January 30, 2008

Shanghai, Oh My! Nanjing, Ka-Ching!

Print More


The city of Shanghai has done a better job preserving all that lies in between the ancient and the futuristic, so while we were there we spent our time exploring that middle ground that Beijing has basically paved over. Jonny Lieberman ’08, Sun editor-in-chief, and I took a trip over to the Jewish Quarter of Shanghai called Hongkou.

In a nutshell, is where around 30,000 Jews stayed for around 10 years during the Holocaust because of Shanghai’s lax immigration rules (to foreigners — within China is a different story). The mini museum there isn’t too notable, but what struck us was what China looked like in the 20th century because we hadn’t been able to figure that out in Beijing.

The other aspect of that excursion that struck us was how our tour guide took us into some random old Chinese woman’s house without knocking because some Jewish people had lived there in the 1930s. It was slightly awkward.

The two of us also took a driving tour of Pudong, the newer half of Shanghai, across the Huangpu River from the Bund and where our hotel was in the French Concession. The skyscrapers there impressed us more so than the ones in Beijing because they seemed to be more architecturally interesting, especially in conjunction with each other. It seemed like the people of Shangahi should have been driving hovercraft around them or something.

We ate lunch at the Park Hyatt, which begins on the 54th floor of an office building, and took advantage of an incredible view of the skyline while we were there. I faced the Oriental Pearl Tower as I ate, which was basically right next door.

We met up with the rest of our group and our trifecta of Shanghainese-Cornellian translators for a walk down Nanjing Road, a very commercial district of Shanghai not unlike Times Square in New York. Seemingly random trolleys (that were on no tracks) almost turned us into human roadkill (a delicacy in China … kidding) several times, so watch your back.

We made a brief bubble tea pit stop and headed over to the famous Shanghai Urban Planning Museum across the way. We felt like a group of Gigantors in Tinytown at the museum because right as you enter there is a huge diorama of the entire city of Shanghai (a few floors up, they even had another bigger and better diorama of the city). Just like any other museum, though, there was an expiration time for our attentions spans and we left mini Shanghai for regular Shanghai.

From there, we hailed a couple of cabs and headed out towards the Yu Gardens shopping district. When we met with the consul general a few days prior, I had chitchatted with Liz Rawlings, daughter of former university president Hunter Rawlings who works for the consulate, and she recommended a place to buy the famous black pearls out in that area.

When we got there, we browsed through the bling, but nothing really grabbed us by the jugular or anything, though they had basically every type of pearl — real and fake — imaginable.

The classical Chinese architecture was well-preserved in the area and the weather was much more tolerable, so we just meandered. You can buy pretty much anything and everything in the shops around the Yu Gardens from a whole spectrum of stores (in terms of quality). I myself bought a tambourine. Now I am what they call a “tamborhino.”


The most “off-the-beaten-path” of our destinations in China was Nanjing, although that’s an overstatement considering it is the former capital of the country. While we were there, we spent a morning at the monument to the Japanese massacre of Nanjing, and that afternoon climbing up to the mausoleum of Sun Yat-Sen.

The massacre museum was appropriately horrifying, much like a visit to any of the Holocaust museums, complete with an excavation of some of the bones of those killed on the actual site some 70 years ago.
When we got through the exhibit, we commented to each other about how it was one of the most comprehensive and thorough museums we had ever been inside, and then we found out that there was another whole floor of the museum, a garden of monuments, a hall of candles, and another excavation site.

After lunch, we headed out of the city to a more woodsy area where we would see the final resting place of Sun Yat-Sen. We walked up a hill to the very beautiful main building and caught our breath, only to discover that, just like earlier that morning, we had been hoodwinked at the halfway point.

The actual mausoleum sat at the pinnacle of a much higher hill, for which we would have to ascend nine staircases, each progressively steeper. When we finally got up to the railing and peered down at the sarcophagus 15 feet below, I almost dropped a bottle of Coca Cola in there.

The important thing is that I didn’t, and also important is that if I had, there was a snack bar outside the mausoleum so I could have bought a new bottle. I’m sure it happens all the time. I just hope there is a snack bar at my final resting place.