Day One in Nanjing – Guests of the Family

My wife Stephanie had been wanting to go to Nanjing. Most especially because we knew our friends Bin and Zhenmei were staying there. Zhenmei was born and raised in Nanjing, and her parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece all live there.

Honestly, we could not ask for better hosts. When we were reunited with our friends, they would not let us pay for anything. It was clear at the end of the first day that we were not just guests of Bin and Zhenmei, but of Zhenmei’s family, too. Their hospitality, coupled with what there is to see and do in Nanjing, had us wishing we could stay for much longer.

We rode the high-speed train to Nanjing on Friday morning, which took less than an hour and a half. Our friends met us at the station and went with us to our hotel, guiding us onto the city’s Metro and once we got off the subway, hailing us taxis to take to the hotel. We checked in to the Nanjing New Town hotel. It’s in the newer part of Nanjing. There were dozens of cranes looming above several construction sites near the hotel.  (There is construction everywhere in China on a scale I have never seen in the U.S.)

The hotel was much nicer than the one in which we are residing in Shanghai. Of course, that hotel is only three years old, so all of the facilities are nice and new. Plus, the TV had ESPN in English and a station that showed Chinese cartoons. We didn’t have time to watch TV. We all got back on the Metro and headed into the center of town where we had lunch.

Lunch in Nanjing was the first time I tried salted duck. So good.

Nanjing is a very important city to the history of China. It was the capital of the country during several dynasties. Not to mention being the site of the start of the Opium Wars and the infamous Rape of Nanking by the Japanese in 1937.

Stephanie and I wanted to see the Confucius Temple. Bin has seen the Confucius Temple many times. Oliver was also not interested in going. So Bin stayed with the kids at the mall. They played games in the air conditioned arcade and then later, Bin bought the kids water guns. There is a large pool on the lower level of the mall, which the kids used to refill their guns. Meredith got very wet.

I know the kids had a better time at the mall than they would have had walking in the heat in Nanjing.

While they played at the mall, Zhenmei acted as our tour guide, taking us over the Qinhuai River, to the Li Xiangjun Residence, the Confucius Temple and the Jiangnan Examination College.

Here’s the giant gate to the area where the Confucius Temple is located. Notice the Haagen-Dazs and the Pizza Hut. Confucius say: Pizza and ice cream bring harmony to the people.

Behind those shops is the Qinhuai River. For many centuries this river was Nanjing’s “main street.” It was the central artery for the transportation of goods and people to and from the city.

Before we went to the Confucius Temple, we stopped along the way and saw the Li Xiangjun Residence. Li Xiangjun was a renowned geisha. (Yes, there were geisha in China. I didn’t know that either.) Her home was set next to the Qinhuai River. It has been restored and contains many of her original furnishings. She was a very successful geisha.

Here’s the view of the Qinhuai River from Li Xiangjun’s house.

After seeing all the rooms filled with beautiful old artifacts we headed to the Confucius Temple.

Writers like Lu Xun were very critical of Confucianism and it’s paternalism. During the Cultural Revolution, the government tried to do away with Confucianism. Though he isn’t held in the esteem he once was, you can’t just throw away 2500 years of a philosophical basis for an entire society. So Confucianism still survives as a philosophy, while Confucius himself survives as a tourist attraction.

Located in front of the shrine is the largest statue of Confucius in China. It’s made of bronze.

Inside the shrine is a large portrait of Confucius. On the walls are murals which are carved and painted. This one depicts a man about to be beheaded (for stealing, if I remember correctly).

On the temple grounds is a large drum and a large bell. Banging the drum once is supposed to make your problems go away. Ringing the bell is supposed to bring peace. Stephanie paid the two Yuan each to bang the drum and ring the bell.

They’re both quite loud.

At the exit of the temple is a small performance space. There is a list of songs you can request the musicians to play…for a price. I took a picture but it did not come out clearly. Confucius say: let no opportunity for profit go unexploited.

Before heading back to the mall to meet up with Bin and the kids, we stopped at the Examination College museum.

