They also, to their credit, gave us some free time. One day a gang of us walked Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s legendary, eight-block-long shopping district, busier than Times Square and more exotic (this included a back alley stop in a building dedicated to the sale of bootlegs: watches, leatherware, clothing). The final day was totally free. Some went to Pudong (I would have liked a second ride on the Maglev, the Shanghai-only bullet train I rode in 2007), which I hope to visit another time so I can see the Museum of Science and Technology. I, however, marched to a solo drummer largely because I was hung over from a well-lubricated and gustatorily remarkable dinner the night before.
I figured walking from the hotel to the Shanghai Museum in People’s Park would bake out the toxins. Two miles later, fried under that harsh metallic sky, I arrived at the museum, an amazing, rust-colored, ring-like structure in the immaculately manicured People’s Park. That museum is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Here’s why:
- Signs in Chinese and very good English.
- Wings dedicated to calligraphy, ceramics, bronze, currency, and the country’s ethnic minorities.
- Friendly security that allowed the taking of photographs.
- Gift shops offering everything from cheap bookmarks to expensive jade.
- An altogether inviting ambience underlined by relaxing, beautiful architecture.
Besides my visual takeaways, I gleaned a deeper appreciation of today’s China, a defiantly mixed bag of central government control and tremendous individual entrepreneurialism. Can’t get Facebook or Youtube in China. Can’t speak out easily. Hard to complain about the environmental depredation, let alone get officials to address the problem. Despite all that, the city felt incredibly dynamic, in the vanguard of the Wild East.
A map in the minorities section showed how many ethnic groups there are in China and how different they are in style, language, culture. Which makes one appreciate that no matter how repugnant certain aspects of Mao’s regime were – the famine resulting from the Great Leap Forward comes to mind – the way the Chinese communists crafted one country out of so many was an extraordinary political accomplishment.
Don’t miss the Shanghai Museum if you go to Shanghai, and stop to smell the flowers in People’s Park, the heart of the city.
The image that beds deepest within me is the nighttime view of Pudong from a window in my suite on the 21st floor of the Waldorf Astoria. With the Oriental Pearl Tower at my left (it looks like a needle with pearls in its gullet), the Grand Hyatt (it looks like the hippest, largest bottle opener) at near right, and various commercial buildings doubling as electronic billboards, it’s singularly electric, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis come to life.
With glowing dinner boats plying the Huangpu, Pudong’s nightscape is a siren call for Shanghai, a city that attracts me more each time I visit.