Sunday, 28 September 2014

Shanghai Express - Part 2

April 27, 2014

Breathing issues and air pollution aside, we ventured beyond the expat compound for a full day of touring, all under the careful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Viking River Cruises guide, "Francis."

In China all Viking River Cruise staff who have frequent contact with guests adopt Western first names. At first thought I was somewhat dismayed by this policy. To my thinking it seemed an affront to insist on a name change just so staff would fit in with visiting tourists. But this was more about effective communication than conformity. It spared the staff from hearing their real name mispronounced or even unrecognisable on the lips of westerners struggling to get their minds and tongues around an unfamiliar tonal language -- a single word can mean several different things depending on the tone. A Western name is also easier for a Western tourist to remember and that's important especially if one needs immediate assistance.

Francis spoke very fluent English, fluent enough to both tell and understand even quite subtle jokes. I was grateful of his care and concern for me not the the least of which included translating the dosage for the tiny white capsules the pharmacy gave me to ease my breathing, and ensuring that I understood those directions.

We headed into the old city, a labyrinth of narrow lanes packed with Sunday crowds. Traditional up swept eaves lifted restored and reconstructed period buildings into elegant, sumptuous structures. Perhaps high up behind those windows a high stakes mahjong game was being played; perhaps a little espionage on the side -  a whisper, a movement, a flash of steel...

Out in the grey dampness of the street, drizzle sometimes gave way to warm showers, yet the atmosphere remained intriguing and even fun!

The truly seedy? Well in my view that award went to the out of place western fast food outlets. Why, of all the good things we have to offer, do these chains take hold? I don't mind them in contemporary plazas, and God knows I do love a steaming latte, but in old town? Ah well,...

We strolled along the streets, past local fast food and alleyways,

across the zigzag bridge,

around Hu Xin Ting Pond,

past the great Tea House

and into Yu Yuan Garden. Originally built between 1559 and 1577 by Pan Yunduan for his parents, this Chinese garden lives up to its name; Yu Yuan translates to "Garden of Peace and Comfort." A classical Chinese garden must have four elements - plants, pavilions, water and rocks - and this garden has them in spades.

Have a look:

The Dragon Wall

This is the "Yu Ling Long" or Exquisite Jade Rock. Legend has it that this slab was originally procured by the Huizong emperor of the Northern Song (reigned A.D. 1100-26) from the waters of Tai Hu (Lake Tai). Such rocks represent mountain peaks in classical Chinese garden design, and this rock satisfies the three elements of appearance (rough, craggy, and pitted). Water poured into the top of this boulder will spurt out through its numerous holes; incense lighted at its base will swirl outward from its openings. Destined for the emperor, the rock was reportedly shipwrecked in the Huangpu River, and was later retrieved by Pan Yunduan and placed here across from his study:

Pan Yunduan's Study

The original Odd Couple - the toad and the dragon.
Ancient legend says they cannot survive without each other.

Schwartz on the rocks.
In spite of the crowds, in spite of the drizzle, this was lovely stroll.
I could have spent hours lost in this garden of peace and comfort, but alas it was time to move back into the streets,

and on to the next stop, a silk factory, where they turn this,

into these:

And rugs too, but we didn't buy either, exquisite as they all were.

(Prices? Four figures and more, before the decimal point)

Time for a beer and some sustenance.

But wait, there's still more! It's only lunch time. Up next Shanghai Express - Part 3.

©2014 April Hoeller

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