The Examination College “is the site for ancient imperial examinations.” It was founded in 1168. The examinations were ended in the 1890s. For 700 years exams were held to determine who should work for the government. Sometimes as many as 20,000 people took the exam. Only the top 200 were given a job by the Emperor. Your acceptance letter came from the emperor himself and was delivered to your home. This is what the “you’re hired” letter looked like.

It’s the biggest acceptance letter I’ve ever seen.

You can’t tell the history of taking tests without including the history of cheating on tests. There was one small display showing various methods people used for cheating, usually with palm-sized cheat sheets.

The rest of the walls were filled with portraits and bios of some of the more famous people who received top scores on the exam and went on to do other things. One of the more famous was the writer Wu Cheng’en. He later went on to write Journey to the West, one of the Big Four classic Chinese novels. It’s also known as the legend of the Monkey King, which has inspired countless cartoons, movies, and TV shows. My kids have seen versions on TV here in China.

I should note that there is one woman who got the top score. Fu Shanxiang. She took the test during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Otherwise, women were not allowed to even take the exam.

At any rate, you can see why test-taking is very important to the Chinese. They have a very long history of taking tests….

Stephanie, Zhenmei, and I walked back to the mall to meet up with Bin and the kids. The kids discovered a touch screen mall directory that they liked playing with.

We stopped off at our hotel to rest before meeting Zhenmei’s family for dinner. We discovered that the air conditioning in the bedroom of our suite was not working. Bin called down to the hotel desk and had them send someone up. Within a very short time we were given another room (equally nice) down the hall.

Dinner was delicious. We got to meet Zhenmei’s wonderful parents, sister, and niece at a restaurant serving Taiwanese style food. There are apparently close ties between Nanjing and Taiwan due to Chiang Kai-Shek. The restaurant was in the Nanjing Taiwan Trade Mart.

They ordered what seemed like an endless amount of dishes, and Stephanie and I tried them all. I even tried and liked Duck Blood Soup. I didn’t think I would and I had no intention of trying it. But there I was at the table with all that food and a bowl of that soup was placed near me. I’m a guest of these incredibly generous people, so I figured I ought to at least try it. I begin to use my chopsticks to put some noodles onto my plate. The next thing I know Zhenmei’s mother is helping me, heaping copious amounts of noodles and meat into my bowl. I was not about to say “no” to her.

Xiao Long Bao was among the dishes that were ordered. It, too, was very good. It was so good that it was given the seal of approval by Zhenmei’s father and mother, so another steamer of the soup dumplings was ordered and brought to the table. Her parents were so lively and her sister so engaging that I really wish I spoke Mandarin so I could have talked with them more easily and freely, while we ate until our stomachs couldn’t fit even a morsel more.

After dinner, we took a taxi back to our hotel where we all got a good night’s sleep.

Art, Fast Food, and Fun in the Sun

According to Frommer’s the Shanghai Art Museum occupies the former clock tower building which was erected in 1933 marking the original location of the grandstands of the colonial racecourse. People’s Square is where that racecourse used to be.

Also, according to Frommer’s, it costs 20 Yuan to enter the museum. It cost us nothing. I have no idea why. I don’t know if Thursdays are free, or if the woman at the ticket desk saw that I was going to attempt to bring two small children with me and she thought she would do me a favor of some kind. Whatever. For the price of a Metro ticket and a short walk we entered the Shanghai Art Museum.

The art was good. Even Henry saw some things he liked, like this piece, titled “Corridor” by Szeto Lap

and this piece, titled “Purple Homeland” by Zhang Xiaoming.

I liked those, too. There were two companion pieces, “Yellow Homeland” and “Green Homeland.” Henry pointed out that they were all the same “painting” but in different colors. I explained to him that the different colors provide a different mood for each painting. He said, “hmm.”

There was also a series of paintings that were “bumpy” as Henry called them. He said the farther back you stood, the better you could see the pictures. I talked a little bit about texture, how the painter used lots of paint and several layers to get that effect.

I have no idea if any of what I was telling my son will take hold, but I wanted to feed his curiosity.

These three pieces also caught my eye.

