Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Shanghai -- Art Museum, Silk, City God Mall and Garden, Jet's Chop, and Acrobats, May 31

I woke up unable to speak because of my throat. I was tired, but felt mostly lucid. I was also absolutely determined to be able to go on the extra trip on the first, the next day, as we'd paid extra for it, and I really wanted to see the Garden out in Suzhou.

I knew that there was going to be a lot involved today, so was careful about where I spent my energy. It helped that the breakfast buffet in Shanghai was one of the best that we'd seen up to that point. One of Jet's favorites at this stop were the baked buns topped with roh soong (a slow cooked pork that was cooked until it fell completely apart and even further until it dried to crumbles of sweet/salty porky goodness) and butter. There were also three kind of rice porridge, including a pumpkin one that I fell in love with. They also had fresh longan and three kinds of croissants along with paper-wrapped muffins of all kinds.

I did realize that I was beginning to long for American food, but it might have been as much a comfort thing because I was sick as anything.

Everyone was very nice to me, too, which was wonderful. I really have to say that I enjoyed our traveling companions, and the beauty of this new city before us.

View from our Room

That's the view from the window of our room of the city in mist. Jevons, our national guide, was also our local guide for Shanghai, since he lives here. 3000 years ago, this whole thing was nothing but a fishing village. It was the first Opium War, which China lost in 1840, that forced open a port for the Europeans in to China, and much of the city of Shanghai is referred to as "The British Concession", "The Russian Concession", "The French Concession", "The American Concession", and so on. They were all parts of the city given to the various countries involved, and they have taken them over. So Shanghai is one of the most Westernized cities in the country, which has allowed it to interface with the West most comfortably.

So it's the trade hub with the rest of the world, for China, with both sides of that particular coin. It's ten times the size of Manhattan, contains well over a thousand skyscrapersOne thing Shanghai is known for is its futuristic architecture, and, as they said near the beginning of the trip, Beijing is the country's present, Xi'an was the past, but Shanghai is a vision of the country's future.

Art Museum
This is the Shanghai Art Museum, which sits on one edge of a popular park, where people gather all the time. Many of the buildings around that park are equally futuristic, with an Opera House, and other performing arts sites all around. Jevons said that lots of people gather there throughout the year. The building is formed of the circle and the square of the meeting of Heaven and Earth, and contains four stories of the cultural heritage of the country.

Out in front of the building were nearly a dozen different "lions" that had been sent to the Chinese government, in one form or another, over the last millennium, and the lions had as many different forms as the places they were from. While there are no lions in China, they were still adopted as a symbol of power. Once inside, everyone was allowed to just see whatever they wanted to for two hours, given that there were well over a dozen complete exhibits within the museum we really had to priotize what we wanted to see.

Minority Costumes
One exhibit was based on the artifacts and crafts of the various ethnic minorities throughout China. There was an entire room filled with the celebration costumes and ornamented garments of each tribe. I loved the colors and brightness of this Mongolian robe!

There were the pounds and pounds of silver ornaments of the Miao, which Lily had told us about, where the women will obtain and wear 20 kilos of silver as their ideal of beauty. There were jewelry, clothing, and even a few boats from one of the tribes all displayed with some annotations as to where they came from and sometimes there was information of the intended celebration.

It was fascinating to just wander through and see Muslim, African, and Russian influences throughout. Jevons said that some of the emperors had a habit of trying to marry traders along the Silk Road to local women to keep their trade, and the descendants of those unions look as Chinese as anyone, but have their own heritage and religious backgrounds.

A legend come to life...
Jade filled another display. There were the usual uses for the stone, with jewelry, housewares, office tools, and even garden ornaments. Amid them, however, was this, which I consider a legend made real.

It's a jade sword with a wood scabbard and metal fittings.

Remember in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon there was a jade sword? It's a figure of legend throughout Chinese stories, and to find a very real implementation of that legend gave me pause. It was amid a grouping of axe-heads, knives, and other implements made from the same material. The axes in particular looked like they'd had plenty of use, and it was interesting to see that this sword had almost exactly the same dimensions and fittings as the chrome-covered bronze sword in the Xi-an tombs.

It looks like it's the duller matte colors of mountain jade, rather than the translucency of jadeite. Though some of the fittings above it could well have been jadeite.

Multi-use Chop
There were five rooms filled with signature seals, a very very few from the Qing Dynasty and many more as time went on. They were beautifully presented, often with an impression of the seal or chop on paper beside the actual chop. Some were exquisitely made, others were blocks of stone with multiple sets of signatures or official stamps on their faces, like these. The top seal had eight different signatures carved into all six faces, and all the impressions are on the paper below.

