I've just sampled Red Star Over China, by the way, and Edgar Snow's writing style is so breezy and engaging that I think I'll continue reading it, even though it's Commie agitprop. While travelling to Yan'an, I was trying to visualize what it would have been like at the time of the war, and I can travel along with Edgar Snow and experience it through his eyes.
Ross and I also made a brief trip to the seaside city of Weihai, where we had a delicious seafood dinner and enjoyed some walks along the waterfront. Weihai has a lot of factories that make fishing poles and tackle, too. We noticed that swimming suits in China are very modest compared to Western or South American standards. Bottom left, some kids at the restaurant watching the fish. Bottom right, boy, that octopus was amazing.
Shanghai wasn't high on my list of must-sees, because I heard it was a modern city and I wanted to see historical, old China, not high-end stores selling expensive Swiss watches. Well, I was wrong -- I really liked Shanghai and I can't wait to make a second trip there.What would Mao make of modern Shanghai? Would he be thrilled by the prosperity and power of this confident city or horrified by the commerce and the freedom? All I can tell you is that when Ross and I got off the subway and walked to the famous street called The Bund, on a calm night with a full moon, I was absolutely stunned. Transfixed. Mesmerized. On our side of the river, the serene and confident colonial buildings from the days when foreigners ruled the roost in Shanghai. On the other side, an explosion of high rise buildings, lit up for the night.
Actually, the new buildings looked dated in a 1964 World's Fair kinda way, compared to the timeless placidity of the neo-classical colonial buildings. But the overall effect, with a big fat full moon above and colorfully lit sightseeing boats plying the river between, was gorgeous. I was so grateful that we had the opportunity to see this place. Of course we don't have any decent pictures, because our camera was giving out. So here, I stole some.
You would think we'd want to try Shanghai's most exotic food offerings, to see how the local cuisines differed from Shandong food, but after a year in China we took advantage of the many Western restaurants in this cosmopolitan city. Who could resist a hamburger joint called "Beef & Liberty"?
We met and saw many ex-pats -- a young woman who worked for Disney, another for Apple, young men zipping around town on motor scooters with their beautiful Chinese girlfriends hanging on them. It looks like a glamorous life for a young foreigner. What a great adventure for a young person to spend a few years in a place like Shanghai.
We also saw actual Shanghai fleshpots -- bars where women of dubious virtue sat around little tables on the sidewalk, waiting to invite unaccompanied foreign gentlemen to sit down for a drink. For fun, I once dropped back a few yards and walked behind Ross, to watch them greet him and then realize he wasn't alone. They gave me dirty looks. I didn't have the nerve to take photos of them. But it was just like you'd imagine. Tight clothes, really high heels, lots of make up. We ended up walking a long way back to the hotel because we couldn't get a taxi and hadn't figured out the bus and subway system yet.
The rest of the day was spent in a futile quest to find some shops I had read about the internet that sold Western sizes of shoes and clothing. I didn't find them, but did run across a bit of Shanghai history:
For one thing, whatever my First World problems were and are, they are nothing compared to what the Chinese went through. I'm amazed that hundreds of millions of people were plunged into that madness and hundreds of millions of them are still walking around, carrying the psychic scars, victimizers and victims, still living together.
In my Facebook feed, I get posts from atheists who hate religion and see the story of religion as a history of oppression, violence and fraud.
And also I get posts from people who would lament that this ancient temple, proud symbol of an ancient culture, is now surrounded by a mall selling high-end European stuff to Chinese corruptocrats, such as obesity-making French baked goods (lord, you should have seen the macaroons and petit fours for sale) and designer duds and imported wines. They would loath the contamination of the culture, the idolization of brand names, the consumerism on display in Shanghai.
I take the view that, Canute-like, you might as well try and stop the tides coming in as try and stop commerce but I also think that the evidence is overwhelming that capitalism has been a net good for people. It's one thing to voluntarily turn away from materialism but it's another thing to be a peasant in raggedy pants held up with a drawstring who has no choice about leading the simple life. It's one thing to say you won't buy your kid a Barbie doll because it perpetuates stereotypes and another thing to want to buy your kid a little present or even an ice cream bar, and not have the money to do it.
And the worst of all would be to live in a culture where you can't say what you really think, like the scientist who told Shirley MacLaine how grateful he was that Mao had sent him from the university to go live among the peasants and grow cabbages. And she believed him and thought it was so touching.
Next post: A walk through an urban garden and my meeting with Mr. C.