I really didn’t know what to expect. Truth be told, I had never really had a deep interest in traveling to China. I shouldn’t say that. I know I shouldn’t say that… China has an extraordinary history. It is one that seems almost impossible to fully comprehend, since it is thousands of years old and spans dozens of dynasties. Many people warned me in advance “You know, they don’t speak English there… they only speak Chinese.” This was not a problem for me. Speaking Chineses in China made sense. The idea that I would have to bend to the traditions and customs of another place resonated with me. Of course people should speak Chinese in China. I would figure it out… somehow.
No matter what one thinks about its policies, it is an extraordinary force. So I went. It was for work, so while there was clearly not a big agenda of sights to see lined up, I thought that there would be some kind of cultural experience to come out of it all.
Let me start by saying I was surprised in a good way. Yes, I know, I was in one city in an enormous country, however Shanghai is a critically important city to the history of China (most cities by the sea fall into this category…think NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Mumbai, etc). The first thing that struck me upon entering Shanghai was the efficiency of everything. I suppose when a city has roughly 26 million people it has to be efficient, otherwise it will collapse upon itself. It was also green. Very very green. I knew about the problems with pollution, and I knew to expect bad air quality, but somehow seeing all of the trees everywhere made it seem more bearable…
In the brief few hours scattered over the days I was in the city I managed to wander around the French Concession area. We stumbled upon O’Mills Bakery in the middle of it all, and wandered upstairs with almond-milk lattes, huge slices of lemon cake, and a vegan deep chocolate brownie. It was an incredible little bakery in the midst of it all.
A sharp contrast to the French Concession area was Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai premiere shopping streets, that was filled with neon, tourists, and shopkeepers each beckoning people to come in and try their sweet delights.
And then Yu Garden, which seems relatively new compared to much of China’s remarkable history. It dates back to the 1500s, and it is a huge tourist spot, drawing locals and people visiting from all over. After walking around what seemed like endless shops on the perimeter of the actual gardens, you can wander around the gardens themselves and get lost in the meandering corridors and coy ponds.
In the brief time I had to explore Shanghai I found myself in a state of awe and wonder. It is exciting, dynamic, and alive. It captures the past, while looking into the future at the same time. It is easy to maneuver (once you accept the fact that you will not be speaking English), and it delights all of the senses. I am grateful for the opportunity of having been able to visit not only this remarkable city but China. 谢谢