Much to my surprise, my father decided to come visit us in Shanghai. He and his friend Maud were going to be in London, so they decided to extend their trip here. His planned visit overlapped with the National day celebration, one of two weeks when nearly every Chinese worker has a vacation. So instead of only 14 million people here in Shanghai, another 1 million or so decided to show up along with my Dad.
My strategy was to avoid the most typical tourist spots and try to spend as much time as possible strolling the tree lined side streets of the old French concession. However one of the suggested activities was a boat ride on the Huang Pu River. It sounded safe. We get in a cab at the apartment, go for a boat ride and then get a cab ride home.
The problem was that the boat ride originates and ends in the middle of the Bund, Shanghaiís number one strolling destination along the river. The cab let us off about five blocks away from our point of departure. We muscled our way through the crowds and enjoyed a very pleasant and breezy ride along the river. Leaving the boat was another story.
By late afternoon, additional tourists were gathering along the river to get a good spot to watch the eveningís fireworks. The crowds along the normally pleasant promenade were shoulder to shoulder. Imagine the Minnesota State fair and Times Square on New Years Eve rolled into one. I became the designated blocker as we fought our way through the throngs. The temperature was at least 20 degrees above normal at a humid 90 degrees. I will leave the descriptions of street vendors and beggars to your imagination. Isnít this every Americanís stereotypical negative perception of a Chinese city- a steamy packed mob of people?
We ducked into one of the recently renovated 1920ís bank buildings to experience the opposite extreme of Shanghai- an elegant and refined afternoon tea service. We sat in a buffed marble atrium, sipping fresh squeezed juices and eating gourmet sandwiches in air conditioned splendor. Revived, we headed back outside, flowing with the pack of people to the Peace hotel a block away. As the only five star hotel on the Bund, it was my most reliable spot to get a taxi for the ride back.
No such luck. The street in front of the hotel was being closed off by police so that the pedestrians could fill out the whole street. We dragged our tired bodies out the back door, looking for the first open street. At this point I took a deep breath and tried to let go of my desire of a perfect visit. Yes, Shanghai has a lot of people and sometimes they all congregate in one place. And yes, despite that fact that there are 40,000 taxis roaming, they can be hard to find.
The Zen approach proved to be best. As soon as we stopped looking for a taxi, one appeared in front of us and eventually we made it back home. Not exactly a postcard outing but interesting none the less.