Before I left for my latest trip I tried immerse myself in as much of the history of China as I could without getting bored. I learned a lot. I watched this American propaganda film from World War Two called Battle For China by Frank Capra. It explains why we’re fighting on China’s side and tries to explain some of the culture to your average American from 1942.Basically Capra says to understand China, you have to understand three things…
- CHINA IS HISTORY
- CHINA IS LAND
- CHINA IS PEOPLE
You might be thinking that every country is history, land and people. And you’re right. But it was so clear from even my short trip that China has more history, more land and more people than any other country on Earth.So much history.So much land.Oh so many people.Because there’s so much of these three things, China is a REALLY hard place to really understand in a week long trip to one region. It’s such a diverse place – so many different languages, cultural nuances, and historical rivalries – that it’s exciting and stimulating but also sort of a mystery. Shanghai is probably the most cosmopolitan city in China and it is really a city of contrasts. It is so old and and so new and fast and so slow and so Chinese and so foreign. Skyscrapers so high and alleys so narrow. So here’s a quick recap…First impression on getting off the subway: Chinatown, NY smells like China. I don’t know what that smell is, special Chinese cooking oil, some spices or what, but it sure smells like China.Second impression on getting off the subway: This ain’t bad. Even though the streets are chaotic, the overall feeling of the city wasn’t insane. There appears to be chaos to my northern European eye, but people seem to know what they’re doing and everyone knows the deal. Even though people are going to wrong way on streets and blowing red lights, people aren’t getting run over constantly. Shops are well-kept, the people look well fed, happy and prosperous and the streets themselves are clean.At first I assumed that that was because Shanghai had spent billions getting ready for the Expo, but it was the same in Nanjing – a big city but by no means a huge international tourist destination.Brief summary of events:day 1: Arrive from Seoul. Wander around People’s Square, get hit on by lots of cute Chinese girls – realize it’s a scam and walk away. Eat some delicious Chinese food. Rendezvous with my father. Eat some more food.day 2: Go to the Old City to get fitted for dress shirts. It rains. We look for a site seeing ferry by the river but can’t find the ticket booth. We nap. French Concession for dinner. Delicious noodles at a hip restaurant. Beautiful women – foreign and Chinese abound. We head to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center and enjoy some cocktails in the highest bar in the world. Rich people. Everywhere.day 3: Go to a state owned restaurant for breakfast. It is, of course, delicious. We check out of our hotel and head to the train station. High speed rail to Nanjing. Get slightly lost in Nanjing but find our hotel eventually (despite being an international chain, its sign was only in mandarin). We go to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yatsen, the founder of modern China, on top of a nearby mountain. It is amazing. We meet up with some Germans on the way down with whom we share a van. Visit the Confucian temple in downtown Nanjing. It is crowded. KFC for dinner – it’s not bad. At the hotel I swim some laps and hit the sauna and steam-room, followed by drinks with my dad in the hotel bar.day4: Cross the Yangtze by ferry and back again. The Yangtze is big, crowded and muddy – a lot like China itself. Then we visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. 300,000 people were raped and murdered in Nanjing by the Japanese with hammers, nails, clubs, swords and bayonets and the memorial has the mutilated bodies to prove it. We head back to Shanghai by train. When I’m in the Nanjing Train Station, I’m greeted by such a huge chaotic crowd – thousands among thousands of people shouting and pushing – that you’d think the Japanese were coming again, but no – it’s just a Thursday afternoon in Nanjing. That night, we head back to the French Concession and visit the site of the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party. The shrine to Communism is surrounded by expensive boutiques and restaurants serving 400rmb entrees (60$US) to mostly foreign tourists and business people. We eat at a cheap Chinese place up the street. I discover the joy of XO sauce.day 5: Shanghai Expo 2010. This deserves a pot in and of itself. I’ll just say that it is amazing and I’m really happy I went. I ate food from around the world, visited all of the Axis of Evil pavilions and saw some amazing architecture. A whole day there is capped off by a cruise down the Huangpu River to the Bund and a visit to a brewery which serves decent American food.day 6: Exhausted by this point. It’s rainy. We have an amazing dim-sum breakfast. We pick up my shirts and buy some gifts for various people – burn down the remainder of our Chinese money. The rain picks up. We kill time at a coffee shop till we head to the airport.If it had been sunny – maybe we would have mustered the energy for a last spurt of activity. A shame, because there’s still so much more to see in Shanghai. More thoughts to come.