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Our first acquaintance with China: Shanghai
Shanghai (China), December 21st 2009

We arrived yesterday with a flight from Bangkok in Shanghai for our first visit to China. Because it was already late in the afternoon, we didn’t do more than taking a bus to the city centre and looking for a hotel. What we did already learn from Shanghai is that the temperature is low in this time of year. It fluctuates around freezing point. So, today we leave our hotel armed with our winter jackets, for our first full day in China.

Our first destination of the day is the so-called ‘Bund’. This is the historical heart of Shanghai. It is located along the Huangpu River and was the economical heart of the city during the 1930s, when Shanghai was the main gateway to China. It never lost that status, because even today Shanghai can be seen as one of the most important engines for the growth of this economical tiger. However, the important role for the Bund is over. All that is left are some beautiful neoclassic buildings from the first half of last century, as proof that the big business once took place on this river shore. But today, the big money is earned in the tall and shiny skyscrapers on the other side of the Huangpu River; in the area called Pudong. Normally, you have a great view from the Bund over the water to the impressive skyline of Shanghai; but not today. Shanghai is preparing itself for the organisation of the 2010 Expo, and for that reason many parts of the city are under renovation. And all these renovation activities on the Bund, make a good view on the skyline almost impossible. But the Bund is now a good place to observe how the Chinese take care of a renovation like this. Work goes on twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. A lot of the work is still done as it was done in the 50s of last century. Heaps of sand a moved with shovels and prehistoric wheelbarrows, bags of cement are carried by hand all the way up the scaffolds, and heavy materials are moved by a team of tens of construction workers. The construction workers are by the way easy recognisable by their weather-beaten faces with a yellow helmet on it.

The skyline of Shanghai is muddy because of the smog

After our visit to the bund we decide to take a stroll over Nanjing Road. The contrast with the Bund can’t be bigger. The fact that Nanjing Road was once also a construction area is hard to believe. You also won’t see any construction workers with their weather-beaten faces and yellow helmets anymore. Nanjing Road has developed to the super de luxe shopping street of Shanghai where all famous western brands have opened their shops. The Chinese people who took advantage of the economical growth of last decades stroll from shop to shop in search for the latest ‘whanahaves’. Also the restaurants of the western fast food chains are jam-packed. When we go to a McDonalds to warm our hands on the cup of coffee, we really have to fight for a table on this sunny but cold Sunday.

When we are somewhat warmed up again, we proceed with our stroll over Nanjing Road. Once in a while, we are approached for a little chat by good English-speaking Chinese people. Most of the time, the tallness of Edwin is a reason for them to start a conversation. All Chinese we speak today are without any exception very friendly, open, laughing and mannered. Most of them invite us to join them to a tea ceremony that takes places in one of the streets nearby. It seems to be an event where Chinese minority groups present their local grown tea. We turn down their invitation neatly because we prefer to use our limited days in Shanghai to stroll through the city, in stead of tasting different kinds of teas. Presumably, the only reason for the Chinese people to go to the event is to use the opportunity to get some free cups of coffee. At least, that is what we think.

Looking for a partner on the partner-market in Shanghai's Renmin Park
Our walk over Nanjing Road brings us eventually to Renmin Park, located in the heart of the city. It doesn’t take long before a friendly Chinese couple approaches us for a chat, and of course for the accompanying invitation for the tea ceremony. They also tell us that in the Renmin Park a so-called partner-in-life-market takes place every Sunday, which attracts people that are in search of a partner. In a specific area of the park, profiles are hanged on wooden structures but also on trees and shrubs, of the persons who are looking for a partner. We are told that on one of the notes a young Chinese woman with an MBA-degree, an age of 27, a length of 1.70 metres and a weight of 70 kilograms is looking for a partner-in-life. Some people even mention the name of their employer and even their salary. Of course, for those who are interested, a mobile number is mentioned. We find it noticeable that there are almost only senior people around. An older man explains us that the search for the partner-in-life is most of the time done by the parents. So, it is also the parents who go on this cold Sunday to this open air partner-in-life-market. He further explains that more and more of the young career oriented Chinese of today, do not have the time anymore to find a partner themselves. And when a son or daughter comes close to an age of 28, the parents get worried their son or daughter will be left over. And for that reason, more and more parents are helping their children to find a partner. And the partner-in-life market on Sunday in the Renmin Park of Shanghai is one of the opportunities.

In another part of the park, we arrive in the so-called English corner. This is the area in the park where people gather every Sunday to converse in English. We are warmly welcomed and within no-time a big group of English-speaking Chinese gathered around us. In the beginning, the conversation is superficial about what’s your name and where are you coming from, but soon thereafter, subjects like the Dutch euthanasia and abortion laws are entered upon. Also the death penalty, Mexican flu, the economical crisis and other political subjects are discussed. However, the Chinese political situation is never mentioned. We really had a great time in the English corner, but at the moment that our fingers and tooth are almost frozen, we have to say goodbye to our conversation friends in search for a warmer environment. We decide to go the warm metro system and take the metro to the Pudong area for our last sight seeing action of today. We take some photographs of the skyscrapers and take the metro back to the Nanjing Road area for a well-deserved dinner. A great first day in China is running to an end, and we really enjoyed the friendliness and hospitable Chinese we met today. We are looking forward to our coming eight weeks in China.

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