Anyway, I spent another day and a half in Shanghai solo after seeing Ross off to Canada for an extended home visit. By then I had picked up some tourist brochures and found all sorts of places I wanted to see but didn't have time for. I chose Yuyuan Gardens, which was easy to reach on the subway. I took my sunglasses and an umbrella, which ladies use here as parasols. I was also wearing the water-absorbent gel-filled neck cooler things I'd bought in Weihai and slapped sunscreen on the back of my neck.
I happened to overhear a tour guide talking about a pair of bronze lions that marked the entrance to the gardens. These lions, she said, had been grabbed by the Japanese and taken to Japan to be melted down for armaments during the war. I suppose that the war ended before the lions were destroyed and they were fortunately returned to their place to continue their watch. The gardens date from 1577.
Most Chinese gardens are not about mass plantings of colorful annuals. They emphasize greenery, artistic (that is, contorted) large rocks, peace and serenity. Peace and serenity enjoyed in the company of hundreds of other jostling tourists, that is. If this is your thing, take in Yuyuan gardens. If not, you can just enjoy the free area outside.
It was too late to visit a museum, so I wandered up and down Nanjing Street, a premier shopping destination, and thought the usual amazed thoughts about commerce and the change that a few decades had wrought in China. I ended up at People's Square, where little kids were gathering around a fountain water park, waiting for it to turn on with an evening light show. I was sitting and resting my tired feet, not sure what to do next and starting to feel hungry, when an elderly gentlemen appeared at my elbow and started talking to me in English.
From his conversation, it was clear that he took an interest in world events, history and politics. At first I just chatted with him politely and tried to watch the kids laughing and jumping around in the fountain, but then it occurred to me, how often have I said that I wished I could talk to an elderly Chinese person who has lived through it all? And here he is. So I started asking him about his life. He was a retired electrical engineer, and without getting into details, his family life was impacted by the Tienanmen Square incident. He lived alone.
He lived through it all, the Japanese occupation and the years under Mao and he was keenly aware that a man in his profession in the West would be retired on a comfortable pension, able to afford dental care, dinners out, vacations and new clothes, while he could not.
His greatest source of entertainment was his inexpensive subway pass, which meant he could travel around and talk to people.
He gave me some more tourist advice for the Shanghai area and asked me to contact him again should I return to Shanghai. And I do look forward to my next trip, hopefully soon. He carefully scraped all the leftovers into doggie bags to take home and we both went our separate ways, me for a few hours' sleep before getting up early for the train, and he to a no doubt small apartment, among hundreds of thousands of small apartments, on the outskirts of the enormous city.