Shanghai is hopping…

We visited the Jade Buddha Temple, the Yu Yuan Gardens, the Bund on the Huangpu River, the Arts and Crafts Research Institute, and of course we went shopping. Here are some photos.

Joe

Shopping in Shanghai--Note the Starbucks coffee shop in the middle of the square
Shopping in Shanghai–Note the Starbucks coffee shop in the middle of the square
Yu Yuan Garden in the Middle of Shanghai
Yu Yuan Garden in the Middle of Shanghai
The Museum of Arts and Crafts in the French Concession
The Museum of Arts and Crafts in the French Concession
The Long Bar, Shanghai China
The Long Bar, Shanghai China
Shops by Yu Yuan Garden
Shops by Yu Yuan Garden
Shanghai Topiary
Shanghai Topiary
Monks in the Jade Buddah Temple
Monks in the Jade Buddah Temple
Fog Over Shanghai
Fog Over Shanghai
Along the Bund, Shanghai, China
Along the Bund, Shanghai, China
A View from the Bridge
A View from the Bridge
A Busy Shanghai City Street
A Busy Shanghai City Street

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China                                Thursday, March 31, 2016

Greetings from Shanghai! We have spent the better part of two days exploring this City, which has a relatively short but exciting past, and a very exciting future ahead of it. This is our third stop in China – the first was Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region, and the second was Xiamen (pronounced SHAH-men), an active port city on China’s southeast coast.

Now we have arrived at Shanghai, a port just inside the mouth of the Yangtze River (the 3400 mile river that is Asia’s longest and most important river).

Shanghai is China’s largest city, with a population of 25 million (that’s about as many people as live in Australia), and is the 8th largest city in the world. China’s total population is about 1.4 billion, which is over 4 times the population of the USA, and the landmass of the 2 countries is approximately the same.

As you know, China’s history spans thousands of years and includes a lot of invention and advances well before the western world (for example, thousands of years ago, the Chinese had standardized system of measures and a standardized writing system to facilitate trade and communication across the country). As Marco Polo reported on what he found in China, he was considered a lunatic – the western listeners in the late 1200s could not conceive of the Chinese advances he reported (coal, paper, paper money, a dictionary, etc.).

Shanghai was a small fishing village in the early 1800s. At that time, traders from Britain, France, Portugal and elsewhere were carrying on great trade with China, and those in Britain wound up paying their trade debts by selling opium to the Chinese.

In no time at all (so to speak), the Chinese leaders saw the trouble this opium was causing, and banned the foreign traders from China. The Brits convinced their government to go to war with China to re-open the trade (the first of the “Opium Wars”). The first Opium War was ended by a treaty which created 5 ports in China that were open to international trade, and Shanghai was one of them. It was to these ports that many religious organizations sent their missionaries to preach to the Chinese.

Britain, France, the US and others developed colonial settlements within Shanghai and along the Yangtze River once the first Opium War ended, and the French Concession area is still a highly regarded residential neighborhood in Shanghai (we spent some time there at the Arts and Crafts Research Institute, and it’s a very pretty area). These developments give Shanghai an interesting look – the traditional Chinese areas of the city are crowded and some “lane areas” still are in use as crowded low-grade housing; there are also wide tree-lined boulevards and neoclassical, art deco and other buildings in many areas. Cherry blossoms and magnolia trees line many streets.

The Bund is the spacious promenade on the Huangpu River, which divides old and new Saigon, and flows to the Yangtze. The Bund is the place to be – it is filled with tourists from all over China, and is very scenic.

Today, Shanghai is China’s economic center, and there are large financial service headquarters as well as other commercial towers clustered in the city. The heart of the city is surrounded by large residential apartment buildings – lots of them.

The city is served well by public transportation (cars are not too expensive, but the permits to own them are), and there are more and more parks and green areas appearing in the city with each year.

During our time here we saw some beautiful places, saw lots of people everywhere, and learned some interesting things about Shanghai’s history and culture.

