When I headed out this morning around 7:30 am, there were thousands of middle-aged and elderly Shanghainese occupying every inch of green space as well as empty parking lots adjacent to their buildings exercising. Most were in groups organized around an instructor doing kungfu and tai chi, while others were cornered off waving fans, swords and other objects while intensely breathing and swinging their arms vigorously across their bodies. I watched one man fling himself against a tree 15 times. It caught my attention so I started taking pictures to review later and I learned it’s actually quite common. According to traditional Chinese medicine, people who suffer from backaches can regulate their energy and promote blood circulation by striking their backs against trees. I can’t imagine that would end well for me. There is a note under the description written by a monk that says, “elderly people whose bones tend to be fragile should not strike their backs against hard things.” What about commonly injured nearly 41-year-olds?
Having accomplished most of what I wanted to see on the historic front yesterday, I ventured to a neighborhood high on the to do list called Xintiandi. I delighted in finding Xintiandi. I can proudly declare I found an area in Shanghai I can live. People speak English. There are menus with normal food, there is shopping and its streets are pleasantly lined with trees. I didn’t even feel like I was in a China per se. I wandered aimlessly in the sunshine for hours. This area contains renovated stone houses – more like mansions, narrow alleys decorated with wine bars, bookshops, cafes, international food and people with a lot of money. It’s considered the most expensive place to live in China and some apartments cost more than New York, London and Tokyo. It’s home to the Chinese elite and top executive expats. Price Waterhouse Coopers and McKinsey buildings lurked in the shadows just to name a few.
Xintiandi is also the sight of the first Congress of the Communist Party of China, which took place July 23, 1921. The police guarding the museum obviously did not want me to know that because when I was taking notes I started getting yelled at in Chinese by one man and then three gentlemen pushed me when I tried to take a picture. I mean can’t they even learn to say NO in English. I realize I am on their turf but still. I don’t look good in stripes and the bed at my current hotel is hard enough that I didn’t feel compelled to risk note taking any further. I discovered later it’s acceptable for the Chinese to take pictures just not me. The bottom line is I wanted to know why and when Communism came to China. It seems clear that the Chinese, in particular the youth/students, were upset with the previous government for allowing the British to take Hong Kong following the Opium War(s)of 1840 and they were tired of being treated like “colonists” by the British, French and Germans. Marxism/Leninism came to China at the end of World War I and many embraced the Russian ideals but it wasn’t until a few years later when student protests spread across the country and created a type of Chinese nationalism. The student demonstrations took place on May 4, 1919 and this was really part of the larger movement that brought Communism to China. Living in a country with democratic ideals it’s hard to comment truthfully on whether or not Communism works but I can say this: Their streets are clean, their roads flawless, their transportation and infrastructure modern and their people educated so something is working.
After enjoying a most satisfying lunch of pumpkin soup and spinach salad (over saturated with dressing but delish), I figured when in Rome and I headed to the Shanghai zoo to see the Red Pandas. Fortunately, one hungry Panda was out playing and eating – they are always eating – and I seized the moment to snap a few pictures of my new friend. Who doesn’t love a panda?
Tonight, I am going out with a friend’s friend for a drink. He is likely married with children or otherwise not available but in any event I will reiterate my dad’s latest advice, “if you meet someone, stay there. We will come over for the wedding!” I am keeping an open mind. If I have too much to drink, I am prepared with my hotel card written in Mandarin for my safe return as cab drivers (and pretty much everyone else) do not speak English. This would have been something very helpful in college. After stumbling out of a bar, I could have presented the cab or bus driver with a card to my dorm. Hmmm maybe something I should present to college campuses.