“Screened Night Scene II” by Guo Jianlian

“Grey Skirts” by Zhang Xiaoming

“A Sitting Dancer II” by Yang Canjun

The kids both liked this sculpture called, “Chair Person.” I had to remind Meredith not to touch it….

Two of the upper floors had exhibits of Chinese art but all of the titles and names were in Chinese. No English. No French. No other language. This was frustrating, because these looked to be an exhibit of historical pieces on silk screen and contemporary takes on historical pieces. But I couldn’t tell. The kids liked it because there was space to run around.

For lunch, I opted to leave the museum and look around. There is a highly-touted restaurant on the museum’s 5th floor called Kathleen’s 5. I’ve seen the prices for Kathleen’s 5. You can see them, too. It would be overpriced in the U.S.

Instead, we ate at Burger King. The kids had their usual: french fries. I ordered and ate the first hamburger from Burger King that I’ve eaten in years. It’s been so long that I don’t remember. I have to say, after three-and-a-half weeks of picture menus, misspoken and misunderstood Mandarin, and mystery meals, that mushroom and swiss double burger with fries and a coke tasted good. (Though the swiss cheese didn’t taste very Swiss.) Not nearly as good as Cha Shao Bao or Xiao Long Bao, or black bean and garlic pork, or sushi or Lillian Cake’s egg tarts, but it was good enough for lunch today.

(A digression. Shortly after we had sat down in the Burger King, located in the basement food court of a department store across from People’s Square, Henry said he needed to use the potty. When kids say they have to use the potty, that means they have to use the potty RIGHT NOW.

The restaurants in Shanghai don’t have their own restrooms. So I had to leave Meredith with our food. I couldn’t take her with, because then the food would get dumped by the cleaning staff. I raced with Henry to find the restroom. It took us through the back of the restaurant and around and back to where we had entered (there are two entrances to this BK.) until I found where the restrooms were located. I told Henry to turn around and to remember to come back through in the way we had come in, pointing out how we had gotten turned around by the signs pointing to where the restrooms were located. I showed him the way into the restrooms, then I ran back to where Meredith was, still munching merrily on her fries. Henry eventually made his way back to where we were sitting.

Sometimes, it’s these little frustrations that drive me absolutely crazy. If there had been a restroom inside the restaurant, I could have sent Henry there and not been forced to leave Meredith all by herself.)

After lunch, I fulfilled a promise I had made to the kids. I had promised them that after we went to the art museum, that we would shoot their toys in the park. They had been wanting to do that since my wife bought them from some street vendor plying foreigners down in the Yu Yuan Bazaar by the Huxingting Tea House Monday night.

I pulled the toys out of my small back pack and I showed the kids how to shoot them up in the air. You hook the rubber band on the top, pull back (like a slingshot) and launch it into the air. There’s even a light on them, so at night these shooters glows as they fly.

Meredith got frustrated and bored, and decided to run around the trees.

Before we left the park we had a good view of some important buildings that border People’s Square.

Here’s the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store, where the service is as firm and perfunctory as the bricks on the building itself.

Last week I bought a small Transformer for Henry there to replace the broken toy axe from Hangzhou. Once we decided on the toy (in the very very tiny toy department) a woman strode out of nowhere to take it out of my hand, went over to a counter, wrote out a two-ply receipt, barked at me to go in the direction where she was pointing, to a man seated behind another counter where I handed him the two-ply receipt, paid, then he handed me the top sheet with my minimal change, pointed for me to go away, then the woman handed me the toy in a small paper bag. It wasn’t exactly a warm sales experience.

Two other buildings are related to one another and they are on opposite ends of the square.

Here’s where Gandalf was trapped by Saruman in The Lord of the Rings.

At the other end is where the Eye of Sauron appears at night.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 1

No one seemed to notice us or paid us any special attention. I think the crowd at the art museum is different than at other Tourist Attractions. It was nice. In the square, I had a wonderful conversation with some Chinese tourists from Anhui province. They were curious about us; me with the two kids and their shooter toys. They assumed I must work in Shanghai and be English. I told them we were American and that I was a writer, and how my wife was a professor teaching a summer course for a month. One woman remarked that Henry was skinny. I said, “like father, like son” and pointed to my legs. They laughed.