  • Yesterday we visited a Buddhist temple and school; student monks and nuns had a service in which they chanted some mesmerizing tunes, while construction crews made a big racket next door to the school.   An enormous Buddha made from one single piece of jade sits on the second floor of the school, and gardens are kept meticulously in the little areas between the school buildings.
  • We also visited a traditional house from old Shanghai days (the Yu Yuan Gardens). It is one of the cultural treasures that wasn’t destroyed as part of the revolution (to Communism); it is a fabulous compound built for a family. There are various structures including 2 areas for performances, gardens and water features, pathways that divide so that the women could take an interior path away from the sun and external world, and other peaceful and beautiful attributes. Immediately outside its perimeter is a giant, crowded, noisy market that looks like Times Square on steroids. Quite a contrast (Joe got some pix).
  • Today we took a tour with an architect, and learned that the tower that sits on the bank of the Yangtze River (the Bund) was formerly used to provide weather indications. Jesuit missionaries in the west had a telegraph, and they would telegraph weather information to Shanghai; flags indicating the upcoming weather were flown so that captains could plan their trips accordingly.
  • And speaking of Jesuits, they are credited with giving China its reputation as a place for great needlepoint. Apparently the Jesuits provided the fabric for western religious institutions in China, and the Jesuit students did the needlepoint for these items.
  • And all those brides we have seen in Australia and Asia so far? No, they are not actual brides, at least not yet.   We learned that it is customary in this part of the world for couples to buy or rent several wedding outfits (up to ten), and have their pictures taken in different locations. The pix are then enlarged and displayed at the actual wedding, which is more of a feast than a marriage ceremony.
  • And because Shanghai did not require a visa for entry in its early days of growth, it became a refuge over the years for substantial numbers of Jews persecuted at various times in Russia, Germany and elsewhere.
  • One tour guide told us about the current dating scene, and related that the one-child policy has created large numbers of parents who are desperate for grandchildren. On weekends there is a corner in the large square where grandparents and parents of eligible-aged young adults gather (in crowds that number up to 800, in her opinion). These grandparents and parents have information available about the candidate, and they exchange information (pictures, height, education, career, assets, earnings, household skills, etc.). If they find a good possible match, they encourage their son/daughter to meet the prospect. Our guide says it’s one of those things where you agree so that your parents won’t nag you, but you just meet for 2 minutes, say hello, and that’s usually about the end of it. (I know, this is a weird story, but when you are stuck in traffic on a tour at the end of the day, the guides might tell you anything just to distract you!)

Sorry for such a long post – I wanted to get in as much as I could remember! I’ll sign off now.

Best,

Mary Anne

 

 

Xiamen China

We spent a little time in the Port city Xiamen, which is a kind of a Gateway to China. It’s in a special economic zone and with 4 million people is a pretty big deal. By comparison, I think Chicago has about 2 million people. Anyway, here are some photos taken in Xiamen.

Joe

Woman Carrying Goods to Market in Xiamen
Woman Carrying Goods to Market in Xiamen

Statuary in Egret Park, Xiamen China
Statuary in Egret Park, Xiamen China
Retail Shop in Xiamen, China
Retail Shop in Xiamen, China
Busy Shopping Center in Xiamen, China
Busy Shopping Center in Xiamen, China
A Mix of Eastern and Western Architecture in Xiamen, China
A Mix of Eastern and Western Architecture in Xiamen, China
A bakery in Xiamen, China
A bakery in Xiamen, China

Hong Kong

The expo center in HK - reminds me of the Opera House in Sydney.
A construction site on a busy HK street – the scaffolding is made of bamboo!
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The expo center on HK Island; reminds me a bit of the Sydney Opera House.
P1000562
A little slice of the skyline in Hong Kong; you can see how close the mountains are behind this harbour-front bit of building.
a view of Victoria Harbour, with HK Island on the right and Kowloon (mainland) on the left; the City has reclaimed a lot of land and the harbor is smaller than it used to be.
a view of Victoria Harbour, with HK Island on the right and Kowloon (mainland) on the left; the City has reclaimed a lot of land and the harbor is smaller than it used to be.

