Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunday in China



After slightly more than 24 hours travel time, we arrived in Shanghai Saturday night. Exhausted, we ordered room service and went to sleep. The next morning, our mission was to sample Shanghai's rampant consumerism...I had forgotten to pack most of my shirts, so I needed to buy a few before the conference. I plotted a walk from our hotel to the French Concession's Huaihai Road shopping area.

Unfortunately, this walk took us past the now-closed Xiangyang Market, which specialized in knock-off designer goods. As far as I can tell, former vendors hang out outside the demolished market and plead with you to come to their new location. What's worse is that they follow you for blocks to do so. I've never seen vendors that pushy in India or Mexico -- which is saying something. At one point we ducked into a Starbucks and left via a back exit into a hotel in order to ditch them.

Eventually, we made it to the department store and got my shirts (yay). It was a little bit challenging to figure out my size, but we did find one shirt labeled with a conversion chart. Also, I'm apparently in the upper end of the size range in Shanghai (Yao Ming not withstanding). Then we were able to walk back, sample some more souvenir-oriented shopping and do a little bit of sightseeing.

We stopped into two museums. One was the Shikumen open house. A "shikumen" is a 19th-century-style Shanghai stone house. They're disappearing rapidly as the city gets redeveloped, but it was interesting to see what life in Shanghai was like before the skyscrapers. The other museum was the location of the first national congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It was interesting to read the...ahem...propaganda. The biographies of the attendees noted that several formerly loyal party members for some reason decided to go over to the enemy and had to be executed. Also, Christina was amused by the reproduction of the first meeting that showed Mao towering over the other delegates, who were listening with rapt attention. (Sorry, no pictures allowed.)

About halfway back, we encountered the persistent hawkers again and grabbed a cab, which ended up costing $1.50. We wondered why we didn't just take a cab in the first place, other than the walk being good for us and allowing us to experience the city on our first full day. The cheap cabs were one of the most convenient things about Shanghai...even the hour-long ride to the airport cost less than $20.
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