Visiting Shanghai

Article excerpt

IN the aftermath of number six typhoon we reached Shanghai airport. Our guides were nowhere to be seen. The national guide is there to greet you as you enter China. He accompanies you throughout your stay. The local guide meets you when you arrive in his area and is in charge during your visit there. He stays in his home whereas the national guide is accommodated in the tourist hotel. Both had gone to change into dry clothes. Fortunately they arrived before hysteria developed.

Almost the first words of our local guide were that we would have a meal nearby, before going on to our hotel. All protests that we had just had our evening meal on the plane, had in fact over-eaten at midday in Hong Kong, after three previous meals on the plane, were ignored. The meal had been booked and we were to make at least a token show of eating it. So it was feeling like over-stuffed geese that we reached the Jin Sha Hotel at long last.

It was the second night there that one drawback of our very new hotel became evident. In the early hours I heard a suspicious gnawing sound and switched on the bedside light. Scampering noises. Then silence. The next morning I was told two of our group had so alarmed a rat that for half an hour it had taken refuge under a bed; it had then shimmied up the wardrobe and vanished into the air conditioning system. Fortunately if you kept the wardrobe doors shut the rats could not get into the room and restricted themselves to jangling the clothes hangers.

Rats apart, the hotel was all it should be. It was far more luxurious than we had expected. The twin bedded rooms all boasted bathroom and T.V. set, as well as air-conditioning. The laundry service was very good. It was in fact the rat gnawing at the cellophane enclosing my laundered clothing that had woken me.

We could easily replenish our drinking water at the staff desk at the end of the corridor. There was a gaily decorated thermos for hot water. Cold was kept in a glass carafe. The hotel also provided lidded teacups and a supply of green tea. The lid on the teacups was less to keep the tea warm than to prevent, by some mystery of science, the tea-leaves creating a moustache when one finally drank the tea. Green tea is drunk without milk or sugar. Neither teapot nor tea-strainer are provided.

The hotel restaurant provided a good introduction to |western breakfasts'. |Western breakfasts' did not consist of the eclairs and Swiss rolls I remembered from an earlier visit to China, but of toast, cake and coffee. Service was slow but quicker than in the past.

We enjoyed free time to walk around the streets and shops. We gawped at haircutting in the streets, at families and friends sitting out of doors to talk, play cards, read. We stared at the bamboo poles, adorned with washing, jutting from every house and flat. We peered at the bamboo scaffolding on building sites. We admired the little boys' split trousers, such a good idea! We responded to the young children's cries of |Hello' and |Good-bye'. We window-gazed in shops now named in Roman lettering as well as Chinese. Above all we noted the cycles, and were wary of traffic, nervous when crossing roads. We walked round the newish apartment blocks near the hotel, staring at mattress making in their alleys, admiring the flowerbeds, noting the absence of litter, and of dogs and their trade-marks.

We were taken to a |Children's Palace'. This is a selective youth-club-cum-tuition centre for the arts and sciences. In its theatre we watched songs and dances. Some of us joined in the dancing before going to look at classes in music, eastern and western style; science and art. The building was not palatial, but serviceable and full of activity. Many tourist groups visit there. The children were absorbed in their activities, but those detailed to escort us did so very charmingly.

One afternoon saw us at the Temple of the Jade Buddha, where, staring at vast statues of Buddha and his guardians, goggling at the crowds, and being goggled at by them, we learned a little about Buddhism and Buddhist temples. …