Hong Kong                                         Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Greetings from Hong Kong! We are sad to spend Easter Sunday away from family and friends, but we hope you are all enjoying a lovely day.

We arrived in Hong Kong yesterday, and this is some city! It consists of many islands, although only a few are inhabited, and part of mainland China. About 7 million people live in Hong Kong, and 95% are Chinese. However, this is the business and finance hub of Asia, and lots of visitors from around the world come to the city for varying durations. Hong Kong has a large commercial port, and export/import business is big here.

Hong Kong has a lot of history, and it was only in 1898 when it began its modern story. After the Opium Wars (Britain forced China to open up trade, travel, etc.), Britain obtained the right to lease Hong Kong for 99 years. At the time, the area was almost entirely undeveloped and many criticized the chap who signed the deal, thinking it was a bad bargain. But the city grew and prospered, thanks in part to the deep and wide Victoria Harbour between the mainland (Kowloon) and Hong Kong Island. Today it is a clean, modern, sophisticated city.

Control of Hong Kong reverted to the Chinese in 1997, but it is a Special Administrative Region of China, with its own currency and its own rules (at least thus far). And it is a bastion of capitalism like you’ve never seen – luxury merchandise is for sale big-time – think of every fine store on 5th Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Bond Street, or the Short Hills Mall, and that is part of the Golden Mile in Hong Kong.

And wealth is on display in Hong Kong – there are stores selling Baby Dior, Baby Cavalli, Baby Armoni, etc. – and children (and adults) wearing the latest and greatest of every brand (some genuine, some counterfeit).

Add to this luxury plenty of open air markets, markets with stalls, night markets, jade markets, gold markets, and lots of markets for counterfeit luxury items, and that is also part of Hong Kong.

Toss in some beautiful British buildings, pretty parks, eateries of all types, and that is also part of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been described as a vertical city – everything is densely packed and built up high – commercial buildings, residential buildings, cemeteries. About 20% of the residents own cars, and the population travels largely by bike, metro/subway or walking.

During our visit here we heard a lot about lucky numbers, fortune tellers, legends of benevolent dragons that protect the Chinese, and feng shui (the consultation of the elements to bring people into harmony with nature).  Because construction is going on all over Hong Kong (producing some high rise buildings that are beyond description), feng shui masters are kept very busy.

We heard one story about the construction of a large new skyscraper for a large Chinese bank. The building was designed with many angles and decorative diagonal beams that appear to slash its exterior. The feng shui master retained by that bank advised that the sharpness would inflict damage on a nearby competitive bank. The competitive bank retained its own feng shui master, who advised it to plant willow trees around its exterior, which would make it hard for the sharp edges of the new bank to inflict harm.

Hong Kong permits 3 types of gambling: racing (there is a beautiful old racetrack in town), lottery and football (soccer). Macau is about 90 minutes by fast ferry, and gambling there is thriving.

During our visit we enjoyed the skyline (Joe will post pix of this), a nice cruise around the harbor at sunset, a trip to Victoria Peak where you can look down on everything, Repulse Bay, trekking around town and through parks, and walking past the largest mosque in Hong Kong this morning as many ladies in Muslim traditional wear came out of the subway and entered their part of the mosque for prayer.

Joe and I send our best wishes to all for a blessed Easter.

Mary Anne

Ha Long Bay

We piled onto a junk with some friends to sail on Ha Long Bay, a UNSECO world heritage site. The bay is dotted with fishing villages at the base of some of the rock / island formations and it has an almost indescribable natural beauty. It’s kind of like the Grand Canyon in that you have to see it in person grasp the grandeur of it. The day we went was fairly cloudy, but that really didn’t matter much. It was still breathtaking. Here are some photos.