In Chinese culture, the chop or signature seal was the equivalent to ones official signature. You used it for all official documents, and you kept it as close to yourself as your own identity. Written signatures were notoriously difficult to make identical, as they rely on the brush, ink, and paper used as well as the skill of the writer. Also a hand-carved seal was very difficult to replicate exactly, whereas the stamp from a particular seal would always be identical, so these seals were used everywhere and by everyone, but especially for government papers, reports, and the like.

Jet loved going through these rooms and thinking more about the seal he wanted to make for himself.

It was amazing to see so many all togehter like this, and some were so intricately carved!

A Study of Flowers
The government took all the paintings that were gathered by the last Qing Emperor, and they were shown alongside another collection by a private citizen. There were hundreds of paintings in the traditional style of Chinese art all through a series of rooms that depicted the various art styles of the differing Dynasties.

This was one of the demonstration scrolls showing how to create various types of flowers and plants in the spontaneous style. There was another that was nothing but wild orchids in all possible aspects.

I had a blast just taking pictures of the whole roll. I really want to emulate a few of them in order to better my abilities with the spontaneous style. The whole thing is about reducing elements of reality to their essence, and I love doing it, but sometimes it's hard to discern what's necessary and what's not.

Intricate Detailing
There were all kinds of examples of both spontaneous and the detailed line styles, and there were a few exhibits that followed multiple instances of each school of painting. There were a few very spontaneous crabs that John and I just fell in love with. These detailed mountains were amazing in their intricate rock detail.

The scroll of these mountains went the length of a wall! Someone had taken months to paint a particular view of a particular range of mountains. After the paintings John and Jet went to the money exhibit while Dad and I wandered through a pottery and clay exhibit with Ming Dynasty ceramics on display. There was an enormous model of a dragon kiln that was built for length, and the firing materials were piled up in it, and lit from one end so that it would burn through the whole thing and the fired items were in there with the fuel. I wish that I'd been able to bring my ceramics friends to see. *laughs*

The English Concession
The New Side of the River

From the museum it was a short drive, drop off and walk to the Bund. The top picture is a piecing together of the English Concession, the prime piece of real estate that was won during the first Opium War. As you can see it's very Victorian in presentation, and it faces the river and the view you see in the second picture.

That is where 60% of Shanghai's highrises all cluster together. It's Shanghai's financial district, and more money goes through those buildings than any other city in China. It was raining gently while we were there, and the mist obscured the tallest towers, but it was still pretty amazing to see them all right there.

From the Bund we had to walk a few blocks to get back to where the bus could pick us up without blocking traffic.

One the way there, John caught this with the camera. It's a traditional Chinese tea jar on a motorcycle cop's bike! You put leaves in the jar, put a screen on top to keep the leaves in the jar, and then just add boiling water all day. It's quick, it's easy, it's cheap, and it's so pervasive that a police motorcycle has a holder crafted for the vessel. These jars were what I'd bought in Xi'an, and it was cool to see one being used so matter-of-factly on this city's streets.

When the bus picked us up, it took us to the silk factory, and I was so excited when I realized that it was spring here in China, because the traditional, mulberry leaf eating silkworms only hatch in the spring!

Room to Grow
And sure enough, they were able to show us live silkworms, as eggs, hatchlings, worms eating away at the leaves, and as cocoons clinging to bundles of stalks setup just for them to spin their cocoons on!

These shelves had all the various stages, from the sand-like eggs to live moths who were actually laying more eggs for next year. That was amazing to me, to actually see trays of the resultant moths crawling around. They're so domesticated that the moths are bred with bodies that are so large that that they cannot fly away. They just rip out of their cocoons, and are placed on warming trays to mate and make more eggs.

Jevons had all the stages in bottles, too, to show and lecture about them all, but it was so much more amazing to see the live bugs. They encouraged to you to pet the worms, and they felt papery and soft, and I could hear them munching on the leaves in the basket.

Single Cocoons being unreeled
We also got to see the silk winding machine. They boiled the cocoons, stirred them with a very rough stick, and when the single strand caught on the burrs, they'd pick up the strand and add it to the bundle of eight strands for each of those bobbins. So each of those winders has eight cocoons going at any one time, and they actually unwind the continuous thread from each cocoon.

It was fascinating to see. Jevons also showed us the single cocoons, which is what happens when a worm makes a cocoon on its own, and the double cocoons, which is what happens when two worms start spinning right next to each other. The doubled ones can't be unwound the way the single ones can. So they do something completely different to them.

They boil them, pull out the bugs, and then stretch all the silk out onto a frame, in layers upon layers. It's how they make the silk handkerchiefs and caps that I've been dyeing and spinning for the last decade! I hadn't realized that those were made with the doubled cocoons.

