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Across the Middle Kingdom

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27 July 1998 - Shanghai

The sky here is a clear blue. It is glorious.

While at breakfast, we met the other four members of our group: Warren and Lois, a married couple, and Sy and Pat, apparent companions, all from New Jersey. We'd met them when we arrived in China, but they'd had a different first few days than the rest of the group, so this was the first they'd been with us on the actual tour.

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After breakfast, we travelled the roads to the "Old City," which was basically a very large open-air shopping center with an ancient garden within. I probably sound like I'm demeaning the area; not so. It really was an open-air shopping center, built to resemble the traditional structures of the area, and it was organized around a noble's garden (which had already been there). We toured the garden, which was rather lovely in a sparse sort of way.

The shopping area itself was sort of interesting. There were street vendors, of a sort, as well as glass-front stores such as you might see in any other country. As everywhere in China, there were throngs of people bustling about. Kat wanted to spend more time shopping and looking at the various antique stores, but the guides insisted that we press on. I suspect they don't like it when people try to upset their schedules, but then, Kat hates to be constrained by schedules when there are (in her view) more interesting things to do. I'm sort of interested to see which side wins out. I think I'd put money on Kat, personally.

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After leaving the market, we visited the Children's Palace, a place of learning and instruction for young children. They can study all manner of musical, dramatic, and other performing arts. Plus there is a kids' pool. We saw two little girls give dramatic presentations in Chinese, and they acted just like any little girl would in any school in any part of the world. One of them was obviously trying to do things as an adult would, and the other was a complete ham. There was also a ballet recital, in which there was one girl who was so self-assured and at ease that she stood out like a beacon. My reaction was that she would, if she worked at it, be a huge media star later in life. It was weird experiencing that kind of power from an early teen, but there it was.

We bought a few things in their shop, including (I shudder to admit this) two Beanie Babies which are supposedly worth quite a lot of money back in the U.S. We figure that even if they're worthless knock-offs, we can give them as gifts to children we know, which will make them worth something right there. Kat also bought a scroll reading "I am born" and a Chairman Mao watch. She's very happy.

Lunch was Western and unremarkable.

In the afternoon, Kat and Brenda went back to the Old City on their own-- looks like my bet was a winner-- just to shop and wander about. I stayed with the tour group and visited a residential co-operative. It's about what one would expect: committees, programs for the children and the aged, et cetera. Since we didn't really see much, there isn't much to say, except it is apparently the same co-operative that Jimmy Carter visited when making an official visit to China. As for Kat's expedition:

Brenda and I arrived in the old city without difficulty. We spent several wonderful hours exploring the Shanghai Antiques & Curio Market. I bought a jade necklace for about US$35; the one piece I truly loved was US$2700. If only I were rich... I also bought a piece of silk embroidered with one hundred children, to give to Carol Meyer. It is supposed to bring luck and harmony to the classroom and teacher (I'm hoping she can hang it in her classroom).

After several hours of intense looking at stuff we decided it was time for a break. Our guide had told us about a wonderful dumpling house in the middle of the old city. After several wrong turns, we found it and went in. Each table had about ten chairs-- we ended up with seven young men. At one point I lost my chopsticks and they were kind enough to get me another one.

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After visiting the co-operative, we saw the waterfront, which had a nice view of the massive development occuring on the other side of the river. I got a lot of pictures, although I can't say exactly why, since it was just a bunch of buildings. They were interesting, but still. I noticed that the water level was quite high. There was a lower-level patio, which I suppose is usually several feet above the waterline. When we were there, however, the patio was under about six inches of water. It doesn't look like the Yangtze floods have subsided, so we'll just have to hop that it doesn't disrupt our cruise too much. I also allowed myself to be overcharged by a wandering paper-cutting artist for my portrait.

Kat and I met back at the hotel. She'd brought me some dumplings from the Old City-- they were quite delicious, and still very warm to boot.

Before dinner, we saw the "New Shanghai Circus," which is basically and acrobatics and contortionist act. Some of it was very, very good. For dinner, a small group of us went to the Chang An dumpling restaurant. Imagine our reaction to finding no English menu, and nobody who spoke English-- this in a place which serves over 100 varieties of dumpling, none of which we could identify. We managed quite splendidly by employing the "point and pantomime" method, and the food was very good. Occasionally mysterious, but still good.

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