March 25, 2019, here we go. This promises to be a lot of fun. The itinerary is exciting, I like the ship, and I have a little group of six of my own and a Distinctive Voyages Group of 47. We’re going on the Celebrity Millennium, freshly refurbished. It doesn’t sail until March 30, which gives the six of us three days in Shanghai to soak up the culture and the food before we join the ship, and the larger group.
I have Steve and Trish Harrold with me, old friends from Montreal, who now live in Fountaingrove Lodge, too. I used to work with Steve at IBM. That’s how long we go back. He and Trish spent a lot of years in Silicon Valley, Florida, and the U.K. but we always kept in touch and visited each other. They’re the people who came to sit Sylly P in 2015 and ended up with me occupying the guest bedroom, and its adjustable bed, healing my broken pelvis. This was a bad deal for them, but it worked for me, and they were good sports about it. We’ll be joined by Scott, whom I met on a cruise a dozen years ago, and who got me into the travel business. Scott’s bringing a couple of his old school friends, Roz and Donna, so it should be a good little group.
We crossed the international date line and got in a half-hour early, on March 26. It was a nice flight. Thank you United. Economy Plus helped a lot. Steve and Trish had 21 A & C and no one showed up to claim the middle seat. I love it when that works, and it does, about ¾ of the time in Economy Plus. I sat with a couple of nice Chinese businessmen, in the seat behind. We were all fine.
We got through customs and collected our baggage, without event. We were staying in the Hyatt on the Bund. Our hotel greeter was where he was supposed to be, and our Benz van was just fine. The three from Seattle came in around the same time, but to a different terminal. They queried the “World of Hyatt” sign holder like we did, but he didn’t have them down, and they ended up having to take a taxi. It was the hotel’s error, and at least they didn’t get charged.
Steve Trish and I had a lovely drink on the 32nd floor overlooking the old Bund, with its early 20th century “skyscrapers”. They look short now, especially from the 32nd floor, but they are still gorgeous, all lit up. I was worried about the others, so I went down to the lobby to check and met them. They had just checked in.
The morning of the 27th was free for our brains to catch up with our bodies. I went to the gym, then spent some time with Tyronne, the Concierge, sorting out a lot of things. You can’t beat a good hotel concierge, especially when you are town where you can’t speak the language, nor read the signs.
Our guide, Mira, was there well before one. First, she took us on a little Bund walk, to get us oriented. The Peace Hotel is now a Fairmont and has been beautifully refurbished. The old Jazz Club is still there, though, and Roz made a mental note that she’d like to see it in action. We also went into the HSBC headquarters, whose own make-over, revealed fabulous ceiling frescos. Someone had painted over them in the forties, and the Red Guard missed them, when they were purging all foreign culture. A painter discovered them when prepping the surface for a re-paint. It turned out to be a restoration, instead. They are beautiful and a piece of history.
On the way to the Old Town, Mira talked about life in Shanghai. She was brought up in one of the old alley houses, and showed us the last downtown ones, soon to be demolished. A family lived in one room, of course, there was only one child, but still. Everything else was communal. Water and fire for cooking were down on the street. Chamber pots got emptied there in the morning. When the government started building high rise condos, you got a free one in exchange for your alley house room. Mira was delighted. She was a teenager at the time and finally had her own space. They had a toilet and kitchen, too, all of this in 500 square feet. Eventually her parents sold it and moved to the suburbs.
Parents interfere heavily in matters of the heart, here. If you have a daughter, and those are rare, what matters is that she marries a man who has a condo. There’s a marriage market in a park on Saturdays, where the parents negotiate with each other. Mira has two sons and has already started to save for this.
Two sons, you ask? It’s a new rule. You can have two children, if both parents are only children. There was some high drama in her house, when she got pregnant for the second time, thinking she was an only child, and found out her father had another. He had been long divorced from her mother, but the paperwork found him. Lucky for her, the law changed, just in time, and all is well. It could have meant a fine of three years salary, from both her and her husband.
On to the Old Town and Yu Yuan garden, a 16th century Ming Dynasty private garden and residence. It’s an oasis of tranquility, with the essential elements of a Chinese garden – pavilions, water, vegetation, rock formations, and bridges. The Old Town refers to the original Chinese city that flourished in the Ming dynasty. We enjoyed a tea tasting at one of local teahouses in Old Town. During the Tea Ceremony, Mira told us that this was grave sweeping week, and there was more than the usual traffic on the roads. That meant our trip to Suzhou would take at least a half hour longer, each way, maybe an hour, and it was a two-hour drive at the best of times. Since we were going to a water town tomorrow, she thought she could give us a better day in we stayed in Shanghai. We said we would discuss and give her an answer tomorrow. I couldn’t resist this sign on the inside door of the loo.