Seeing Shanghai at Night from the Jin Mao Tower

We lucked out last night. We had clear weather and a personal connection. Thanks to my wife’s fabulous TA Crystal we got into the Jin Mao Tower Observation floor for free. (Her other fabulous TA Jessie helped her this morning buy our high speed train tickets for our trip to Nanjing this weekend.) A friend of Crystal’s mother works at the tower and, hearing about us from Crystal, had offered to let us up to see the view from the top without having to pay the entry fee. And that’s just what we did.

It’s one of the coolest things we’ve done so far. The pictures, as always, don’t do the view justice. Seeing Shanghai lit up at night from those heights is a spectacle of vast glowing proportions.

We arrived shortly after sunset. There was still a slight blue/orange glow in the Western sky.

The Bottle Opener didn’t look too bad from next door. Though I couldn’t seem to cut the glare from the windows.

Here’s the Pearl Tower. I’ve tried on several nights to capture some of its changing colors from our hotel room with no success. I’m sure a professional photographer could tell me how to do it. In the meantime, I’ll settle for this.

This is the view from the 88th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel just below. You can see all the way down to the bottom of the hotel’s atrium.

The hotel occupies floors 53 to 87. Stephanie lifted Henry up to give him a view, but he was freaked out by it. His fear of heights is not going away.

This is how we saw the Jin Mao Tower when we had to leave.

I prefer this building to the Bottle Opener. It would not look at home in Chicago, Houston, or New York. The Bottle Opener would. Henry said, “It’s only when we leave Shanghai that it looks like China.” The kid has a point.

Speaking of the kids. They were much better behaved on this excursion than on Sunday. Happy kids make for happy trips.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 0 – If anyone took a picture we didn’t see it.

One picture I decided not to show was of the large display of Chinglish describing the process of designing and building the tower. It’s too embarrassing for a building of this stature to mock. Seriously. They could afford to hire Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill to design it but couldn’t find a decent English translator/editor? I suppose corners had to be cut somewhere.

Feeling High and Low

Sunday was the day that my wife and I questioned the wisdom of bringing children with us to China.

The day before, Saturday, the air had been crystal clear for our day trip west to Suzhou. Stephanie and I talked it over when we returned, deciding that if, when we woke up the next morning, the air was clear again we would head to the Shanghai World Financial Center (aka the “Bottle Opener”). A clear day would be the only day worth going to the top of the tallest building in China.

The next morning I looked out the window to a clear view of the Shanghai skyline.

The kids, however, were not in a cooperating mood.

Meredith ate her Cherrios but refused milk, only wanting peach juice, which we didn’t have. And she refused water.

Take one four-year-old, already in a fussy mood, crank up the heat outside, have her refuse to drink anything, and you have a recipe for a Class A meltdown. Which is what she had throughout various parts of the trip on the Metro to the Bottle Opener, at the Bottle Opener, and back on the Metro to the hotel.

I swear, there has got to be video of Meredith crying on the Metro on the Chinese Internet somewhere, under the label “the Crying Loawai.” A crying child often brings attention. A crying white child in China brings a lot of attention.

The foul mood spilled into Henry, who was already a little out of sorts over the heat. No matter how many times I tell the kids 1) that it isn’t going to get any cooler here and 2) that the heat is much easier to take when you drink plenty of water, they don’t listen. It must go back to what Bill Cosby said about children: they’re brain damaged.

The line I had expected to see coming out of the Observatory entrance on the side of the building was nonexistent. Here it was sunny and clear on a late Sunday morning and there was not a crowd. No crowd at a Chinese Tourist Attraction? Since when does that happen?

Henry complained that the fascinating multimedia presentation about the growth of Shanghai compared to Tokyo and New York City was boring. (Shanghai didn’t even start to develop into what we see today until about 20 years ago. Our friend Zhenmei had told us she remembers as small child having to take a ferry in order to cross the Huangpu, because there were no bridges over the river.) I told my son to hush, that we were in the tallest building in China which should be exciting enough.

