Did I mention how hot it is in Shanghai? So hot that within 5 minutes of stepping outside, you are dripping with sweat. So hot that within 15 minutes, your clothes are as drenched as if you’d just jumped in a pool. So hot, that sweat pours down your face and into your eyes practically blinding you. It was 96 degrees with 83% humidity. Then at night, it cools to a balmy 94 degrees. We knew it was REALLY hot because even the Chinese were staggering around and sweating. Well, the men were. Most of the women were just lightly glowing under their parasols.
From past trips to the Asian tropics, we’ve always found that heading to a garden is a good way to beat the heat. So we had the Concierge write out the Chinese characters for the Yu Yuan Gardens which are pleasure gardens dating from the Ming Dynasty. But the driver, who spoke no English, dropped us off in a shopping center where we spent at least an hour wandering around wondering where that garden was. The Chinese government is starting a big campaign to get as many citizens as possible to learn English, so some streets and areas are signed in English, but there are no directional signs. So we were in the Yu Yuan Gardens Shopping Center, but it most decidedly did not look Ming Dynasty.
Luckily, we were rescued by a herd of students from the local Art College who were trying to drum up traffic for their gallery. They said we should come to their gallery and then they’d find someone to lead us to the gardens. And as you can imagine, we didn’t get out of there without buying something.
Then gratefully, we followed another student to the Yu Yuan Gardens which had been behind the shopping center the whole time. Ah, the solitude of nature, shared with just us and a few hundred thousand of our closest Chinese friends. Turns out, this is kind of the Golden Gate Park of Shanghai and everyone was there. The bizarre thing is that the garden is probably only a few acres, but is set up as an intricate series of twisting, narrow alleyways and hidden areas for contemplation, that you walk for what seems like miles around in it.
Much of the complex is like a rock garden with volcanic rocks with lots of weathering being preferred. Apparently, architects and Fung Sui masters would search China and find just the perfect rocks that suggested mountains in miniature to set up in just the precise spot. Sounds like our man Felix, who builds our stone walls in Sonoma!
By this time, we were practically hallucinating in the heat. And when we tried to go to one of the various refreshment stands, they were also selling what the Chinese affectionately call “Stinky Tofu”. Stinky doesn’t even begin to describe this fermented treat. Suffice it to say that we couldn’t get within 10 yards of one of the stands without starting to gag.
Andy had actually lasted an amazingly long time wandering around and looking at sights. So when he got that “Colonial Look”, I knew I needed to take him back to the hotel.
Let me explain. This is an affliction that hits Andy any time we are in a former British Colony, possession or sphere of influence. Especially if it’s in the tropics. Andy can stand about three hours of looking at architecture or temples and then has to be whisked back to some bastion of former British glory. Think the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, the Oriental in Bangkok or Raffles in Singapore. Once there Andy requires that white gloved attendants serve him many gin and tonics (for the quinine, he says, to prevent Malaria) while he muses, “This place would be run a lot better if the British were still in charge.”
Call us idiots, but we decided at that point that the Ritz Bar, which featured a full range of Martinis and an all girl band done up like Shanghai beauties of the Thirties, was as good a place as any to soak up Shanghai culture. (Sadly, no photography allowed in the bar!) After all, the decadent Colonial experience, when Shanghai was considered the Paris of the East, is probably best evoked in a marble bar (with lots of air conditioning.)
So for the remainder of our day, we reveled in the slightly decadent atmosphere of an old Josef Von Sternberg movie set in Shanghai. Think Gene Tierney in The Shanghai Gesture or Marlene Dietrich in The Shanghai Express. Our only break was to go to the spa and indulge in 90 minute Traditional Chinese Massage. (Think very intense sports massage with accupressure.)
Our pool and lobby idyll, along with a dinner at a rooftop restaurant where we watched a fierce Shanghai thunder and lighting storm, completed our Day Two in Shanghai.