A Few Days With Some Great Friends

As I mentioned in my last post, we were lucky enough to see our friends Bin, Zhenmei and their son. They arrived in Shanghai on Friday evening. We got to spend parts of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with them before they headed off the Nanjing on Tuesday. They’re in China for their annual month-long visit to visit family and friends.

We’ve known them for several years because Zhenmei is a colleague of my wife’s, and she and her family also live in our neighborhood.

Saturday morning our friends were wide awake and ready to go. They came to our hotel and together we took the subway to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

Henry seemed tired in the morning and then after a short while at the museum he said he didn’t feel well. I felt his forehead and it was burning hot. We didn’t have any medicine with us. He didn’t want to leave, he liked the museum so much. He trudged through a few of the animal exhibits (large recreations of the animal habitats in China, North America, Australia, and a rain forest) before we had to leave. This was okay with Zhenmei and Bin who were starting to feel tired from the jet-lag. Bin was also already tired of walking through the crowds of people. He remarked that the numerous crowds in China were one of the reasons he and Zhenmei like living where they live in Michigan.

That afternoon we attempted to take Henry’s temperature but our electronic thermometer had died. Sunday morning, Zhenmei gave us their thermometer which they had brought just in case for their travels. Poor Henry, his fever was over 100 degrees.

Zhenmei got in touch with a close friend who happens to be a doctor in Shanghai. They were making plans to have dinner together and Zhenmei explained Henry’s situation. We were concerned that Henry wasn’t drinking enough fluids. Zhenmei’s friend suggested the Chinese equivalent of Pedia-lite. She sent Zhenmei an email with the information that we could use to take to a pharmacy in order to get it if we thought Henry needed it. (Another example of people here being very helpful to us.)

Sunday morning, Stephanie and Meredith went with our friends to People’s Park, which is in central Shanghai. Zhenmei’s friend had called her to check Henry’s progress. Can you believe that? Meanwhile, I stayed behind and took care of Henry.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 3

Oliver rode the bumper cars. It was his first time ever riding bumper cars and, like Henry, he loved it.

They also saw the Marriage Market. What’s a Marriage Market? Call it the Chinese offline version of Match.com. This is where Chinese men and women advertise themselves, listing age, degrees, salary, occupation, and whether they own property. This last one is apparently very important, as property in Shanghai is very expensive.

It goes without saying that the Marriage Market is for hetero couples…

Monday morning, Henry’s fever was gone but he was still very tired from whatever virus he had caught. So Stephanie stayed at the hotel with him. She had work to do. Ff it wasn’t for her teaching two classes we wouldn’t even be here.

(BTW, teaching two four-week classes is an intense challenge. My wife has had to compress a semester’s worth of information and coursework into four weeks. Each class lasts 2.5 hours four days a week. So from 12:30pm to 6:00pm, Monday through Thursday, she’s teaching. She had in mind using several Youtube videos but Youtube is blocked in China. And the videos won’t play through the MSU’s VPN for some reason. Then she thought she would have the students read certain posts on the blog Everyday Sociology, but that’s blocked, too. Sites that contain certain ideas (freedom, democracy, Tibet, etc.) which might upset “Chinese harmony” are not approved by the Chinese government. Though it’s okay for scooters to ride on sidewalks and ignore all traffic lights, threatening people’s lives…but I digress. Suffice to say it’s difficult to teach when you don’t have access to all the information you would like/need to provide to your students.)

While Henry rested and Stephanie prepared her lectures, Meredith and I went with Zhenmei, Bin, and Oliver to the Yu Yuan garden.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: surprisingly 0 (probably because there were so many foreigners in the garden, mostly Russian adults and the streets in the Yu Yuan garden district were densely packed with people. There was no room to take a picture.)

Yu Yuan is near the Old City Market/Bazaar where we had gone with the tour group last week; in Shanghai Chinatown. Below is a map of the area around Yu Yuan garden. The garden is small compared to the Tourist District that has sprouted around it. The garden itself is beautiful.

Near the entrance is the Bridge of Nine Turnings. Supposedly, evil spirits don’t like turning corners. They like straight lines. So walking across the bridge is a way to shake off the evil spirits who might be chasing you. On the bridge is the 200 year-old Huxingting Teahouse.

We didn’t walk on the bridge. As you can see, there were a lot of people trying to get away from evil spirits.

Entry to Yu Yuan is not free. The entire garden is walled off from both people and curious eyes. Inside, several buildings are set amid linked ponds (brimming with fish) and greenery connected by small bridges. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. I imagine that when it was built, it took a lot of labor and time. It also must have required many people to maintain on a daily basis. The man who had it built must have been extremely wealthy.

This is not a garden for quiet contemplation. It’s a garden for elbowing your way past other tourists and the inevitable narrow path-clogging tourist groups. Keep in mind this was on a Monday morning. I shudder at the thought of attempting to visit Yu Yuan on a weekend. This is a garden to be seen and enjoyed for what it is: a magnificent, uniquely-constructed, 400-year-old garden preserved within a frantic metropolis.

We had to leave the garden sooner than we wanted so that my wife would have time to eat some lunch and teach her first class. We returned together to our hotel just in time. As we said our goodbyes, Henry was sad because he didn’t get to spend more time with Oliver.

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