It only got better.

We left the Skywalk on the 100th floor and went down to the gift shop on the 94th floor. The kids wanted to play in the children’s play area that was set up in the middle of the large room. But there was a fee for each child. Since both our children had been misbehaving, Stephanie and I refused to pay to let them play there. This made our kids much happier.

We are probably the only parents in the short history of the Bottle Opener to put their kids in timeouts in the 94th floor Gift Shop.

The gift shop is filled with over-priced, unappealing tchotchkes. Not even a decent coffee mug. Just expensive pens in the shape of the tower and glowing crystal models of the tower. And Chinese fans. And bendy pens. And key chains with the tower on it. So we didn’t buy anything other than a few postcards.

In the elevator ride down from the gift shop the kids fought over who had enough space to hold onto the railing, and we’re given a chewing out by me. Great, my wife and I were thinking, the first time these Chinese people see two American kids and they’re fighting and crying over holding onto an elevator railing. Lovely.

After we got off the elevator onto the third floor, they got a long stern lecture from my wife about how they were embarrassing us all in front of strangers. My wife is excellent at lecturing; she is a professor.

The elevator for the down trip from the Observatory put us in the food court, which covers floors B1 up to 3. I briefly checked out the menu for a restaurant called Element Fresh. One of the things they are known for is their American-style breakfasts (omelets, bacon, pancakes, etc.). But they don’t include the prices on their website….They’re lunch menu looked over-priced even for the U.S. $12 for a barbecue chicken sandwich? I’m a little homesick but after spending 450 Yuan  ($75) for the four of us to go to the Observatory in the Bottle Opener, with two of us acting like brats, my wife and I were not in the mood to spend that kind of money on lunch or brunch.

Anyway, the views from the top were outstanding. We don’t get many clear days here in Shanghai. This is only the third one we’ve had since we arrived nearly three weeks ago.

Meredith was uninterested in the view. Henry liked it for awhile and then got scared of the glass portals on the floor. He’s afraid of heights.

I did get a few pictures of Meredith having her meltdown, which I’m saving for posterity. I’m going to bring them out when she has kids and they have meltdowns. I’ll be able to show her proof that she had a meltdown during the trip to the tallest building in China.

Three weeks in China and this many people on the Skydeck does not seem crowded to me. With so few people, you can easily elbow your way to the window for a view.

This one of the Jin Mao Tower might be my favorite because I like the building so much and it’s such a unique view.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 6

Monday, yesterday, was spent inside all day. Two tired crabby kids and one fed up adult. Meredith actually napped for over two hours.

My wife, God bless her, gave me a break last night and took the kids with her to Huxingting Tea House. It’s the 200-year-old tea house on the Bridge of Nine Turnings in Nanshi (aka Shanghai Chinatown). I needed that break.

Having survived the last two gloomy days, my foul mood has lifted. And I’m now looking forward to our trip tonight to the Jin Mao Tower (guided by Stephanie’s TA Crystal) and our weekend trip to Nanjing, where we’ll meet up with our friends Bin and Zhenmei, and their son Oliver. Nanjing is Zhenmei’s hometown; she only spent a small part of her youth in Pudong.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Kids are kids. Not everything is going to go according to plan. The clothes dryers probably won’t work. The crowds might be huge. The cicadas might be louder than the traffic (more on that later). The taxi and scooter drivers might nearly kill us. At times the language barrier might be difficult to overcome….

We’re fortunate. We’re in China thanks to a unique opportunity, and there is still so much to see and do.

Savoring Suzhou

“Suzhou” might rhyme with “Cujo” but there is nothing sinister about it. Saturday was spent in this nice water town, famous for its canals and its silk. It was a tour organized through the Summer China program for several faculty members, led by our charming informative guide Emma.

It was a fun trip, both because of what we saw and who we were with. We’re lucky to have a great group of people teaching in the program, who also happen to be good (and entertaining) travel companions.

