and diversely framed windows into the history of a vast nation that, for better or worse, influenced almost all of Asia in building and landscape architecture, technology, language and culture.

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