Joe

Vietnamese Junk on Ha Long Bay

Rock Formations of Ha Long Bay
Rock Formations of Ha Long Bay
Placid waters of Ha Long Bay with a fishing village at the base of an island
Placid waters of Ha Long Bay with a fishing village at the base of an island
Mary Anne sailing on a Vietnamese Junk on Ha Long Bay
Mary Anne sailing on a Vietnamese Junk on Ha Long Bay
Mary Anne and Brigitta sailing on Ha Long Bay
Mary Anne and Brigitta sailing on Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay Rock Formations
Ha Long Bay Rock Formations
Ha Long Bay Harbor from our stateroom veranda
Ha Long Bay Harbor from our stateroom veranda
Ha Long Bay "Thumb"
Ha Long Bay “Thumb”
Fishing Village on Ha Long Bay
Fishing Village on Ha Long Bay
A Fishing Village on Ha Long Bay
A Fishing Village on Ha Long Bay

Central and Northern Vietnam

One of the many, many lantern shops in Hoi An, selling beautiful silk covered lanterns
One of the many, many lantern shops in Hoi An, selling beautiful silk covered lanterns

Friday, March 25, 2016                                              South China Sea

We spent the last 2 days in central and northern Vietnam – they are quite different from the southern visit to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.  Da Nang is the large city in central Vietnam, and has a lot of the old colonial French architecture to see, amidst every conceivable type of shop.

We tromped around the Cham Temple ruins on an incredibly hot and humid morning, viewing what had previously been a compound of 70 Hindu temples in central Vietnam, until almost all of them were bombed during the Vietnam War.  That visit gave us an appreciation into what the soldiers in the forests of Vietnam were up against in terms of terrain and heat, to say nothing of their enemies.

We also visited Hoi An, an ancient trading city, and saw beautiful temples, lanterns, and silk and other textiles.

Last visit in central Vietnam was China Beach, where American soldiers used to go for R&R; it’s a lovely long beach and within biking distance from Da Nang.

Yesterday we saw some of northern Vietnam  when we sailed around Ha Long Bay, viewing the karst formations; karst is formed when limestone is dissolved by running water, creating conical hills with underground caves.

Legend has it that in Ha Long Bay, a family of dragons was sent by the gods to protect Vietnam against foreign invaders when it was a young country.  The dragons spit jewels and jade that formed a protective ring of barrier islands, and the Bay has hundreds of these formations to view, bearing names to indicate their shapes (Duck Island, Kissing Chickens Island, Flame Island, etc.).  The day was overcast but our trip was not rained out, so we had the chance to see some fishing villages along the Bay, and a lot of water traffic.

In the course of our visits we noticed that the northern and central areas are much cleaner than those we observed in the south, and have better roads and infrastructure.   We heard some different versions of how capitalism and communism co-exist than we had heard in the south, and we heard some references to winners and losers in the Vietnam War.

However, all regions of Vietnam appear to be growing in leaps and bounds.  Construction is going on everywhere, tourism is booming, and there is a lot of vitality in the air.

Tomorrow we will arrive in Hong Kong (we had our temperatures taken by a scanning device today to be sure that we are allowed to enter China).

Best wishes to all of you.

Mary Anne

Ha Long Bay and karst formations
Ha Long Bay and karst formations
Ha Long Bay - fishing village
Ha Long Bay – fishing village
The Boulevard along China Beach (like Da Nang's version of Ocean Avenue in Spring Lake)
The Boulevard along China Beach (like Da Nang’s version of Ocean Avenue in Spring Lake)
Ha Long Bay - close up of one of the limestone formations and its caves
Ha Long Bay – close up of one of the limestone formations and its caves
some new silk fashions for sale in Hoi An
some new silk fashions for sale in Hoi An
a resort on the Han River
a resort on the Han River

Chan Mae Viet Nam

A visit to Chan Mae included stops at Hoi An, Dan Nang and China Beach. It is officially dubbed Marble Beach, but the official name is ignored in favor of China Beach. Here are some photos that include the bustling market in Hoi An’s Chinatown, the jungle in My Son (pronounced Mee Sun), and China Beach in Da Nang.

