China 1985

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1985

We saw another early start today, rising at 6:00am, followed by breakfast at 6:30am.  After a friendly snowball fight between our students and the waiters and waitresses, we left the hotel at 7:00am for the railway station.  The three-hour train trip to Shanghai was largely uneventful, with scenery being flat rice or vegetable fields covered in snow.  Some fleeting picturesque glimpses of the Grand Canal, with its small old homes and traditional style boats, were highlights.

On arrival at Shanghai Railway Station, we were greeted not only by our guide, Mr Yu; but by Madame Zhu Huizhu, who visited our school in Sydney in 1983 with the delegation of Chinese principals.  I had been corresponding with Madame Zhu for almost 18 months to arrange our visit to her school, and she was very warm in her welcome, staying with us during lunch at our hotel (the recently completed Shanghai Hotel, which although being one of the city’s tallest buildings, lacked much of the charm of the city’s older ex-British establishments along the Bund).

After lunch, we drove across Shanghai, through the old French concession, to the Bund on the waterfront of the Huangpu River.  It was this area which was under effective foreign control during the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.  The British, French, American and Japanese traders each had their own concession areas, administered by their own police forces, and so complete was the foreign domination over the Bund area that it carried signs last century saying “Dogs and Chinese Not Permitted”.

At the Bund, we gave the boys 30 minutes to look around and talk to local people.  Those who looked around saw China’s largest seaport and the elegant old colonial buildings along the waterfront.  One of the buildings is still clearly labelled in gold lettering on sandstone “Customs House” (in English) – it still functions as a customs house but its clocks now chime the tune of “The East is Red”.  Other old buildings included the Shanghai Club (now the East Wind Hotel) and the old Cathay Hotel (now the Peace Hotel) where Noel Coward wrote “Private Lives”.  Those boys who tried to practise their Chinese were a little frustrated, as many Chinese people go to the Bund specifically to practise their English, and so they had little interest in conversing in broken Chinese.  In any case, the boys (and our Chinese Language teacher. who came from Singapore) found the Shanghai accent to be a very heavy one, likening it to conversing with a heavily accented Scotsman.

From the Bund we went to the Shanghai Friendship Store, as some students wanted to purchase sone boots (out of stock) and others some thick blue overcoats (also out of stock).  I tried to obtain some batteries for my camera which were withering fast, but they had no stock.  (It should be noted that Shanghai Friendship Store has the reputation of being the best stocked Friendship Store in China, but I suppose that boots, coats and batteries are not their specialties).  However, the sales assistant did give me the address of a large jeweller at 699 Nanjing Road who he thought would carry them.

The advice was well timed, as fortunately our next stop was to be Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s main shopping thoroughfare.  Nanjing Road must be one of the world’s most amazing sights.  There is an enormous variety of shops, but 98% of them are still government owned.  There are teeming masses of people on footpaths which carry so many people that they have had to be widened, allowing just a single lane of motor traffic to pass in each direction.  It was as though all of Shanghai’s 12 million people were shopping in the one street at the same time.  The push along the footpath was worth it, though, for the jeweller did stock the batteries, which turned out to be quite a common type in China used in many locally made watches.

That evening, we attended brilliant acrobatic display by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe.  The boys simply could not believe they were seeing what they appeared to see – conjuring acts, balancing, trained animals (including a panda), trapeze acts, jumping through hoops, slapstick comedy, etc.  We were all very, very impressed.

Day 10

Hangzhou to Shanghai

Thursday, 12 December 1985