Together, we took a bus to Suzhou, which is west of Shanghai. Our first stop was Tiger Hill. It has the leaning tower of China set amid beautiful grounds.

There was a well that people were pulling water out of and using to fill their water bottles. We didn’t do that. We did not want to test the water quality.

Brett (blue baseball cap on the left) and Loren (colorful shirt on the right) promised that they would tell us the meaning of these giant red Chinese characters, but they never did.

The pagoda at the top of the hill is the star attraction. It started leaning awhile back and it had to be shored up. People are no longer allowed to climb to the top.

Didier Drogba formerly of Chelsea, is the newest player for Shanghai Shenhua. He showed up to see one of the temples on the grounds…

Actually, that’s Andrew. He’s a big soccer fan and he somehow managed to get a hold of Drogba jersey. Considering only just joined the team, Drogba jerseys are still very rare.

Here’s Loren taking a picture of Christina so that Christina can prove to her family that she really was in the places she was photographing for herself.

Just before we left Tiger Hill, my wife showed off her bamboo kicking skills.

Then the kids found a slide.

We had an uneventful lunch at a restaurant in-town. Our table was set with about a dozen different dishes. All very good. The prawns were served whole. So I ate only one. I don’t care about my food looking at me. That doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s just that it’s a lot of work getting the meat out of one little prawn. And then your fingers are all greasy and the only napkins available are these tiny cocktail napkins. You want to wipe your hands before you pick up the chopsticks otherwise the chopsticks get slippery. A few prawns later and you’ve gone through several napkins and the servers don’t put too many napkins on the table to begin with. Pretty soon you’re out of napkins and then what?

Once I realized how much work it was going to be to eat the prawns, no matter how good they tasted, I stuck with everything else. Call me lazy. Call me fussy. It’s okay. I can deal with it. I’ve been called much worse.

Once our tummies were full, we got back on the bus and headed to the Lion Forest Garden.

This garden was very crowded. We literally had to push and shove our way through groups of tourists being led by those annoying head-set wearing guides who bark information at decibel levels normally reserved for Iron Maiden concerts. (I should know; I have been to several Iron Maiden concerts.) Henry covered his ears.

So we got the ear-crunching effect of a concert but none of the fun. Not even a “Running Free” sing-along. After being jostled in the confined spaces of Ming Dynasty era buildings by hordes of tourists, I felt like running free of the place. Had I done that though, I would have missed one of the coolest things I’ve seen here.

This garden had a rock garden. But unlike any rock garden I’ve ever heard of. The rock garden had a maze of paths that the kids loved. I followed them down and around and up and back down and around and under and over. We soon lost our sense of direction but eventually found our way back to our group.

Our kids weren’t the only ones being asked to pose for pictures. Tony was asked to pose with someone, and he gracefully obliged.

We ended the day with a tour of the Silk Factory. We got to see the whole fascinating process for making silk from larvae to pupa stage.

They take those cocoons, wash them and stretch them out, and turn them into spools of silk thread. It takes 8 silk strands wrapped around each other to form one thread.

They showed us some looms where silk rugs and carpets were being made. The program for the looms is done using a punch-card system. Archaic, but it works.

Once the tour was ended, we were led into a store that sold silk sheets, duvets, pillow cases, and decorative pillows. None of it was cheap but it was 100% silk. Then there was a shop with silk-screen paintings. I can’t think of a worse thing to buy and put in your house when you have kids.

This was followed by a fashion show. Yes. You read that right. A fashion show of many silk creations worn by bored-looking models. Complete with a pulsing soundtrack of Lady Gaga and some other dance music. In my shorts, T-shirt, and sandals, I felt under-dressed.

If you look closely in some of the photos, you can see that some of the women wear open-toed sandals in which their toes hang out. My wife and I have seen this all over Shanghai; well-dressed women wearing high-heeled, open-toed sandals that look about a size or two too small, so that their toes hang out. It’s like some form of foot-binding that’s making a comeback.

I looked at a lot of the men’s clothing but nothing excited me too much. On the other hand, my wife indulged and bought a gorgeous black dress. 100% silk of course. Stephanie’s purchase was the last thing we all did in Suzhou.

