It’s been my experience that people who grew up in tourist destination cities or who live there because of work rarely have much interest in the such attractions. The Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the Golden Gate Bridge are places the locals are most likely to avoid or hardly notice as they drive by. Since midweek I had been trying to solicit some ‘sites to see’ recommendations from English speaking staffers whenever I could and was having no luck. None of them had been anywhere, not to any of the places I mentioned and not to anywhere they would suggest for me. You see, the Saturday before our departure, my wife and I had another full, free day to be touristy. I had gone online to have a virtual look at what might be logistically feasible yet I had hoped that someone might steer me towards a lesser known gem. Not this trip, not this time. Still, we were not at all disappointed at the two places we decided upon. First thing in the morning we went to the Jade Buddha Temple. If there were going to be crowds, we were going to try to beat them. How American of us. I won’t bore you with the history or descriptions of the place. All of that is sorta kinda online. What I will tell you is that this is a ‘for real’ working Temple. Sure, it’s got gift shops. So does the National Cathedral, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Mount Rushmore. That in no way detracted or distracted us from feeling the sense of fervor and reverence from the people there to pray…the sense of cultural and spiritual history and continuity. Yes, yes…I too saw the orange cloaked monk standing at the urinal in the public restroom, and the two smoking cigarettes around one of the corners, and the one quickly picking his nose during chantings. That’s just humanity. But there was a wholesome and hopeful energy in this space. We took our time and explored every room slowly. We even took time to have a tea service in the formal tea room. I am not a fan of tea but I was a fan of sitting and sipping this room in. After several hours we left and took a taxi the Yuyuan marketplace. Again, you can go online for some general background and pictures. We arrived shortly before noon and the place was jammed. In truth, we wanted it to be. We wanted to feel the push and crush. It was a market bazaar…a mosh pit of enterprise and we dove in. We even allowed ourselves to be shepherded into a side alley shop by a stringer paid to snag people like us. Watches and hand bags were the lure. We learned quickly that our “no” was simply the beginning of negotiations, not the end. We didn’t buy anything but we did have fun. And I did give the stringer the equivalent of $5.00 for her persistence. We walked and talked, pointed and gawked for several hours. Along with several thousand other people, we stopped and took a few selfies. It was an exhausting and captivating experience. As tourist, we were sated. Shanghai was more than amazing. It was marvel filled…achingly vibrant…endlessly varied…subtly fascinating.
Two little last notes of thanks:
First: at the buffet breakfast in the morning there were two young bus persons, attendees, that my wife and I chatted with daily. Their English was ‘not so good’ but we all tried and did the best we could. We enjoyed asking them some things about themselves and they, in turn, seemed to like being asked and to be talked with. They did seem to give us especially prompt and cordial service. One of them, on our last Saturday, asked us how long we were staying. He was clearing our plates as we were standing to go when he asked. I suppose that Saturdays may be a big check out day. We told him that we were leaving the next day. He said that he was going to be off work. He then reached out his right hand. I thought he wanted to shake hands and so I extended mine. He took it and then moved right into giving me a hug. He said, “Thank you for being so nice.” I was surprised but delighted at his openness and honesty. I thanked him as well. He then hugged my wife and there were smiles all around. The next day at the breakfast buffet, the other bus person took his usual good care with us. He knew we were leaving that day and, as we stood to go back to our room one final time, he, too, shook our hands and gave us a hug. An hour or so later, we went to the front desk, settled up and arranged for our transport to the airport. As we stood watching the driver load our luggage, something made me turn back towards the hotel and, sure enough, the bus person was standing there. I don’t know why. But he stepped towards me and we simply hugged again. An uncomplicated human gesture of kindness and connection. No words were needed then. But now, 8’s days later, I want to send heart felt thanks for that hug. There’s hope for us all in it.
Second, my wife and I had gone into a coffee shop in a mall near the hotel. We ordered and, while waiting for our coffees, a little girl about 3 years old scampered by with her father not far behind. She obviously had not been drinking decaf because she was wandering playfully to and fro under the watchful eye. I’d shifted my attention to the barista when, quite unexpectedly, I felt a little hand around my left knee, circling it like one would a tree trunk. As a father of three, I knew the feeling and naturally just reached down and rubbed the little head of hair next to me. The father and I made eye contact and he was smiling. The little one took a half step back and gazed up at me with curiosity. Without thinking, I lifted her up so that she could have a closer look. Once more, I checked visually with the father and he was ok with what he was seeing. She touched my beard, checked out my glasses and posed while my wife took a picture. I want to thank that father for letting his child be a child and for trusting that there is goodness in this world. Even if it looks a little strange.