Joe

China Beach on the South China Sea, Da Nang, Vietnam
China Beach on the South China Sea, Da Nang, Vietnam
Woman on Bicycle in Market
Woman on Bicycle in Market
Street Corner Vendors  in Hoi An
Street Corner Vendors in Hoi An
Street Market in Hoi An
Street Market in Hoi An
Woman Carries Produce to Market in Hoi An
Woman Carries Produce to Market in Hoi An
Woman Carries Goods  to Market in Hoi An
Woman Carries Goods to Market in Hoi An
Chinese Lanterns for Sale in Hoi An's China Town
Chinese Lanterns for Sale in Hoi Ans China Town
Path through Jungle in My Son leading to Pagoda of the Cham People begun in the year 1 AD
Path through Jungle in My Son leading to Pagoda of the Cham People begun in the year 1 AD
Bridge in My Son (Mee Sun) where the Cham people lived
Bridge in My Son (Mee Sun) where the Cham people lived
In the Market
In the Market
Pushing Goods to Market in Hoi An
Pushing Goods to Market in Hoi An
Trader makes a sale
Trader makes a sale

Purim and Brussels

What a day it has been;

We started the day with a lecture about ISIS from an excellent journalist, Stephen Cole, who could not have been more vocal about how serious the terrorism threat is.

This afternoon we had a Purim Festival with our ship’s rabbi, with great rejoicing over the feat of Esther, saving her people from the evil Haman.

And then we heard the news from Brussels.

You are all in our thoughts.  We hope you and yours are all safe and sound.

MA and JB

Saigon and Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam                                               March 22, 2016

Until this week, my gut reaction when hearing the word “Vietnam” was to cringe, recalling the 1970s and how our family sweated out the draft process, worried that brother Jim and his friends would wind up fighting a war. Thankfully our family was spared that fate, but many others were not so fortunate.

Having now spent 3 days in Saigon, I have a very different reaction to the word “Vietnam” and it is a feeling of hope. So many residents of Vietnam are under the age of 45 (and therefore didn’t personally experience the years of war with other nations), so plugged into the world via the internet and social media, and so literate and educated, that this is a society that seems to be going headlong right into a bright future.

While Vietnam is governed by a Communist party, the signs of capitalism flourish in Saigon – all manner of things are bought and sold, and the Vietnam economy prospers from its exports (cashews, coffee, rice, tea, etc.).

However, there are the rich and the poor, and everyone with whom we spoke frequently mentioned the gap (for example, “that’s a building where only rich people can buy apartments”). The tour guides and drivers we met talked often about saving money so that their children could attend good (private) schools and so that their parents could be taken care of (for many, especially non-government employees such as the farmers who have been a big part of the economy in the past, there are no pensions or old-age public health care arrangements, so the children who are now working wind up paying the hospital/doctor/other bills).

Cranes and building projects are everywhere, and the landscape varies from massive construction sites (office parks, factories, residential complexes) along the roadways that lead into Saigon City from the port and outer areas to tree lined boulevards and beautiful parks in the main part of the city, with French neo-classical colonial architecture next door to modern buildings, crumbling old buildings, and virtually anything else you can imagine.

We heard from locals during our visit that although the country is Communist-ruled, freedom of religion (90% of Vietnamese are Buddhists) and other freedoms are the norm; certainly there is freedom from road regulations – more motorbikes, scooters and bicycles that you can ever imagine, flying down roads in all directions, without many traffic lights or other guides, but remarkably low traffic accident rates.

