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Friday, May 27, 2011

Shanghai, May 2011

I left Atlanta on Friday, May 20, for the Habitat For Humanity Build in Pinghu, China—about an hour and a half out of Shanghai. The last time, I went on a direct from Detroit to Shanghai, but this time, I was taking the slow boat to China-- Atlanta to Portland, OR to  Narita, Japan, to Shanhai. It was over 24 hours of travel, but finally we arrived.

Once again, I was at the Marriott Changfeng Park. Somehow, I missed the bar on the top floor the last time. Of course, this crowd found it right away, so the first night found me drinking a glass of wine that cost 101 Yuan on the top of the hotel. Smita and I found that we outlasted everyone else and we, of course, were not surprised.

The view from my room - 2020 

The next morning I got up early for breakfast. Afterwards, I met with a tailor to pick out fabrics and get measured for new clothes. I ended up ordering a new tuxedo, a new suit, a new winter overcoat, and two shirts. I was very excited about my custom made purchases. 

Afterwards, I went on a little walk from the hotel with Mae and Cheryl to find some Absolut. We were successful! 

After a big lunch and Habitat Orientation, we left to explore Shanghai a bit. We went to the Shanghai Museum, where I visited exhibits featuring jades, coins, pottery, ceramics and furniture. Some of the pottery was over 5000 years old. 

Our tour guide, Grace, promised to show us a "Salmon Suit" in the museum. She seemed very excited about it:

Suite made from salmon skin

The evening consisted of a dinner cruise down the river where we got to see the old West Bank and the Bund and the very modern, new East Bank as we sailed down the Huangpu River. It was a spectacular skyline.

Dinner cruise on the Pu Jiang You Lan

Skyline from the Bund, before the dinner cruise
Shanghai Skyline from the Boat
Oriental Pearl Tower in the Pudong District

The build in Pinghu was great. The first day was rainy, but really just an occasional mist. It was actually good weather to build in, as it didn't get too hot. Mostly, I laid brick each day, with the walls going up slowly but surely. 

Road we walked everyday to our build site
Me at work

I spent a lot of time on the left wall, across from a building housing a huge, smelly pig

The 'home partner' on the house I was building, sporting his Delta wings
Neighbors and kids in the Pinghu at the build

Each day, we would have lunch brought to us in the neighbor's house. Lunches weren't often the best, though I liked the veggies typically and the meatball we had one day. Our team was “Team 3” aka “The Flying Dragons.” 

Outside the neighbor's house where we ate; everyone was drying their wheat

"Flying Dragson" at lunch
Our typical lunch on the build site. 

Monday and Tuesday nights we ate at restaurants I had visited the previous time. The Tuesday night restaurant, South Beauty, was my favorite of the Shanghai restaurants. It was Sichuan style. A lot of the other meals in Shanghai seemed to be very similar, with the same kinds of food. It was good, but it didn't bowl me over.  

Outside South Beauty

South Beauty's Lazy Susan -- cold course
One of the really tasty South Beauty entrees

Over the course of the week, there were many many many “Lazy Susans” spinning around. Typically, the servers would bring out several 'cold course' dishes. Later, hot entrees would come out. Food basically just kept coming until finally, rice would show up. Rice was typically served last as it was seen as a cheap filler, and to serve it earlier would seem as if they wanted to fill the guest with something cheap. Some of the foods did stand out just because they were different. I had abalone for the first time (and had it several times.) My new friends on the build started calling it “Flan Fish.” 

The oft served abalone, or as we dubbed it "flan fish."

On the last day of the build, we had a ceremony with the homeowners and neighbors at the local kindergarten. Afterwards, the kids came out and presented us with pictures they had drawn. We said “Hello Little Friends” in Chinese which delighted them. 

Children at the school
Our home partner receiving his gifts

The home partners were all men who had never married as they were to poor and had been living in substandard conditions. They were very grateful for our work and were touched by the closing ceremony. 

Each night of the build, I would find myself at the 33rd floor at Panorama, where three Filipino girls sang and played every evening – The Panorama Angels. The best part is that they would open up the floor to us to sing or even play. One night, I was on keyboard singing while two others in our group were on bongos and guitar. We kind of took over the band. It was fun to 'perform' each night. 

Panorama Angels
Taking over the show...
After the build, we traveled to Suzhou, a city not far from Shanghai. It is known for its gardens and its canals. In the morning, we visited one of the gardens, known as "The Humble Administrators Garden."

After the gardens, boarded boats to roam through the canals of this city known as "The Venice of the East."

After the canals, we visited the "Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory" where we could either shop or see the factory-run museum. I opted for the museum. It was quite educational:

Here, silkworms feed on mulberry leaves before spinning their cocoons:

Cocoons, with the silkworm larvae inside
After the cocoons are spun, some of them are harvested with the larvae killed and the cocoon is used for silk. The ones not killed are used to reproduce to keep the industry sustainable. Those used for silk are sorted to make sure there is only one larvae inside and that it is of good quality. If there are more than one, the silk cannot be unspooled into a thread. However, it can still be used for other things, such as inside duvets. 

The cocoons are "unspun" into silk thread
That night, we had dinner at Chao Fu restaurant before going to the acrobatic show, ERA. 

The next day, I had free time in the morning to have my third fitting of my tailored clothes. (The second fitting had been after dinner at Kakadu (an Australian barbecue) two nights before.) We had lunch at the awesome dim sum place I had eaten at in March before having the entire afternoon to shop at Yuyuan Market. I bought yet another tea set.

Me in Yuyuan with Chris Pate

That night we had our closing dinner before we all departed the next day, but not without another rousing night at Panorama.

"Flying Dragons" at the Closing Dinner
Smita and I left Shanghai on Saturday morning heading to Beijing. We left the Marriott Changfeng Park with the rest of the large group heading back to the States. We got off with them at the international terminal at Shanghai-Pudong airport, grabbed our bags, and said our goodbyes as they went in and we were on our own for the first time in a week. We easily our way to the domestic terminal, and were soon off to Beijing.

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