What I hadn't realized was that the factories use them to make silk batting for quilts! Once the caps are dry, they can store them until they need them, and then they separate the layers and have four women, one on each edge, pull them to fit whatever size quilt batting they need. Here, all us tourists got to pull them with the professionals, and the entire downstairs show room was filled with quilts and pure silk covers for them. Upstairs there were all kinds of silk clothing, and while I wanted a dress, I couldn't fit into anything, so ended up just buying a quilted vest in a clear chartreuse and black as contrast! I loved it, and wanted something.

Jet also found that they were selling duplicates of his paper hat upstairs, but for more than twice the amount he'd paid for it in Beijing, so we didn't buy them there. But John said that that meant that they were being sold in this city, so we had hope for later.

Yuyuan Garden and the Shanghai City God Temple Mall
There's a temple for the city's God right next to a shopping mall that's named for the temple! I loved that, and there's also a traditional garden, the Yuyuan Garden, attached to the mall. So we were going to the mall to explore a little, shop a little, find some lunch, as it was one of the few meals that weren't covered by the tour, and then go visit the gardens. There would be free time after the garden, too.

It was sprinkling, and we were given a while to find our lunch. The building on the right was a fancy restaurant with restrooms for tourists. And even in a quick wander, we saw sticky rice, a booth that did nothing but a local specialty of small soupy steamed buns (shao loong tong bao), and other goodies, but with only an hour to decide and eat, we decided to go to the recommended food court.

The Fine Art of Eating a Soup Bun
We got the shao loong tong bao, two steamers of them, along with a stack of garlic chive pancakes that were enough like scallion pancakes for Jet to be interested in them.

These tiny dumplings are special because they're filled with not just the usual filling of pork, vegetables, and spices. They also include a small cube of aspic, or gelatinized stock, which melts when the bun is steamed. When it's wrapped correctly, the soup stays in the bun, and gushes out when you bite into it. It's literally steaming hot, so one has to be careful when doing it. It's best with a drip of black vinegar, so in this picture Jet is attempting the trick. We put the dumpling in a soup spoon, dripped a little vinegar on it, and then carefully bit into it.

They were amazing. Warm and soupy on a drizzly day, and they'd been freshly steamed, so were hot and fresh. We all loved them and counted it a stop well worth taking.

Opera House
The Yuyuan Gardens contained the usual compliment of amazing plant life, water features, rocks, and buildings made for enjoying the garden. This is the Opera House that was built within the gardens. There was a small musical group playing in one of the building attached to this, and the House itself had a gold-painted roof. The audience sat in the balconies to either side, and in the courtyard below.

We had fun just wandering in and out in the rain, but the ornate beauty of the building, set at it was in the cultivated grace of the garden was pretty cool. These gardens were much smaller than the ones we were planning to see the next day in Suzhou, but Jevons said that it would give us a taste of what we were going to see the next day, and for the people that were just going to stay in Shanghai, this was the one garden they would see.

Crooked bridges
This is one of the crooked bridges over one of the water features in the garden. Jevons said that the reason the bridges were crooked was so that one could get a different view with every step.

There were a large number of Scholar's Rocks (the ones eaten by the lake waters) throughout the grounds, and you can see some of the larger ones next to the building to the right. It was very peaceful just walking through, though the gardens were pretty crowded, with the way that they were laid out, I never saw all that many people at the same time.

Being Fed Cheezits
Some of the ponds had fish in them, and Jeff gave the kids packets of Cheezits, and many of the crackers found their way into the water! *laughs* It's not frowned upon, and the fish seem to love them.

It's funny, as someone was saying that the koi in these ponds are sometimes hundreds of years old. They don't really die of old age, they die of other reasons, and their size is dictated by the size of the pond. It just fascinated me because I know that in Portland, they have fish food machines by the ponds, so you can buy the koi food, and there were all kinds of signs saying that one shouldn't feed the fish anything but their prescribed foods. Here, anything goes, and they feel like the fish live forever.

In any case, the kids and fish seem to have a great time with the Cheezits.

Everyone in our Group
There was one open plaza area where everyone fit, easily, and there was plenty of room for Jevons to take our picture. So, from the left to the right, roughly, without naming all the kids there were Angelo and Mina, Stanislaw and Mark. Jim with Kelly in the back and Halina and Barbara in the front. Dad's in back and then John and I. Jeff with Milly in front of him. and then Ian and Lynne from the UK. Cheong with Grace and Steven kneeling in front. David and Linda with Ciro to the right. I think.

The whole gang was a lot of fun. Everyone was pretty much on time all the time, friendly and kind through the whole trip, and adventurous in all the good ways.

The pavement, Jevons said later, was made of those pebbles so that they would massage the feet when one walked on them barefoot. I was very tempted to try. *laughs* And one of the Scholar's Stones was beautifully prominent in the back there.

