Well what a show that was! (It’s called Era, check it out). The troupe of acrobats showed what the human body is capable of if you know how to work it right. It was as beautiful as it was extraordinary. For kick off we had a man balancing on 4 trays, separated by glasses positioned at each corner, on top of a rolling cylinder. Then he kicked a rice bowl onto his head, then another, then 2 more, 3 more, etc, till he had the whole dinner service on his head. The finale involved motorbikes whizzing around inside a metal mesh ball, about 6m in diameter, ridden by men in samurai style outfits. Up and down, round and round at speed – 8 of them!
Alright, big cities, all is forgiven. You don’t get shows like that any old where. In fact it has to be here in Shanghai at a dedicated theatre. Plus, this city may look gloomy by day, but it looks gorgeous by night. I’ll be back. Right now I need to pack though.
This morning dawned cold and wet, with much of Shanghai barely visible in the gloom. It was milking time at the cash cow farm and I was taken to a series of ‘historic attractions’ which rapidly dropped their pretence and tried to squeeze the last of my RMB out of me. I did buy some silk – it is one of the leading manufactures here, but resisted the jade, the pearls, the tea, the knick-knacks, the assortment of unrecognisable foodstuffs and the rest. The highlight was the Yu garden, a pleasure garden built in the centre of the city between 150 and 400 years ago. It was a delightful oasis, even in the pouring rain.
This afternoon’s treat was a trip to the ‘Venice of the East’, Zhujiajiao.
We had a cruise on the canals for a few minutes and then a walk through streets of old houses, entirely lined with taterias.
It would have been more charming on a sunny day and without the interminable traffic jam on the way back to town. I am really off big cities, their advantages don’t quite overcome the costs. No matter, for my grand finale I am going to see a Chinese acrobatic show.
A travelling day today, getting to Chongqing airport took an hour, then the flight was delayed, it took 2 hours to fly to Shanghai, an age waiting for luggage and then an hour into the city centre through the sprawling suburbs, spreading like algae on the rich nutrients of the Chinese economy. The appalling smog must have made landing the aircraft tricky and my nose has gradually withdrawn its services since I arrived. My guide tells me it’s the sandstorms from Mongolia that cause the problem. Oink, flap.
A visit to another Buddhist temple was made into a highlight by the white jade statue of a sitting Buddha. Carved from a single stone in Burma, this magnificent artwork had a glowing serenity to it, a sentience of its own (no photos allowed – see http://www.yangtzeriver.org/yzgallery/shanghai-pictures/jade-buddha-temple/ for picture – scroll through slideshow till you get to sitting Buddha). I could have stayed for hours but we had to leave as it was closing time.
Jade Buddha temple
On to the Nanjing Road – Shanghai’s Oxford Street. It is pedestrianised, but don’t let that fool you. Just as zebra crossings in China serve only to lure the unwary, so the Nanjing Road is crossed by several trafficked roads, whose drivers think the pedestrians are there for sport. Eventually I was allowed to dive into the sanctuary of the Astor House hotel, a Victorian building right by the river in the centre of the old part of town. Previous guests include Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin – and now me! The hotel maintains a certain hauteur and, though she is a little aged, she straightens her back, keeps her make-up on, juts her chin and ignores the young upstarts across the river.
View from my room at Astor House Hotel