Archive for January, 2009


January 22, 2009

With three days left in my trip through China, I left Beijing for Shanghai.

Shanghai, located near the mouth of the Yangtze River, is a metropolis of over 18 million people and has been the economic center of mainland China since the 19th century.

I had wanted to take an overnight train to Shanghai like I did from Xi’an to Beijing, but tickets were sold out.  The reason, as I discovered later, was that my date of arrival was Tomb Sweeping Day, an old holiday that just last year became a national holiday in the PRC.  On Tomb Sweeping Day, 15 days before the spring equinox, families gather and pay their respects at their ancestors’ graves.  Thus, millions of people were traveling to visit family, and the trains were full.  Fortunately, I was able to stay an extra night at my hotel in Beijing and buy a plane ticket to Shanghai for the next morning.  This change in plans shortened my time in Shanghai, but the city only has a few attractions other than the city itself, so losing the morning wasn’t terrible.

I spent my first and only afternoon in Shanghai at Yuyuan (“Yu Garden”).

Shanghai Yuyuan Gate

This an inner gate, not the main entrance, by the way.

The wealthy son of a high-ranking Ming official built Yuyuan in 1559 as a private garden to please his aging father.  Over the following centuries the garden changed hands many times, fell in and out of disrepair, was occupied by various armies, and even spent several years during the Boxer Rebellion as the headquarters of the Small Swords Society, a separate rebel group that seized control of Shanghai.  Yuyuan is now a national monument, owned by the Shanghai government.

Alas, since I had unwittingly chosen to visit Yuyuan on a national holiday, the place was packed.  Working around the crowds and trying to take pictures over people’s heads, I couldn’t manage any decent photos, but here’s some of what I ended up with.

Dragon walls.

Shanghai Yuyuan Dragons

I really wanted to take this from a better angle – it would have been a great shot with the tree to the left and the wall in full view –  but I eventually gave up on fighting the crowd and moved on.  It was driving me crazy though.  In general, I try to enjoy the places I visit and just take some pictures along the way, rather than putting photography first, but it’s frustrating when a great scene is right there and you can’t capture it.  Oh well.

A handsome building next to a carp pond.

Shanghai Yuyuan Koi

Like most classical Chinese gardens, Yuyuan is actually an intricately landscaped residence (well, former residence now), as opposed to being strictly a garden.  Also in keeping with the traditional style, it has more rocks and water than plants.

The inside of another building.

Shanghai Yuyuan Room

An engraving.  (Or cast metal?)

Shanghai Yuyuan Relief

The stone around it was scraped up.  Signs of an attempt to pry it out, perhaps?  I’m sure the garden has been looted several times in its history, so it’s certainly possible.


Shanghai Yuyuan Flowers

There weren’t many in the garden, even considering that spring was just beginning.  Still, Yuyuan was beautiful.

Shanghai Yuyuan Skyscraper

After seeing the garden, I wandered around the city.

Not far from the garden is the Bund, Shanghai’s old financial center.

Shanghai Bund Night

The Bund has a lot of neat buildings dating from the early 20th century.

On the other side of the river is Pudong, the new financial district.

Shanghai Pudong Night

I had dinner on the Bund, at a British/American-style bar and grill in the basement of the old Nissin building (Nissin was a Japanese shipping company).  There was nothing historic or special about the restaurant, but it felt fitting.


Hong Kong Skyline

January 3, 2009

Speaking, again, of Hong Kong, I found this great nighttime view of the city in Wikipedia.

Hong Kong Night Skyline

Apparently, Hong Kong is the world’s most vertical city.  It has over 6,000 skyscrapers, and more people in Hong Kong live or work over 14 floors up than in any other city.

Taste and Memory

January 2, 2009

I made tea today.

In itself, that’s nothing noteworthy; I have tea almost every day.  But today I opened a cask of high-grade green tea that I had bought in Kyoto.  I expected to enjoy a very nice cup of tea, but I got more than I had anticipated.

On my first sip, I tasted a beautiful balance of grassy sweetness, gentle astringency, and rich umami and thought, “Wow, this is the real thing.  It’s been a while.”

And suddenly, I found myself overcome by a rush of memories.  I was resting my legs at a teahouse in Kanazawa, my warm green tea refreshing despite the August heat.  I was in Kyoto, in a half-dozen different temples – old wooden buildings with serene gardens of raked gravel and verdant trees, and dim, blessedly cool rooms with tatami floors and alcoves displaying dew-fresh flowers below ancient, yellowed wall scrolls.  I was in a succession of restaurants, encountering foods I’d never seen before or marveling at the difference in quality when more familiar dishes like sashimi or tempura are done right.  I was at my old school for the first time, being served tea from the good stash as I nervously introduced myself to the principal.

The memories and attendant emotions were nearly overwhelming.  The fact that flavors and scents can evoke memories is no revelation, but I’d never experienced the phenomenon so strongly.  All that from a cup of tea.

The tea, by the way, was “Kaboku,” a top-quality sencha from Ippodo.  (What’s sencha?  From the Kaboku page, use the “Our Products” menu on the left to learn about different types of Japanese green tea.)