Shanghai was our last port of call in China. As we drove in, we gazed at highrise as far as the eye could see. I still don’t know how far the city stretched as haze hung in the air restricting visibility. Even though we came in on a weekend, the traffic on the freeway crept along. We arrived at our hotel, a renovated 1930’s hotel close to the Bund. After dinner we were taken to the Huangpu river where we waited to board a boat for a river cruise which would give us a view of Shanghai by night. On one side of the river we saw the old buildings of the British concession and on the opposite bank we could see the new buildings of Shanghai, all less than 15 years old and many stretching up higher than 60 storeys. All were lit in some way, with flashing neon lights or images flashing on and off and climbing the building. On the side of one building I saw the Mona Lisa and other paintings by great masters.
As we shopped in each city several people asked Ping, our guide, where the best place to buy silk was. He kept telling us to wait until Shanghai, where we would visit a silk factory. I bought what I believe is silk in Beijing at the Pearl Market, but I have no guarantee. At the factory we were shown the steps in the silk making process. I was intrigued to see threads from nine small cocoons being spun into a single, almost invisible thread.
Silk cocoons are also made into light, warm comforters. Double cocoons are selected and instead of finding an end to the thread and spinning it, each cocoon is stretched out over and over again. Once the cocoon has been stretched out to resemble cobwebs it is laid down and more stretched cocoons laid one at a time over the top. The result is a very light, but hopefully very warm doona (comforter, duvet). I bought one but yet to use it.
Of course there was a showroom full of beautiful silk items. I tried on a silk dress, the fitted style with the little collar, but unfortunately it didn’t fit over my hips. I could have had one made and delivered to my hotel the next day but I decided against it. A12 was given a beautiful gold and green scarf as a birthday present from the group. After being called away from the silk factory we celebrated A12’s birthday with a delicious lunch and a mango mousse birthday cake organised by our guide PIng. Everyone sang happy birthday and A12 was delighted with her scarf and a card signed by everyone.
While in Shanghai we participated in two exchanges with young Chinese musicians. The first was at the Shanghai Children’s Palace, a facility which comes alive every weekend when hundreds of children arrive to attend music, art and other extra curricular activities. We joined a young orchestra at their rehearsal. We were able to play a few pieces for them and listen to some of theirs. We discovered that Hungarian Dance was part of their repetoire so the Intermediate Performance Group joined in and everyone played together. There was time at the end for a bit of conversation between the musicians.
Naturally our group was relying on the Chinese students having more English than our two or three words of Chinese! After the exchange we spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing for the evening concert at the same venue. The second exchange was at the Shanghai Conservatory where we were treated to some solo and group performances. Both groups had versions of the Butterfly Concerto, which was a highlight of the afternoon.
We spent one morning in the beautifully preserved old quarter of Shanghai. In the centre surrounded by walls is a garden, once privately owned but now enjoyed by everyone. It was full of delightful plants, ponds, bridges and pavillions where the original owners did calligraphy, listened to concerts or sipped tea with guests.
I had several items I was determined to find while shopping in the old quarter, and for the first time during my time in China I found myself without musicians to keep track of. We were told to meet outside Starbucks at a 11:30 so I made sure I knew where it was and set out to find the teapot, a kite and a couple more items. The only problem was all the shops looked the same to me so I spent the first half of my time continually checking I still knew where Starbucks was!
After our experience haggling at the Pearl Market in Beijing I was a little better prepared for the bargaining process. Each time I was ready to buy I decided on the price I wanted to pay and offered an amount way below it. I always felt awful stating such a low price which was always met with howls of, “You joking, lady!” Reaching a compromise was an exhausting but satisfying process. While bargaing for Ben’s kite I was told over and over, “You hard bargainer, lady,” but I paid what I felt was reasonable. It was, of course, impossible to tell the quality of the merchandise we were buying.
To my relief I found several shops devoted to tea, pots and cups. I was able to browse in a few places before choosing a dark brown pot with a bamboo motif. When I asked for matching tea cups, the vendor sent someone to another shop in the market to obtain six matching cups. It arrived home safely and we were able to have a tea ceremony of our own!
Our last night in China was spent being amazed by the Chinese Acrobatic Show. Jugglers, tumblers, acrobats and a magician held us spellbound for over an hour. The finale was a display of five motorcyclists riding inside a metal sphere. My favourite was a trapeze style display where two acrobats swung and performed suspended by lengths of silk twisted around their arms, legs or torso.