There are 51 dialects spoken in Vietnam, and certainly the country has absorbed a lot of territories in its history. One lecturer on the ship summed up the country’s history this way: The Vietnamese fought the Chinese for 1000 years, the French for 100 years, and the Americans for 10 years. We noticed and heard from locals that white skin is valued for women; ladies generally will try hard not to let the sun make them tan.

During our visit, we saw an enormous wholesale market in Chinatown that looked and operated like something from a hundred years ago, shops on downtown streets that had the brands, look and feel of 5th Avenue NYC, and ladies outside those shops squatting down on the sidewalk cooking waffles over small open fires and selling them to passers-by. We heard that those in Saigon “live on the streets” in the sense that this is where life takes place, and it certainly seems that way. It is a vibrant city, and one we’d love to come back and explore more.

We also took a trip on the Mekong River – a very large river that is the lifeblood of southern Vietnam; it supplies the water for a large area (the Delta) that produces all types of crops. The Mekong River runs from China in the north down through 6 countries; China has dammed a lot of the river and this is affecting the downstream countries and the productivity of the river as salt water from the South China Sea becomes more of its content and affects its use in growing crops.

The Mekong is a muddy brown river, lined with old stilt houses and lean-tos that are still occupied although they look uninhabitable. In some of those old houses there are beekeepers, rice paper makers, wine makers and others who produce items through family labor in what we would call cottage industry – very old-school. We visited a floating market on the Mekong, and learned that commerce on the river is conducted via boat – you either motor/row/sail to a vendor, or the vendor comes to you. Picturesque but not pristine; the river is polluted with trash as are many of the roads we saw.

We are on our way to central and northern Vietnam, and we’ll see if the years have treated this area differently – the capital (Hanoi) has been a capital for many years, and it will be interesting to see if the free market influence is as strong as in Saigon.

Hope that you are all doing well.

Best,

MA

Banner for the Water Puppet Show in Saigon - an old art in which the puppets are manipulated by people behind a curtain, who have sticks connected to the puppets to make them move; very skillful work!
Banner for the Water Puppet Show in Saigon –
an old art in which the puppets are manipulated by people behind a curtain, who have sticks connected to the puppets to make them move; very skillful work!
A Buddhist temple in Chinatown; you can see joss sticks in the front, and spiral incense coils hanging from the ceiling, with purple and red papers containing the petitions requesting prayers.  We saw many tourists but also many locals worshipping at the temple.  Because so many people came to Vietnam by boat, this temple is dedicated to the gods and goddesses of water travel.  There is also a shrine to the god of business (who rewards his worshippers with prosperity).  The temple is open air, and you can see a plastic cover over the fan in the  upper right corner.
A Buddhist temple in Chinatown; you can see joss sticks in the front, and spiral incense coils hanging from the ceiling, with purple and red papers containing the petitions requesting prayers. We saw many tourists but also many locals worshipping at the temple. Because so many people came to Vietnam by boat, this temple is dedicated to the gods and goddesses of water travel. There is also a shrine to the god of business (who rewards his worshippers with prosperity). The temple is open air, and you can see a plastic cover over the fan in the upper right corner.
On the Mekong River at the floating market a lady cuts open a coconut and offers it to our guide for a drink; notice how the vendor squats low - we saw this everywhere as the way people hang out (not sitting or standing).
On the Mekong River at the floating market a lady cuts open a coconut and offers it to our guide for a drink; notice how the vendor squats low – we saw this everywhere as the way people hang out (not sitting or standing). In the background you see housing the businesses that line the river.
another boat at the floating market, this one filled with fruit; the vendor is bending down in the left side of the picture, wearing the traditional conical hat.  A husband and wife will live on the boat, getting replenishment inventory from their farms/gardens, and returning to their homes on land after they are done selling the crops.
another boat at the floating market, this one filled with fruit; the vendor is bending down in the left side of the picture, wearing the traditional conical hat. A husband and wife will live on the boat, getting replenishment inventory from their farms/gardens, and returning to their homes on land after they are done selling the crops.