I had animosity toward China for causing problems in the planning stages of my trip. Disembarking my ship there, I thought No, we shall not become friends. And though I didn’t hate my first stopover in Shanghai, I didn’t feel particularly forgiving either.
However, I’m not someone to hold a grudge. A month and a half later when I returned, I’d already had a great time in Japan, and wasn’t in a fighting mood. I mostly used my second stopover as R&R. I had writing nights on the bed, tuned to Chinese music shows on TV. While eating cheap buns from the store across the street, I enjoyed just not being at sea for a few days before embarking my second freight ship. No anger remained against China, but I wouldn’t let it know.
The only tourist activity I partook in was a visit to YuYuan Garden. I’m glad I forced myself out of the hotel! It was what made an unmemorable stopover into a fantasy world of tranquility and beauty – at least for the duration of one afternoon. It was totally worth the entrance fee others online seemed to criticize. For under 10$ USD, I was very impressed.
Maybe I was just a stupid foreigner, but I had quite a bit of an issue finding the Garden grounds. Though I followed the signs, I kept ending up just south, west, east or north of the location. At least, the surrounding streets were interesting, so it wasn’t an unsavory detour. I enjoyed the architecture of the shopping ‘tourist trap’ streets of Middle Fangbang Road and Lao Jie (“old street”). Even McDonald’s and KFC were housed in ancient looking structures with ornamental architecture. Red lanterns and golden-tipped roofs abounded.
In broken English, shop owners heckled me as I walked past, claiming their stores had items I desperately needed. I did give one store my time (and money). The unnamed panda shrine wasn’t something I could bypass. I asked the owner to lower the prices if I bought more items. He was more than willing to accommodate. I don’t know if keychains are worth more than 50 cents, but to me 2$ apiece for cheesy yet cute keepsakes was fair. I didn’t mind slightly overpaying (if that was the case) because the shop owner was very friendly and really tried to cater to my interest in pandas, even though his store carried other unrelated merchandise. Since I bought several items, he even attached a small stuffed toy panda charm to my purse where he noticed my collection of Japanese bear charms. Free of charge.
I knew the charm was cheaply designed, but didn’t expect to lose it in the street less than a block away! Since I wasn’t far, I decided to return to the shop. When the owner saw me, he joked “More pandas?” I pouted, and pointed to the empty charm string dangling from my purse. “Aiyoh!” he exclaimed, and hurriedly rummaged through unopened stock to find me a suitable replacement with a sturdier latch. Once the new bear was secure, he bid me farewell and off I went in search of Yu Garden. Just to be safe, I removed the charm and kept it inside my purse.
Finally at the gardens, I wandered without a site map. I later learned the maps were at the exit – what the…? That’s so backwards. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the greenery, rock and water for the rest of the day. The literal meaning of Yu Garden is Garden of Happiness, and that’s exactly how it felt to me despite the grey and muggy weather. The grounds were pretty even in the winter season. Summer must turn the location into a lush array of color and flora. The natural beauty was lovely, but I was more impressed by the attention to detail in the structures and architecture. The ground was often embellished with decorative stone artwork. Arches and walls fluctuated in size and shape. Round or zigzaggy doorways were fun to photograph. Carvings in certain buildings were all so intricate!
It warmed my heart to know the gardens were built as a retirement sanctuary for aging parents. Pan Yunduan was an incredible son to put together such an elaborate gift for his progenitors. His project was immense, and still stands today for all to see.
The rest of my time in Shanghai was dull in comparison. However, I did enjoy a refreshing bubble tea with grains of toasted red rice at the bottom. I also nearly got hit by 3 separate cars at a pedestrian crossing. Yeah, not such a positive thing, though! This happened because I didn’t know the rules of the road meant pedestrians have no right of way, despite what the green light may say. I did also finally succumb to curiosity, and bought an unnamed meat-on-a-stick as a final goodbye to the country I still won’t openly admit I’m pals with. Perhaps one day in the future, we may cross paths again, dear China.