Professor Zhang, Steve’s good friend treated my like royalty whilst I was in Shanghai. He picked me up from the Shanghai International Port at the start of my 5 days and took me by taxi to Shanghai Railway Station at the end of my stay. I didn’t pay for my hotel, a 5* star king sized room at the Crowne Plazza, not one metro ride, not one drink, not one taxi ride, not one meal, not one snack, not one visitor attraction entrance fee, I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything!
Every guide I had was organised and paid for by Professor Zhang. I can’t find the words to express my thanks here, so much generosity by this man who will forever have a special place in my heart.
Straight from the boat, I was whisked off to Fudan University where computer science students and colleagues respectfully listened to a presentation I gave on “How to Present Effectively”. I had 5 minutes to slip on a smart dress, brush my hair before facing the class. Not ideal by any means but they seemed to enjoy my talk and when Professor Zhang paid me, I was over the moon.
That first night it was a quick turn around back at the hotel, I had 15 minutes to unpack, freshen up a bit and join Professor Wu Jie, his family and Professor Zhang and his wife. No time for a shower, just a bit of lippy. We had a meal together in a fancy restaurant with our own private dining room, a large round table with a spinning centre. I can’t remember too much about the food, I was feeling very tired, I still had a touch of sea legs but I do remember the food was delicious and that the wine and beer flowed particularly well.
For the next 3 days, I visited so many places including the Financial District of Shanghai with it’s tall buildings. I loved the Oriental Pearl Tower, glowing pink with it’s 11 spheres which is said to represent a poem about the sprinkling sound of pearls, big and small falling on a jade plate. It’s even more spectacular at night, so much bling.
The skyscraper we chose to climb was the Shanghai Financial Center Building, once owned by a Japanese company, fascinating to see remnants of Japanese culture, all the lift attendants bow to you as the doors close.
We eagerly waited for our lift to the 100th floor, the countdown had begun. As the lift doors shut everyone became still, my ears popped and as we stepped out of the lift I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with the glass floors directly overlooking the traffic down below but it turned out to be easier than I thought. Watching people nonchalantly taking selfies with the Shanghai river snaking behind gave me strength.
It was just 3 days later that Professor Zhang and I walked along the Bund, the opposite side of the river and saw all those tall building all lit up like Christmas trees. I think Shanghai is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen at night, the lights, the illuminated river cruisers, paddle steamers and thousands of people milling around is such a strong memory. The Bund or ( Band) as it’s pronounced in Chinese was built by European designers, especially British architects, in fact one building houses the Chinese equivalent of Big Ben but I thought the half hour chime was quite wimpy compared to London’s booming Big Ben.
Another highlight was walking around the grounds of Fudan University with it’s impressive new East and West buildings built only a few years ago to celebrate the university’s centenary year. Fudan has 30,000 students, over 1200 professors and 500 foreign staff members and is one of China’s top universities. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance to teach at Fudan.
We had lunch at the students’ canteen, a massive building with 30 plus food stations offering everything from noodles, tofu, chicken, pork, beef dishes as well as pizza if you wanted European style food. I ate rice, tofu, green peppers and my favourite fried aubergine and all with chopsticks. I am definitely improving, a matter of necessity as many places I’ve visited just didn’t have forks.
I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my new Chinese family friends, the mature twelve year old Yue Yue aka Paul and his super cool mother Shuncheng and the Wu family with 2 of the most well behaved delightful boys I’ve ever met, William, aged 8 and Jason aged 4. They both play the piano and in fact William took his Grade 5 exam the morning we all went out on a trip to Zhujiajiao, the canal town described as Shanghai’s Venice.
Paul was a fantastic guide, his English was spot on, when we visited the Shanghai Museum he told me why the dome is circular, to represent Heaven and the base is square to represent Earth. He was full of stories, eager to practice his English but also keen to learn about my life. We talked about the flowers that grow in our gardens, we talked about the music we liked. Thanks to Paul I’ve now got a new favourite song, “See you Again” by Charlie Puth. We spent hours together in a comfortable 7 seater car travelling to Sozhou, sharing our music via blue tooth. Paul, currently a student in one of the top High Schools in Shanghai and who’s dad works for the government, is destined for great things, I’m sure. What a pleasure to spend 2 great days with him.
My time with the Wu family at Zhujiajiao was a special day too, we took a gondola down the river, we had our feet cleaned by fish in tanks which was so relaxing after walking around in the heat. Jason couldn’t resist putting his hands in the tank to catch the fish, not the idea really, if you remain still the fish will nibble all the dead skin cells leaving your feet wonderfully smooth. The two boys were interested in everything, especially fascinated by the parrot on the perch in a temple door way, I loved the bamboo gardens at Kenzi and the 72 year old man, born in the year of the Rooster, the same year as San San, Williams mother and I. We watched him cut out a rooster using just a pair of sharp scissors and a piece of red paper. Wu Jie bought me a larger paper cut rooster and sweet William, in his softly spoken voice, told me in perfect English that he was going to buy me a fan with his pocket money. I felt choked up, such a practical gift too on a very hot day. In fact although the temperatures were not as hot today, just 35 degrees, it felt so much hotter in the canal town, probably because of the narrow streets with small shops absorbing the heat from weeks of unusually high temperatures in Shanghai. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in one day.
I just have to describing the food I ate, the Squirrel Shaped Mandarin fish was good covered in an orange sauce, you get the whole fish head but it’s easy to eat because the spines of battered fish can be picked off with chopsticks. I didn’t like the puffer fish dish, 4 inch globs of brown “flesh” that Professor Wu Jie insisted I try. I ate a bit, not sure what bit, I was too squeamish to eat more. But how fascinating to watch William tuck into his puffer fish with gusto.
I loved the green bread crumbed tofu, not sure what made it green but it was tasty. I loved eating the chewy sweet dumplings too, but the tasteless milky white soup with tiny white fish gets a thumbs down from me.
Thank you Professor Zhang for making my trip to China so wonderful. I love Shanghai forever, a city full of culture, friendship and fascinating food.