Shanghai- the first day

Shanghai is home to 24 million people. WOW! There are 3,000 buildings over 30 stories tall. The worlds second tallest building is just being completed. China’s national bird is said to be the construction crane. They are everywhere. The city has such an international history and a futuristic present.
Hurriedly, we depart the ship and meet our guide and driver for the next three days. Stephen and Mr. Wae, the driver, are happy to see us as we mark the beginning of the upcoming tourist season which means lots of work for them after a couple of slow months. It is Sunday, but not a day off in China. It is a slower day with lots of folks strolling along the shore of the river in what is known as the Bund area. It is warmer here now so bright and colorful flowers are planted in boxes and even on the walls ( a favorite technique here). The crowd is young and many are obsessed with taking photos with their “selfie sticks”. Many wannabe models are everywhere in the latest fashions. I am enjoying this spectacle. We come across a bride to be. We know this because it is a wedding photographer and she is dressed in a stunning red gown. Here, red indicates that she is taking wedding announcement photos. Stephen is very aware of this as he has just posted his announcement for his upcoming September wedding. In any case I must keep reminding myself that I am in China. It is very hip and fashionable and vibrant with happy smiling people everywhere. Stephen begins his very knowlegable lecture on the history of this area. People thousands of years ago recognized the importance of this river front location and connection to the sea. It has always been an important trading area. Many traders from Europe and Asia influenced the architecture here. Many prominent buildings along the Bund are from the 19th century and a startling contrast to the modern buildings everywhere else. Notable buildings are the clock tower similiar to the Tower of London and the former headquarters of HSBC bank. The entrance to the bank was guarded by two almost identical huge bronze lions. One lion has his mouth open symbolizing deposit your money here. The other lion has his mouth closed meaning your funds will be kept safe. Or some say they mean that you can put your money in but you can’t get it out. This was the center of the foreign business community before the Communist revolution. Now Chinese businesses dominate the area. The restaurant named M on the Bund is located here and we plan to dine here tomorrow evening.Next, we head to the Yu Gardens and Bazaar. This area is kind of disneyesk architecture which is made to look old, but only 40 years old. It is filled with tourists and visitors walking past stalls of made in China stuff along with food stands which offer many things to eat on a stick including crab apples dipped in a clear sugar coating. I had seen these in Beijing but our guide said they weren’t safe for us to eat. Stephen tells us the same thing. We see cotton candy in the form of colorful flowers but these are off limits to us as well. Up ahead we see the entrance to the Yu Gardens. This garden is very old and is entered across a zig zag bridge which is intended to protect the garden and the tea house inside from evil spirits which are thought not to be able to turn corners.
The garden and the fountains and pools within have beautiful gold fish and turtles. We pass the famous 1784 Teahouse which Sec. Hillary visited while texting on her private email device. The garden was built for a man’s parents but they died before its completion. In the garden we enter the home’s entrance and learn the custom for the layout of the interior. A large round divided table was placed in the entry room. If it was joined together that indicated that the owner was at home. If separated, it indicated he was not. Seating arrangements put the owner on the right hand side of a table and his wife or the most important guest on the left. The table separating them would have on it a vase and a bronze mirror with the words for peace engraved upon it. Behind the grander first reception room was a smaller cozier room for women to meet. It often contained a bench where the owners wife’s best friends could sit next to her and share intimate discussions. There were lovely walkways,a dragon wall with a dragon with only 4 claws instead of 5. The bonsai plants were incredible with cheery and plum trees gnarled with lacey flowers offsetting the hard cold stone settings of the buildings. Tulip magnolias of normal size are in full bloom. What a beautiful garden!
We walk back through the hustle and bustle of the Bazaar to our lunch. Stephen has selected a place known for its dumplings. Stephen orders fried rice and shares some of ours which is best I have ever had. The dumplings are pork, shrimp, and crab. He tells us to bite a small hole in the bottom of the dumpling and suck out the juices then dip the dumpling in a soy/vinegar sauce and eat. Very tasty.
We are off to the French Concession next. In 1843 the British made a deal with the Chinese government which allowed for a special area ( Concession) where only British law would apply and where duty free trade could take place. The French made a separate deal for a concession for themselves. This area is now the hip place for the Chinese with trendy bars and restaurants and shopping. We take a walk and buy some pricy homemade chocolate along the way to share with Stephen and Mr. Wae. We see many dogs out for a stroll with their owners. You could easily think you were in Europe. The Boxing Cat Brewery and O’Malley’s Bar are decorated for St. Patrick’s Day. We return to the ship for the evening.
As the temperature has risen into the 50′s a fog has formed which hides the distant views and the tops of the incredibly tall buildings. We pass on going to the bar on the top of an 88 story building as the only view will be of the clouds. But, down at river level, as the sun sets; gayly lighted dinner boats ply up and down the river mixed in with the barges and frighters. The skyline of skyscrapers becomes a Times Square of flashing lights and random colors. The modern futuristic archtecture gives many reasons for film crews to seek out this location.