Thursday, April 30: It’s another three-day holiday weekend in China, so I decide at the last-minute to fly to Shanghai. This holiday is International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, and celebrates laborers and the working classes. The holiday is promoted by the international labor movement, anarchists, socialists and communists.
While I’ve been in China, I’ve taken advantage of every national holiday to travel, and of course, when I do, I have to move with the rest of the country. It’s no fun traveling on a tidal wave of nearly 1.4 billion people, and after this holiday, I decide I’m done. I will take several more trips, but not again on a holiday weekend. I finally have come to understand why my colleagues who have been here for years don’t want to bother traveling on the national holidays. I’ve finally reached that point of saturation myself.
My journey doesn’t start well. As I’m walking to the main gate of the university to catch a taxi to the airport, the skies open up in a torrential downpour, and even walking under an umbrella, my jean jacket, suitcase and the entire bottom of my pants below the knee get drenched. Inside the taxi, and later in the airport, I’m shivering because my clothes are wet, and they seem to take forever to dry.
While I’m sitting in the airport, the skies open up again, accompanied by roaring thunder, vicious lightning strikes, sheets of rain, and howling winds. No preparations are underway for boarding and I know the storms will hold us up. Sure enough, the flight is delayed 1 1/2 hours due to the ferocious storms. My flight was to leave at 6:20 p.m., but instead we leave at nearly 8:00, meaning I will arrive in Shanghai at around 10:30.
While I sit shivering in the airport, reading about Shanghai in the torn-out pages of my Lonely Planet China, a Chinese girl sits beside me talking on her mobile phone for three straight hours. So annoying!
My flights for this trip were not too expensive, but they’re a little convoluted. I fly into Pudong International Airport, 40 km east of the city, on China Southern, and I fly out from the old Hongqiao Airport, 15 km west of the city, on Juneyao Airlines. Since my flight out on Monday is early in the morning, I book a hotel, the Pentahotel, closest to the Hongqiao Airport, on the west side of the city. This means when I arrive at Pudong, I have a very long taxi ride to my hotel.
When I’m making my way out of the airport, the usual suspicious-looking characters approach with “deals” to take me to my hotel. One driver tells me he will take me for 150 yuan. I think that price surely must be outrageous, even though I know it is a long way to the hotel. He points to the taxi queue down below us, and I can see it’s extraordinarily long, but I figure I should try to be thrifty for once and stand in the queue. It turns out I stand in the queue for nearly an hour. Then, the metered taxi ride to my hotel takes just under another hour, and it costs — take a guess! — 150 yuan!! I would have been better off taking the first man’s offer! So frustrating.
When I go to pay the taxi driver his 150 yuan, all I have is two 100 yuan bills. He tries to leave without giving me change. Luckily, a hotel staff person is standing there as I tell him he owes me 50 yuan. He gives me a 20. I continue to hold out my hand, and he sheepishly hands me another 20. Finally, I thrust my hand in his face again, waiting for last 10, and he grudgingly hands it over. Argh!! I love how people always try to rip me off, especially since I’m a Westerner! They seem to think we’re all made of money. Believe me, as a teacher in China, I am certainly NOT made of money.
Finally, after my arduous journey, I’m rewarded by an amazing room at the Pentahotel. The hotel has a wonderful restaurant and bar downstairs, and my room is excellent. There is a bathtub, a rare bonus in China, and the bed is the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in during my entire time here. I arrive shortly after midnight and plan to sleep as late as I need to. I have three full days to explore Shanghai, and although I’ll barely make a dent in China’s largest city, I can at least get a feel for what it’s like.
Friday, May 1: In the morning, I wake up to blue skies and the forecast is good. This is my view out my hotel window.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel is a smorgasbord of Western and Chinese food. For 50 yuan, I pile my plate with fried rice, dumplings, sautéed mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, orange juice, and coffee. On CNN News, reporters talk about the Baltimore curfews, protests and arrests following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, while in police custody. I’m surprised to see this news here in Shanghai. It really is a small world.
After breakfast, my stomach is not feeling so good. I don’t know what is wrong with me and the food in China, but we definitely do not agree with one another. I am here in Shanghai to explore, however, so I am not going to let these stomach problems keep me down. I head out to the metro station right around the corner from my hotel, the Zhongshan Park metro station, line 2. I walk through endless corridors filled with shops and I’m amazed at how the Chinese use every inch of space for commerce. Underground passageways are always filled with shops in China, even in Nanning. There is nothing like this in the Washington, D.C. metro system. In these corridors full of shops, there are also restrooms, although they’re not particularly nice ones. I do appreciate this, however. I believe all metro stations everywhere should have public toilets.
Line 2 is packed with people, and I stand holding on to a dangling handhold, unable to move in any direction. It’s so claustrophobic! My intention is to go directly to the Bund, but instead, I want to escape the crowds, so I get off at Jing’an Si (temple). When I get out of the metro, I’m greeted by an Old Navy store, occupying a busy corner.
I look all around for the temple and finally see it, barely, nestled in the midst of modern high-rises.
At this bustling temple, incense is burning, monks are praying, people are bowing with incense offerings and tourists are milling about, posing for all manner of pictures.
According to Wikipedia, the temple was first built in 247 AD during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. Originally located beside Suzhou Creek, it was relocated to its current site in 1216 during the Song dynasty. The current temple was rebuilt in the Qing dynasty, but during the Cultural Revolution, it was converted into a plastic factory. In 1983, it was returned to its original purpose and renovated, with the Jing’an Pagoda completed in 2010 (Wikipedia: Jing’an Temple).
The temple, known as the Temple of Peace and Tranquility, boasts the longest history of any religious structure in Shanghai. Prior to 1949, it was Shanghai’s richest Buddhist monastery, presided over by the Abbott of Bubbling Well Road, Khi Vehdu. He was a gangster-like figure who kept seven mistresses and a White Russian bodyguard. The temple is also the headquarters for the Mi Sect, a Chinese Buddhist discipline that was all but extinct until it was reintroduced from Japan in 1953 (Shanghai: Cultural-China.com: Jing An Si (Jing An Temple)).
Today’s Southern-style main halls are all recent renovations using Burmese teak (Shanghai: Cultural-China.com: Jing An Si (Jing An Temple)).
After I finish exploring all the nooks and crannies of this temple, I head back to the metro, where I get off at the East Nanjing station. From here, I’ll head down to the waterfront to see the famous Bund.