After the past days of sightseeing, our final day was the day to give back to the community. We woke up and drove about an hour and a half outside of the city to an orphanage for visually impaired kids. We all came in carrying bags of various health items and food which the staff of the orphanage were very thankful for. We were greeted at the door by a former orphan who had stayed there who now worked assisting the kids and staff. She was very nice and gave us a tour of the facilities while explaining how the orphanage works. She explained to us that the majority of adoptions are done by American families, although they’d had kids adopted by families from many different countries across the world. We then split up into groups and went to classrooms to meet some kids and play with them. My group went to a class taught by an eighteen year old girl named Kayla from Alabama. She was at the orphanage because it was her dream to become a missionary with her sister, traveling the world. They were both teachers at the school and seemed very good at their jobs as teachers. They knew the kids quite well and it was good to see that the kids were well cared for. The kids in my classroom seemed to range in visual ability, some of them could see quite well and could even separate different colored cereal while others seemed reluctant to. None of the kids seemed absolutely blind though. We took them out to the playground to play around and see how well they are able to enjoy themselves with their limited sight. They needed a little assistance but were mostly able to do everything they wanted on the jungle jim they had. The one thing any of us really had to help them with was to “bao bao” them. None of us knew what “bao bao” meant going into the orphanage but we all learned it very quickly. It pretty much means “pick me up, I want attention” because the kids would raise their arms and yell it at you when they wanted to be picked up and played with. It was a very great experience and I’m glad we were able to see the kids and their living conditions.
This is a picture of the kids in their dining room having lunch. This was probably the biggest room at the orphanage which makes sense but shows the limited space indoors the kids had. It seemed like they had enough room in their classrooms and in the rest of the building and certainly outside but the condition of the building they were in could have certainly been better. It was also very interesting and slightly saddening to see where the orphanage was. It was in a very poor area outside the city limits of Beijing which doesn’t seem like the type of place an orphanage like this should be.
After the orphanage, we drove back into Beijing and went to the infamous pearl mall. The pearl mall is the place to go if you want to buy any knockoff or fake item which would otherwise cost hundreds of more dollars in the U.S. The first floor had mostly electronics which meant everything from phones to headphones to tablets. I was immediately greeted by various sellers asking me what I wanted and assuring me they had anything I wanted. The second floor was full of handbags, belts, shoes, shirts, and various other articles of clothing and accessories, all of which had brand names on them like Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and any other high end brand you can imagine. None of the things being sold were actually products of the companies though and most of what was being sold was quite illegal. Their were some cops there who I’m sure were aware of what was sold there but didn’t seem to care at all. I gave in to the appeal of all of these fake products and bought myself and my family some very convincing knockoff items. My bargaining skills and Chinese were good enough for me to get the lowest possible prices for most of the items I bought, leaving me satisfied and a few shopkeepers either angry at me (one tried to keep my change) or wanting me to buy more of their stuff by putting other random products in my bag and demanding more money or by following me up elevators yelling at me to come back. Honestly, I enjoyed the game that came with buying things at the pearl mall and other places where bargaining was necessary because I was able to work on my Chinese and I felt much better about buying something for ¥100 after the price started at ¥600 (the conversion rate for Yuan, the Chinese currency, is about 6:1). After shopping around for a while we went back to the hostel, had our final dinner in Beijing, and went back to the hostel for an early bed time since we had to leave there at about 5am the next morning.
We got up early the next morning and were driven to the airport for our two hour flight to Shanghai. We all said our goodbye’s to Jack and Mr. Lee who had both been great tour guides for us throughout our explorations of Beijing. Brian stayed with us and would be with us for a few days in Shanghai before having to leave us. We arrived in Shanghai at about noon and met our new tour guide who’s name was David. He took us on a bullet train which reached a top speed of about 430km/h on our seven minute ride to where our bus was picking us up from. One of the first things we noticed was the warmer weather which was a pleasant surprise to all of us. It had been consistently in the 40’s in Beijing but we were greeted by 60 degree weather in Shanghai. We learned that this was because Shanghai is located on about the same longitude as Los Angeles which meant great whether. We went straight to our hotel which was a very nice Four Season by Sheraton located in a central location in Shanghai. It was a very upscale change from the hostel which also served as a metaphor for the comparison between Beijing and Shanghai. We could already tell from our short time there that Shanghai was a lot more upscale and had more of an upper class than Beijing. It was obvious to us that Beijing was the cultural capital of China for a reason, and Shanghai was the financial capital for others. After a little bit at the hotel, we went to the biggest mall I had ever been in which was surrounded by some of the most prominent buildings in Shanghai. We were able to shop there for a little while before going to the world financial center.