It’s the usual sensitive plumbing notice, but it took me a while to figure that out.
It had started to rain, but we pushed on to the French Concession, the district ceded to the French following the Sino-British Opium War in 1842. Many of Shanghai’s most beautiful residences were created in the French Concession when Shanghai was known as the “Venice of the East”. Alas, it’s very large and we were far away from my doctor’s school, St Jeanne d’Arc. I hear it’s still there, though. We did visit the Arts and Crafts Museum, housed in a Mansion in the French Concession, called The White House. It was very well done, with old and new exhibits, including a sculpture that really wasn’t there. It was all done with light and mirrors, and a tiny motor.
We finished off in Xaofandi, which is a new section filled with restaurant chains. The ones we had heard off, which started in China were Ye Shanghai, and Maxim’s, which I know from Hong Kong, and Din Tai Fong, which the Seattle contingent knew, because its first foray outside China was there.
We were still tired from the sleepless flight, so we just ate at Xindalu in the Hyatt. The food was great, but the ordering was a real process. Every so often someone brought in a concierge to help, as no one in the restaurant spoke English.
On the morning of the 28th, we had another fabulous breakfast at the Hyatt’s buffet of Western and Oriental delights. That sets us up, so we don’t waste touring time on lunch. We were off to the picturesque suburb of Zhujiajiao. located just 45 minutes west of central Shanghai, This ancient river town seems worlds apart. Stone bridges arch over bubbling, but filthy waterways flowing from the Dianshan Lake. Willow trees shade the riverbanks, flanked on either side by thousands of carefully preserved buildings, homes and courtyards, all constructed during the Qing and Ming Dynasties. A lot of them have been turned into Tea Rooms, as the whole thing is now a tourist town. Trish and I were delighted to find one of our favorites, a fish spa. We skipped the post office, soy sauce factory, rice commissary, and traditional Chinese herbal pharmacy, in favor of twenty minutes of tickly bliss as the fishies gave us a pedicure.
Then we took a nice ride through the town on a wobbly sampan that you would not have wanted to tip over. It was very interesting, lovely and peaceful, as long as you didn’t look at the filthy water itself and kept your imagination reined in. I particularly liked the wooden cages for the air conditioners.
Mira’s patter on the way in and out was easily the best part. We learned about barber shops that don’t cut hair, but rather are whore houses, how the people view the Officials, how they view foreign official visitors and how those relate to the Chinese officials. The new face of Communism is turning right. The old joke is that if you put Clinton, Yeltsin and Deng Xiaoping in a car, Clinton would turn right, Yeltsin left, and Deng would turn on the left turn signal and turn right.
Chinese people do not vote. Only party officials vote. Her husband joined the party as a student, hoping for better jobs. You get them, but you also have to do a lot of homework to stay on top. You have apps to log in to, learn and be examined. It’s a lot of work. Her husband is a “Shanghai Boy”. Shanghai makes the best husbands and the worst wives. Shanghai Boys are easy going and let the women run the households. They do a lot of the housework and take care of the kids. The wives manage the money. They say the Shanghai Boy is the meat in the sandwich, between wife and mom. Many Shanghai girls are very choosy, looking for the perfect man. Trouble is, the perfect man won’t put up with them.
TV is censored. You never see a negative story about a Chinese party official. They shut down the factories when they have Foreign dignitaries visiting, so they never see the pollution. We do, though. They don’t get vacation, just extra days around festivals, so the traffic is always a mess when you are off work.
We had dinner at Imperial Treasure, 4/F in the YiFung Mall, just up the street from the Waldorf on the Bund. The prices were high, but it was exquisite, very elegant, perfectly prepared food, beautifully served. Including a bottle of Chinese Chandon Brut, it was cheaper than the hotel dining room.
Steve and Trish took a cab home, while Roz, Donna and I went to the Peace Hotel for the Jazz. We got there about nine and were treated to the warm up band, meaning the really old farts. They were good, although sometimes it was “Guess this tune” or “Guess what language she’s singing in”. Around ten, they swapped these guys for a better lot and it really started to swing around eleven, by which time, the bar stools were killing us, and we had an early call in the morning. Not even I had drunk my way through the 300 Yuan ($45) minimum.