TREVOR’S 60th BIRTHDAY
Our jet-lagged sleep was shattered by a wake-up call at 06:45 hours this morning (!!) as we were due to leave the hotel at 08:15 to board our tour coach for a very full, action-packed day.
Today is Trevor’s 60th birthday, and here we were spending it in Shanghai. Certainly a different way to spend a birthday. I gave him his card to open while I went and got ready; the ensuite bathroom in the hotel is weird in that it has a window between the bathroom and bedroom, effectively giving anyone in the bedroom a view of whatever you were up to in the bathroom (not always a good idea, ha ha) unless you closed the curtains first (from the bedroom side).
When we went down to breakfast Robert, the rep, was sorting out our passports and he said to Trevor “Happy Birthday!”. He’d obviously been looking at all the dates of birth in the passports because I hadn’t mentioned it to him, because Trevor didn’t want a fuss. The cat was out of the bag now, however. 🙂
Breakfast was a very large selection of either Chinese or Western-style food. Some of the Chinese food looked quite strange to be eating it for breakfast; I wouldn’t fancy soup or beef or noodles, or green vegetables such as bok choi first thing in the morning. So I played it safe and had some bacon, sausage, scrambled egg and tomatoes, along with a croissant and a cup of coffee. The coffee was actually very good. I wasn’t keen on their orange juice, which wasn’t really like real juice, more like squash, and was sweetened.
After breakfast we boarded the tour bus and met our Chinese guide, whose English name was Becky. Our bus driver was Mr. Chen. While waiting for the rest of our party to get on the bus (there are 37 of us in total) we noticed a whole bunch of ladies with fans, all dressed in Chinese pyjama suits, and moving in unison; we realised we were watching an outdoor morning exercise class!
The bus set away and we were taken through the bustling city streets. Shanghai is China’s most densely-populated city with a population of 23 million. Going through the traffic was manic, and we were constantly agog at some of the driving and the risks people, including cyclists and pedestrians, would take. The rules of the road were constantly violated with lots of lane-hopping, red light jumping, stopping and starting, sharp braking and, of course, a cacophony of blaring horns. We noticed that motorcycle and scooter riders did not wear crash helmets and cyclists on push bikes often allowed children to sit on the back of the bike as they weaved their way in and out of the stream of vehicles.
After about half an hour we pulled up at our first stop for today, a visit to the Jade Buddha temple. We entered the sunlit courtyard, heavy with the evocative scent emanating from the incense burners, and took a look at the beautiful buildings. The original temple had been founded in 1882 to house two jade Buddha statues brought to China from Burma by a monk named Hui Gen. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately the jade Buddha statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928.
There were lots of other statues as well as the Buddhas, some made of marble. All were beautifully carved and painted or gilded. There were also many silk and brocade wall hangings and carved furniture. The atmosphere inside the temple was peaceful and calming, and the building provided us with a temporary respite from the already very hot sun.
Back on our coach, our next visit was to a pearl farm. China produces over 90% of the world’s cultured pearls, both freshwater and salt water. I was looking forward to this visit as I make jewellery as a hobby, and I love real pearls and hand-knot them onto silk.
In the pearl farm, they explained to us how the pearls were cultivated, by injecting the mollusc to encourage it to start producing nacre. The lady brought out a huge bivalve (sort of like an oyster but much bigger) and said it was a freshwater mollusc. She prised open the shell and there were quite a lot of pearls inside; baroque in shape. Then she brought out a salt water oyster and opened it up; it had only one pearl inside, but it was rounded and of much better quality.
We then looked around the shop at the different pearl necklaces, earrings and bracelets. There was a wide variety of different types of pearls, all of different quality according to how much you wanted to spend. Some necklaces started at only about £20.00 and went up to about £20,000. We saw a single, beautiful loose pearl of superlative quality; it was over 12mm in diameter and absolutely flawless; the one pearl cost over £12,500. 🙂
I didn’t buy anything as I wanted to get some loose pearls and have the satisfaction of making my own necklace, rather than buy one ready made.
After the pearl farm we were once again back on the bus to be taken to a restaurant for our lunch. We sat at round tables which all held a central turntable onto which the dishes of Chinese food were brought; we enjoyed a variety of tasty dishes including pork, beef, cashew nuts, fresh vegetables and noodles and rice, cooked in various sauces (sweet and sour, satay, black bean) all washed down with cold Tsing Tao beer and finished with fragrant Chinese tea.