The world financial center tower is one of the iconic buildings of the Shanghai skyline because of it’s amazing architecture and size. It’s the building with the gap at the top of it. This picture doesn’t do it’s size justice but the world financial center has 100 floors and the only taller building in Shanghai s the one still being built right next to it. The new building, The Shanghai Tower, is going to be about 130 floors and will be the second tallest building in the world when finished.
At the world financial center, we took an elevator to the 100th floor which is an observatory which is the part of the building above the gap seen in the picture above.
The view from this observatory was amazing and gave us an understanding of the size and position of Shanghai as a major city of the world. You can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower which is the peculiar looking building near the middle of this picture. The mall we were at is in the building just the the left of the TV Tower. You can also see the vastness of the city which has skyscrapers spreading out for as far as the eyes can see. The city of Shanghai is separated by the Huangpu river which is a branch of the yangtzee river which empties into the east China sea. The Huangpu separates Shanghai into the east side, which we were currently in, and the west side which is where we would go for almost everything we had to see while in Shanghai. Perhaps the most iconic thing in Shanghai is the walkway across the west side of the huangpu called The Bund which is the walkway along the left side of the far bank of the Huangpu. The bund is the place where the best views of the Shanghai skyline can be seen and it was the next stop for us.
You can see almost every major building of Shanghai from The Bund which is especially amazing at night. After walking along The Bund we had dinner at a restaurant right next to it and went back to the hotel. My first opinion of Shanghai was that it was like a bigger, cleaner, New York City. It was very clear that it was the financial center of China and was a completely different place from Beijing.
The next day, we went to a very nice high school in China. We were toured around by a British teacher at the school and a few students who were seniors of the IB program and were all going to University in America next year. The school seemed bigger and better than the one we had seen in Beijing and we saw a fair number of international student there. We even ran into a former art student at West Chester University who was very eager to talk to people from a familiar place. After the school we got lunch and went to a silk factory and shop to see how silk is made. The process was explained to us very well. It was amazing to see how the workers there were able to take silk worm cocoons and end up with silk cloth.
Their were few workers there and I’m sure what we saw was just a little manufacturing place, more for show than to make silk products for the shop we were ushered into. After our tour of the factory and shop, we went to an orphanage for mentally challenged orphans in the city. This orphanage was in the city but the facilities were not as good as what we had seen at the orphanage in Beijing. We again brought gifts which they were very thankful for but we weren’t able to play with the kids much because of the nature of their disabilities and the extra care that had to be taken because of them. After this sobering experience, we went out to dinner and then to the Shanghai acrobat show which was an amazing performance. It was a lot like a cirque de soleil performance and was very enjoyable. Afterwards we went back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Brian, who had to leave early the next morning. Our first full day in Shanghai was very busy and left us with more of an understanding of the city. We got to see that although it was a much more modern and upscale city than Beijing, their was certainly still a lower class struggling to keep up with the growth of the city. As opposed to Beijing where most people seemed to be in a lower-middle class, Shanghai had a prominent upper class with a steep decline into a lower class. Their seemed to be a growing middle class which was apparent by the quantity of consumer goods in the shopping districts of the city but this was also because of the city attracting a lot of wealthy travelers and business people from around the world and not necessarily only because of a growing middle class. The city definitely had more foreigners than Beijing who were there to enjoy the world class shopping, views, and change in culture of one of the least known and fastest growing places in the world; although the culture was hard to experience if you were only in the upscale parts of the city. Our experiences in Shanghai were just beginning but we all had almost unanimously already made up our minds that Shanghai was the place we would rather visit if we ever came back to China. It was a mix of the better weather, more upscale living, and modern changes to the city which I think reminded us more of cities back home and made it more appealing to us.
We still had three and a half more days in Shanghai which I can’t wait to tell you about next time,