Sticky Rice Ladies
After the garden, everyone scattered to do some shopping. Jevons took everyone that wanted to go to a store that did knockoffs of really expensive stuff for regular prices. Not exactly cheap, but much cheaper than the name brands they were emulating.

John, Jet, Dad, and I wanted to do our own kind of shopping, but Jet was just a little hungry still. So we stopped by this sticky rice bundle booth. It was nearly time for the dragon boat races, and the sticky rice was a prominent part of the celebrations and these ladies were selling them for the fun of it. So we all got a sticky rice with one of a dozen different kinds of fillings. I got red bean paste in mine, so it was just sweet centered, with lightly sweetened sticky rice wrapped all around it. The boys got all kinds of different things, with pork, chicken, and shitake mushrooms.

We then wandered through the maze of stores. Dad bargained for another chop for me, and while the price wasn't as low as in Guilin, it was of better quality. We got Jet a Chinese chess set for half the initial asking price. John tried to get a dragon kite for far less than they were asking, but found it rough going. We didn't see the paper hats anywhere. I found a soft and hard brush for nearly the last of my meager cash, and Jet and I happily wandered through a store that sold anime paraphernalia. We didn't buy anything, but it was amazing to see Luffy and Ace t-shirts that were way too small for me, and Jet wouldn't wear them.

Jet Getting His Chop Made
While we were wandering around, I noticed that one chop booth (of half a dozen in the complex) had all the prices actually marked on all the items up front! I found it a real anomaly, since nearly everyone else wanted us to have to bargain with them.

Jet remembered me commenting on it and after another hour or so in the maze he asked me where it was, because he'd decided he wanted his chop to be made there. It turned out to be the shop of a woman who said, quite emphatically, that she put prices on her things because she didn't want to charge tourist one price for things and locals another. So Jet got an even better price for his than my Dad did for mine.

The woman had also participated in the Great Race, hiding an object in her shop for the travelers to find, so I would highly recommend her if you are looking for a chop. She had Dad write down Jet's name for her, and they both had Jet look at it before she started carving. Since Dad had been teaching Jet how to write his name, Jet objected, since it wasn't in block lettering, but a mild form of script. She grinned and wrote it block style for Jet's satisfaction, and when he approved it, she went ahead and carved it for him.

He was very, very happy about how all of that went down, and Jet carefully paid her out of his small stash of Chinese cash.

We went to meet up with the group soon after that, but didn't find anyone at the rendezvous point! Jevons came hurrying up ten minutes later, saying that everyone else had gone to the knock off place with him! *laughs* So he had to make a special trip back for us.

From there we headed to a restaurant, and the boys went to their restroom and found this sign above the urinal. The translation on this sign, Dad said, was closer than the one they'd found over others which had merely said, "One step closer keeps it clean." The actual slogan is more like this, "One step closer civilizes the world."

Obviously it was a campaign for the Olympics, but it's interesting how it's presented to the English speakers compared to those who read Chinese.

The restaurant had a huge mural of the Worker in the main diningroom, and a semi-industrial look to it, with lots of black paint and concrete floors. And the food was very Westernized, with French Fries with garlic and Chinese spices on it, a sweet and sour, shrimp skewers, stir fried beef with onions (which aren't native to China), and plain steamed bread with butter. It was probably the most Westernized food we'd had all week.

Winter Melon Soup
The one thing that I truly loved there, though, was the Winter Melon Soup. The broth was rich and thick but utterly simple. It was graced with thin slices of winter melon. The spoon in the picture is actually under several slices of cooked winter melon! It is nearly transparent when cooked properly, and these were perfect. Enough body for the bite, but so tender it nearly melted in the mouth. The green onions were great, too, but the broth was perfect for my really sore throat.

After dinner, we piled back into the bus and want to see the Shanghai acrobats perform. They were in a theater, and they asked that we not take pictures to protect their performance from being stolen. John has a few pictures on his Facebook account, but they're locked to just his friends. So you can see some of the acts.

There was a card trick master, a guy that juggled up to seven balls often by bouncing them off the ground. There was a woman who lay on her back and juggled an enormous faux-Ming vase and then a table with her feet. There was a woman who balanced and built an enormous array of wine glasses, plastic sheets, and columns on her forehead while climbing up and over a ladder balanced between two rolling balls. There was troupe of men who dove and tumbled between spinning rings who later on had an act with, of all things, cowboy hats. They would spin, group toss, and throw the things across the stage and catch them. *laughs*

It sounds so prosaic, but when they're all spinning, juggling, and catching the things in quick succession it was pretty amazing. And then they ended it all with a huge metal cage ball filled with seven motorcycles all going at full speed through, around, and upside-down in the ball. That was pretty amazing.

By the end of the show, I was utterly exhausted and when we got back to the room, I just fell asleep.

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Tags: china, travel

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