We had time to go to the loo before getting back on the bus, and this was where the fun started; hoping the restaurant would have some Western style toilets, rather than the Asian “squat” type ones. Even if a place does have the Western style loos, they never seem to include toilet rolls in the cubicles; there is a dispenser when you first go in and you have to remember to collect some paper from it before entering the cubicle, otherwise you’re stuck! 🙂
Once we were all fed and watered it was back on the bus for a city tour and a visit to the tallest building in China, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, which stands at 1, 614 feet tall and boasts the highest observation deck in the world. For those who didn’t want to go up the tower (we weren’t all that bothered) Robert the rep said he would take us to The Bund.
The Bund is a famous waterfront area which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River. It affords a fantastic view of the developing Shanghai skyline and features a pleasant walkway which has several soft drink stations and benches on which to sit, simply to observe life passing by. We walked along and watched the pleasure boats, took some photos and waited for the rest of the party to come back from visiting the tower, so we could be on our way.
Later on we had some free time to spend in the city, so we took the opportunity to look around some of the shops. One caught my eye; it was called “Silk King” and consisted of many floors stocked with rolls of silk as well as ready-made clothes. The items were beautifully made and the fabric patterns were stunning. We spent quite some time browsing through the traditional Chinese jackets and cheong sam dresses. The sizes were all tiny as Chinese girls are far more petite and less busty than British women. 🙁
Eventually I found an orange silk chiffon blouse that I liked; it was soft and floaty and had a fine gold thread running through it. It fitted me perfectly (I think it was an XXL in Chinese!) and it was only 250 Yuan, or approximately 25 quid, so I bought it.
Back on the bus, we were taken through the bustling city before arriving back at the hotel, where we had exactly one hour to be ready to leave again, to go to a restaurant for dinner. We had also booked to see the famous Shanghai Acrobats later that evening. On the bus Robert announced “Today is Trevor’s birthday” and everyone on the bus sang “Happy Birthday” much to Trevor’s embarrassment! Robert then gave him a lovely, hand-made card signed by himself and Becky, the Chinese guide.
With only an hour to spare, I had to get showered and blow dry my hair and get changed straight away. One thing we hadn’t had today was any spare time! 🙂 No rest for the wicked.
Back on the bus again, we soon pulled up at the restaurant where we sat down to another Chinese feast, consisting of many different dishes, soups, meats etc. as well as fresh watermelon. Robert had also provided some bottles of red and of white wine – yippee! At the end of the meal they brought out a birthday cake for Trevor, which he shared with a young girl called Lily, who had celebrated her 15th birthday last night, but we’d arrived too late at the hotel for her to have her cake then.
After dinner, we were taken to the theatre to watch an amazing hour-long show featuring the most fantastic acrobatic and gymnastic display, contortionists, high jumpers and ending with a the “ball of death”, where a massive mesh ball was wheeled out onto the stage, into which a dare-devil motorcyclist drove before riding round and round inside the ball. Then another motorcyclist joined him, then another and another, until there were a total of FIVE motorbikes whizzing around inside this huge ball. Some went round horizontally and some vertically, but whichever way they went they never hit each other; the timing was perfect and it was just brilliant.
After the show, the bus took us back to the hotel, where our first thought was to go for a drink in the hotel’s bar. The bar, however, was closed for refurbishment (what?!) so we asked Robert if he knew whether there were any other little bars nearby. There was a “Cigar Bar” just around the corner, so Trevor and I, as well as another couple, went off with a single purpose. One thing we had noticed, even after only one full day in China, was the lack of pubs and bars; I don’t think the Chinese are all that big on booze, not the way the Westerners are. 🙁
Another thing we noticed, and the Cigar Bar was no exception, is that you can hardly buy any white wine in China; they tend to prefer red. Also, if you do buy wine, they only sell by the bottle, you can’t just buy a glass. So I settled for a cuba libre cocktail, in which the rum was drowned by the Coca Cola.
We only stayed for the one drink as we were really quite shattered by now; we’d been up early and never stopped all day, and we were still a little jet-lagged. We also had to pack our stuff for our journey to Xian the next day.
So it was off to bed, in our lovely air-conditioned room, ready for whatever adventures China had in store for us tomorrow. 🙂