Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Shanghai Express - Part 3

April 27 - 28, 2014

Are we there yet? My body already felt that it had marched through a whole day, but it was only early afternoon. The Shanghai Museum, an all too brief rest at the hotel then a traditional Chinese supper followed by an acrobatic show remained on the agenda for the day.  A Shanghai Express indeed!

Fed and watered (well actually beer - it's safer than water) at a Mongolian BBQ, we got back on the bus. The driver adroitly manoeuvred the leviathan through Shanghai traffic and pulled up at the Shanghai Museum.

This very contemporary architecture houses ancient Chinese art, including bronze, jade, calligraphy, ceramics and more. To be honest a museum, almost any museum is not usually on my list of must see places in far away lands. This comes from growing up and now living near to a city with a world class museum (Royal Ontario Museum - the ROM) housing extensive cultural and natural history exhibits. When away from home I prefer to be outside where life is lived, with landscapes, buildings and people, but the Shanghai Museum was on the tour, so in we went, and I'm glad we did.

Turned loose to explore on our own, my love and I spent most of the time in the jade and bronze exhibits, though the calligraphy was also quite intriguing.

I was astounded to discover that anyone could put their camera lens right up against the glass display cases. Don't even think about trying that at the ROM! A burly security guard will materialize out of nowhere if it even looks like a finger is going to graze the glass. A camera lens pressed tight up against the case? The alarms will ring out, granting the offender a 'toes skimming the ground' escort from the building. Not so at the Shanghai Museum, though flash photography was forbidden in the calligraphy exhibition.

My energy was really flagging by now so I welcomed the short respite back at the hotel. I still had not made the connection between the air pollution and my deteriorating well being. I attributed the growing tightness in my chest to a developing upper respiratory infection and treated it accordingly, but even just walking was becoming an effort. I made it to supper and truly enjoyed the feast of delights rotating on the humongous lazy susan at the table. There is a certain etiquette to these family style repasts. Far from being a 'free for all' it is actually quite orderly: each one at the table helps themselves to the food on the serving platter in front of them; when all have done so, the lazy susan is rotated until the next platter of food lines up in front of the diners. Reaching across serving platters or asking for platters not in front of you is impolite, as is turning the lazy susan while others are still serving themselves from it. One other etiquette note - and this is a tough one for westerners, who were taught to finish everything on the plate - don't clean your plate, leave some food on it. An empty plate signals to the host that you did not get enough to eat and encourages some servers to bring out even more food!

I have no recollection of the Chinese acrobatic show which took place in the theatre of the Shanghai Centre. I know I went, but by that time I was having to concentrate on just breathing. I suppose it didn't help matters that I was getting frustrated and rather annoyed at not being able to enjoy all that was on offer. Let me call a spade a spade here and admit that I was seriously p!ssed off. Then the darkness came - but I wrote about that earlier.

Morning came and with it a revelation about the perils of fine particulate matter on lungs. Now armed with asthma drugs, an N95 mask and sheer determination, I pushed into the day.

First stop the Bund, a waterfront promenade; Renaissance to Gothic to art nouveau buildings on one bank, contemporary skyscrapers on the other. And smog.

mask down for pictures :-)
Then it was bye bye Shanghai,

and hello Wuhan. My heart sank as the plane made it's final approach to the city. I was so sure the air in Shanghai had been an anomaly.

A prickling of fear invaded my spine. I reminded myself that I had appropriate drugs now - though I had no idea what I was taking - and I was wearing the best mask over my nose and mouth. My breathing had marginally improved. Onwards and upwards...

"Nothing can quite prepare you for the sheer size of Wuhan. At over 3000 square miles, this city is simply enormous." So reads the information sheet that Viking River Cruises provided. Is there any city in China that on one scale or another isn't ginormous? I suspect not.

But here is where I have my first encounter with the legendary Yangtze River. It  flows through the heart of Wuhan where it also meets the Han River.

Here we board the Viking Emerald for a four day cruise along this, the longest river in Asia. Greeted by cymbals, drums and dragon, I allow myself to be in the moment.

©2014 April Hoeller

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