Writing all these blogs about our amazing trip to China has taken a lot longer than the actual journey, but the overwhelming kaleidoscope of colours, sights, smells, tastes and experiences warranted a bit of time and thought. The rollercoaster eventually came to rest with a final fling in Shanghai.
We had no organised tours booked here so were delighted to find that our hotel had a ‘back door’ directly onto the infamous Bund and our room on the sixteenth floor had a sweeping view of the Pudong area across the Huangpo River.
At night this view became a fairyland of twinkling lights – even the small tourist boats looked as if they had sailed directly out of a fairy grotto.
We had almost two whole days to explore this vibrant, buzzing city and, of course, started right on our doorstep by strolling the length of the Bund.
This photograph was taken fairly early in the morning but by late afternoon there were tens of thousands of visitors strolling up and down, of course providing me with exquisite people watching opportunities.
On the street side of the walkway, the vertical wall was planted very tightly with flowering plants. In all our time in China we had never been aware of what might be called a local police presence – serious military security in Beijing and at airports and stations, but, I suppose, police might be needed sometimes even in this very controlled society.
The juxtaposition of very beautiful art deco, early 20th century buildings and the marbled, gilded and glazed more recent skyscrapers worked surprisingly well. The dreadful history of the origins of the Bund, the British, French and American Concessions and the Opium Wars is easily glossed over.
It is hard to believe that only a twenty minute walk away from the Bund took us through a totally different area of Shanghai – washing hanging to dry on the railings of a park, a ‘postman’ with scores of parcels all tied in festoons around his scooter, even a Pound Shop (All the 10 Yuan) and generally people just going about their daily lives.
We were heading for Yu Yuan – a classical Chinese garden created in the 16th century by a high ranking official in the Imperial Court in memory of his father. Just before the entrance to the garden is the Huxin Ting teahouse.
This is very picturesque with its zig zag bridge across the little lake in front. I have deliberately not chosen the photograph which shows a very prominent Starbucks incongruously positioned in this ancient scene. I was also surprised that the great tubs in the water had plastic plants – perhaps to go with the plastic fisherman in his boat.
It was very, very crowded both here and in the Yu Yuan garden so we gave the chance of a cup of tea in Huxin Ting a miss because of the enormous queue.
Inside the garden huge crowds of Chinese visitors were squeezing along the narrow walkways. Each of the six ‘areas’ are meant to be viewed from all angles from a well-placed hall or pavilion. Tourists resting on the low walls or jostling to take selfies or group photos rather spoiled the effect. In spite of this I could see it was a very beautiful place, just not easy to photograph.
This beautiful young woman was having photographs taken in a quieter corner – no idea why. As you can see she is dressed in some form of Chinese ‘dress’. Everywhere we visited in China the people out on the streets were all dressed in rather drab western clothes (apart from the chic city girls in Xi’an, Beijing and Chengdu). Then, of course, there were the amazing, colourful costumes at the Shanxi Chinese Opera. The older lady in the centre of the next photograph was just spotted as she waited to cross the road. I have searched on the internet to find where she was from. No success – it may not even be a Chinese costume, but there are about 56 recognised ethnic groupings in China so she is probably from one of them.
A smaller tributary river runs into the Huangpo and it was lined with mature trees and more, interesting buildings – both modern and art deco.
It was also here and around the corner on the Bund that we came across the wedding photographs phenomena. I was entranced to find that a Monday afternoon was very popular for brides to have ‘photo shoot’ type photographs taken – we saw about ten or so.
I don’t think the slightly obscene view of her knickers or the background of ‘Boris’ bikes really added to the glamour or romanticism of the occasion. There were no family or friends with any of the couples, only a photographer and his assistant.
There was a lot of activity at this heavy, steel bridge (the first one to be built in China) as the girders created a frame with the iconic Pudong skyscrapers in the background. This was the only one of the brides we saw smiling.
Not all of the brides wore white dresses, some were in scarlet red. I am sorry to go on so much and include so many wedding photographs but it was such a surreal and totally unexpected experience. In some ways it sums up my response to the entire visit to China – by turns I was awed, puzzled, incredulous, intrigued and delighted.
I would be very, very happy to visit China again – our journey provided only a very light scrape on the surface of this country.