Saturday, November 30, 2013

China day 5: The Buddha

Sunday. My day off from teaching. Strange to have a end of week after only 2 days of classes, however, due to my horrific sleeping pattern, a day off was indeed required. It wasn't exactly a restful calm day though! 

It started with a miscommunication, a Chinese whisper if you like... Where I was still in bed when Leon came to collect me! However, In half an hour I managed to wash, dress, pack up my room and move to a different room (mine was noisy and had no washing machine, yes that's right, you read correctly, I now have a washing machine in my hotel room!). We then walked to where a group of the students were waiting for me. Not for a class, but because , like me, this was their first visit to Shanghai and they wanted to do the tourists sights too! It was lovely to have their company for the day and for us all to be tourists together. Our first stop off the subway was Jinan temple. The huge gold lions were obvious form the second we got out of the subway station and this prompt the first of our many photo opportunity stops! 

I didn't know very much about Buddhism, but I learned a lot this day. All of us were continually frustrated by the lack of a common language, but we managed. I tried to throw a coin into the giant urn in the centre of the temple, if it goes in its good luck. And you will get rich. I failed. Then I burned incense and bowed to the 4 Buddhas , one in each of the four long temples which made up the temple complex. That seemingly will grant me my wish. Next I rubbed the stone hands and feet beside the symbol of two intertwined fish. That seemingly will bring me happiness (fu). One of the few Chinese words I can remember because I do want to be 'fu' of happiness!!! 

Listening to Leon and the girls describe their faith to me,  the faith that the government has tried to get rid of from the country, I saw two main things. The idea that the responsibility is on you, to try to become a better person, and also that if you get good luck you will wish for money! The first I find admirable. The second really became rather irritating, everything seemed to be about 'getting rich' to the point of obsessiveness. Or maybe I just understood it wrong. 

I did feel a little lucky, the day we visited the temple was a special day, so there was no entrance fee (money!) and also one of the rooms in the temple that wasn't normally open had been pined for the first time in seven years. That truly is lucky. We got to see three Buddha statues that normally cannot be seen! I was unlucky because my camera ran out of space half way round the temple, but even that turned into a good thing because all the girls took photos for me and with me and connected with me on wechat so they could send them to me. So something not great turned into something lovely! 

Since I had missed breakfast, leon and I decided to do luck while the girls went shopping. We had a very special lunch, a traditional shanghai meal of pork belly that is cooked in a sweet sauce. Not to mention the dates stuffed with sweet sticky rice, and the  cream cakes too. Fattening? I couldn't have been more so! But it also couldn't have been tastier! 

After lunch we walked down one of the main shopping streets of Shanghai. Every designer name you can think of has a massive flagship store here. I didn't go in. I have been amazed by the prices of things even in shops in consider inexpensive, like H&M and Zara due to the high tax placed on these goods by the government, so I cannot even imagine the prices in Prada and Gucci ! I did like though that on one stretch of the road there was some building work going on, so they had out up a chipboard 'wall' around it. But instead of leaving it blank, or using it for advertising, they had covered the whole thing with plants. It was a living wall. Beautiful and good for the environment. I couldn't ever imagine This happening in Egypt where the outsides of buildings often aren't even painted, never mind covered in plants! 

I can however imagine this happening in Egypt, a stunning piece of architecture, covered completely by a massive billboard! 

The weather is cold. Colder than I expected. I had thick tights on, but I had to go into a shop to buy some leggings to wear on top! We also bought some traditional Taiwanese tea to warm us up, made from ginger, dates and dragons eye fruit! The shopping street is pedestrianised, so they have little toy trains that take tourists and shoppers up and down the length of it. I suspect we could have walked it faster, but it was a fun thing to do and we were able to pass by the musicians in the streets, how similar are these to The Egyptian instruments, Quanoon and Rababa?! 

And the hip hop dancers, and saw madam taussards too!

We dragged the girls away from the shops and met with Leon's sister Mai. Except that I found out she is not really his sister, but his cousin. Because in China they are only allowed to have one child per family, first cousins often call each other brother and sister. My heart did a wee flip at this story. How beautiful is that? 

The Bund is the corniche, or promenade in Shanghai and is the area that used to be a British colony. All the buildings looked incredibly familiar. I felt I was in Edinburgh, or London. They way they were lit at night was stunning too. On the other side of the river is the crazy skyscraper area ( my name rather than official place name!) . This place 20 years ago was completely flat land. Now it has some of the highest buildings in the world, and we went to the top floor of one of them in their amazing high speed lift that counts up the height as you ascend, and has a sound and flashing light things going on to make it even more exciting. As if you need more excitement when you know you are going up 100 floors in 66 seconds! Our ears were popping! Coming from Egypt, a land where the lifts are often not even working properly, the concept of this was mind boggling! So were the views from the top! 

Chi means luck in Chinese. And today we had Fu Chi since there was a free open air show in front of the tallest building, the one that looks like a bottle opener! The show was images of shanghai with lovely music. One song I swear was a Scottish song but with Chinese singing over it! Would love to know the history of that piece! 

It was such a mind opening and fun day playing tourist with my students. It was also a long day and we had left it too late even to buy dinner, so we ended up, I am ashamed to say, in Macdonalds! It is always interesting though going to Macdonalds in another county because there is usually a slight concession to the local food. In this case they had rice wraps, and bubble tea! 

I returned to my hotel to unpack and settle into my new room with an aching face, from all that smiling. A good day. 

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