18 August 2009


The three weeks holiday in China started with Shanghai which was billed by the travel company as a look at the new China and lots of Shanghai are clearly very new.

The most obvious constructions were the roads of which there seemed to be lots hovering at ridiculous heights above the ground.

But all the new roads were largely insufficient to cope with the greedy traffic which fought voraciously for space. The journey from the airport to the hotel was meant to take an hour but took more than two.

This picture, taken on that extended coach journey, shows several lanes of traffic at different height from the distant ground all travelling slowly.

What is not so clear is that traffic rules simply do not apply in China. Very quickly I got used to seeing cars going the wrong way down roads and being overtaken while they do so.

We escaped from the city for a morning to watch the eclipse and having got to the observation place (a field) well before the action started I went for a walk to explore the local village.

The contrast to down-town Shanghai was remarkable. Little cottages sat half-submerged in the many waterways which were home to domesticated fowl.

The village was obviously unused to foreigners like us and on my little walk I was stared at by everybody, and I mean everybody. Perhaps it was the t-shirt that I was wearing.

The eclipse was the reason we spent a morning in a field and it proved to be bit of a disappointment.

The good news is that the weather was actually better than forecast in that it did not rain (very much) but the cloud cover was pretty persistent so most of the eclipse passed unnoticed.

There were a few brief moments when the clouds parted to allow a glimpse of history, such as here a few minutes before the eclipse became total.

The total eclipse proved to be remarkably impressive, despite the cloud cover. It suddenly got very dark, stayed dark for a few minutes then got light again as quickly as it had got dark.

I observed the last partial eclipse in London ten years ago and then it had only got slightly dark and so I was not prepared for how dark it got this time or for how quickly it did so.

We were whisked off a part of Shanghai that had been rebuilt in the traditional style which gave us the first look of the China that we expected to see.

Here we saw the pointed roof corners, timber buildings and walk-ways, red lanterns, lots of water.

Over the three weeks we heard lots about Feng Shui, which literally means wind water, and it soon became obvious how important water is to the Chinese culture.

And fish too. Most of the water features had koi carp in them in numbers that almost beggared belief. There must be something in the water that they like.

Most of the time we were herded from attraction to attraction but a brief rest period gave me the opportunity to explore the area next to the hotel where I found this lovely market full of unrecognisable fruit and vegetables.

Equally interesting were the goods for sale from the people crowding the entrances to the market. On display here were a bag of live frogs and a box of live cicada. Lovely!

There is something rather special about markets and I vividly remember visiting them in places like Kiev, Sofia, Riga (possibly the best market in the world), Bratislava and, er, Sheffield. The colour and the activity make markets vibrant and stimulating places and I never tire of them.

The last stop in Shanghai was the museum, which appeared to be called unimaginatively the museum of history.

This is rather like the V&A in London in that it covers the history of culture and arts rather than people and politics. The collections are laid out over four floors each covering a different subject, such as jade or coins.

The porcelain floor was my favourite as it had lots of interesting figurines, vases and plates. The were a few plates that had patterns similar to the famous Willow Pattern which helped to explain where Minton got his inspiration from.

My favourite figurine was this one because anybody standing on a baby has to be some seriously bad guy.

So that was Shanghai. A bit of a mixed bag and, to be honest, an uncertain start to the holiday. The little exploring I was able to do was the most enjoyable part of the three days but we seemed to spend most of our time in the coach looking at Shanghai rather than experiencing it at first hand.

Next stop Beijing.

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