One thing we would have liked to do in Suzhou was go on a boat cruise on the canals. But we didn’t have enough time. We can’t do everything, but we’re still doing a lot.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: Slightly more than 9 (we think).

We finally put our foot down and told people “no” anytime my wife or I saw people taking pictures of our kids or whenever they asked. The kids have become so gun-shy that they refuse to answer back when someone waves and says “hi” to them. They completely shut down. The other night when we were out and about, Henry said to my wife, “Can we keep walking so we don’t attract a crowd?”

Andrew commented to me that he couldn’t believe how we attracted attention. Andrew, Tony, and Brett attract a different kind of attention whenever they’re out and about by themselves or together. As Western males unaccompanied by females, they get propositioned for “massages.”

Duolun Culture Street

Duolun Culture is Street is a pedestrian road closed off to traffic (except scooters and bicycles), featuring restored colonial era buildings, that we explored this past Thursday. Located in the Hongkou neighborhood, the street was wholly devoid of crowds. Despite the history behind the street, it’s not a major tourist attraction. Which is a shame because I think it’s quite a little gem.

There are places here where writers and artists used to gather in the 1930’s. There are several bronze statues commemorating the circle of writers led by Lu Xun, placed in front of buildings along the street, including this one that Henry was curious to touch.

One exception is Uchiyama Kanzo, who was the owner of the Neishan book store and a close friend of Lu Xun.

The shops sell jade, jewelry (pearls), and antiques. I didn’t get the chance to explore the shops since they aren’t the most appealing places to kids.

Well, cars aren’t supposed to be on the street, but exceptions are apparently made. Note the laundry hanging out to dry. This is still a residential area.

There was a frieze along one section of the street featuring the writers with intricate carvings.

The kids loved touching it.

Near the old Neishan bookstore is Hang-de Tang Church, the only church in Shanghai with traditional Chinese architectural elements.

The church was built in 1928.

At the southern end of the street is the Duolun Museum of Modern Art.

Henry and I were curious to see inside the gallery, but Henry didn’t find the art too interesting, and was disappointed that the exhibit was confined to only two large floors. It was free for us to enter. The gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of works by Chinese Artist Wang Shuping called, “Rebuild the Paradise.” I can’t say anything gripped me very strongly but I found Wang’s art interesting and I’d be curious to see her other works. Here’s a sampling.

Notice the locks on various parts of clothing and the horn-like hair style.

A performance piece that I couldn’t experience was called “G20,” named after the G20 meeting between economic powers. There was a film showing it, though, narrated in Chinese. It showed a long U-shaped table with 20 seats and 20 microphones. Instead of the usual group of men and Angela Merkel, in each place was a Chinese woman in a suit. (The actual table and props shown in the film were there in the hall.) Clearly a commentary on the lack of women and Asian women at the table.

We didn’t do much after that, other than lunch, as we were all still fatigued from the previous night’s trip to Din Tai Fung for those delicious, paper-thin, Soup Dumplings. A casual walk down a quiet street and through an art gallery was enough for the day.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 1

Pearl In Her Mind

Every night in our Shanghai hotel room, our four-year-old daughter Meredith goes to bed first. The full-sized bed she shares with her seven-year-old brother Henry is set longwise against the window sill. The windows are the width of the room, reaching up nearly to the ceiling, and they provide a southern view of the Hongkou neighborhood and southeastern view beyond the Huangpu river of Pudong.

We close the curtains, read Meredith a story, tuck her in, then shut the door that leads to the room my wife and I share.

My wife reads another chapter from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to our son on our bed. Usually, I lie next to them, eyes closed, exhausted from another exhilarating day here, and listen to my wife’s voice recite Harry’s adventures.

When this next chapter has been read (or my wife is too tired to go on or our son has drifted off), we quietly open the door to the other room.

Before Henry can get into bed, we find Meredith asleep, head at the foot of the bed, facing a gap in the curtains that she has made, with a view of the lit up skyline that is anchored by the multi-colored lights of the Pearl Tower, her favorite building.