Friday, October 19, 2012

And a little outside Shanghai

We spent one day in China at my husband's plant in Jiangsu province.  It is about 45 minutes from Shanghai, but you never really leave the city.  Seeing this area helped put in perspective how truly huge Shanghai is.

The roads in most of Western China were excellent, huge multi-lane highways just like you would find in any major American city.  There are lots of people and goods (including food!) to move around Shanghai and these roads are designed to get the job done.  Here are a couple of views along the highway. Check out the power lines!  These are absolutely everywhere.

I snapped the next picture from the car, too.  This is a thoroughly typical high-rise apartment.  Very few apartments have dryers, so everyone except the ultra-rich hangs there clothes outside or in that glassed-in sunroom you see there.  Laundry everywhere:  another enduring image of my Shanghai.  With four kids, I can relate!

Getting to see Bill's plant was an amazing experience.  It was the first time I had seen the "other half" of what my husband has poured himself into for the last twenty years.  I remember when they bought this land and built the plant, little by little.  But I only heard about it second-hand, and with very few photographs!  The plant is thoroughly modern and just so much more than I had expected.  They employ skilled machinists and engineers in addition to less-skilled laborers.  All of the goods they produce here become components in other finished products that are made around the world, including in the U.S.
 Maybe you are thinking how awful it is that my husband makes his living selling parts made in China.  You are entitled to that opinion.  I do have a couple of thoughts on that score, though.  First, trade around the world is one of the great ways to encourage peace between countries.  Second, buying an item that is less expensive because of where it is made allows people to have more money to spend on other things.  Third, it wasn't a sweat shop, if that concerns you.  I've been in a fair number of plants because of my past career of engineer.  Bill's plant didn't feel appreciably different from anywhere else I've been.  (Now, the COUNTRY on the other hand...I'll have something to say about that later.)  It simply isn't possible in western China, especially in Shanghai, to operate anything less than a regular factory with good conditions for the employees.  I'm not making excuses for the policies of the government, especially the one-child policy.  But there are many sides to the economic issue.

The offices at the plant reminded me very much of the steel facility I worked at in France, except Bill's place was a little nicer.  Here's a picture of the outside.  Just to the left of this picture is the company cafeteria.  The employees get lunch every day (five days a week now).

Here's a picture taken out of Bill's office window.  You will see what is probably a familiar sign: 

They do offer squid and bean-sprout pizza.  I passed.

One final observation while we were outside of Shanghai proper.  Everywhere there was not a building, there was a rice paddy.  EVERYWHERE.  There really weren't any open spaces.  And even out here in the 'burbs, there were huge apartment complexes going up, 30- and 40-story towers, six or eight at a time.  Massive.  I always wondered where all the people were coming from.  No one could tell me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I didn't mean to go so long without a post.  I just realized that it has been an entire month since we got back!

The first couple of days in China were spent in Shanghai.  My lingering impressions of Shanghai are the hustle and the enormity of it.  Shanghai was bigger than anything I have ever seen.  Masses of people everywhere, and businesses operating in every nook and cranny.

For the most part we took taxis in Shanghai.  Traffic is very, very bad in Shanghai, but taxis are pretty easy to get.  One advantage is that you can give the taxi driver the business card of the place you are going and--presto!--there you are.  Our first sight-seeing day was spent in taxis criscrossing the city.

Bill in the Bund.
We started in the Bund, right along the Huangpu (Yellow River).  The Bund is the Western colonial area; Shanghai was host to French and British colonies at different periods in its history.  You can see the Western influence in the buildings right along the west side (Puxi) of the Yellow River.
The famous Pearl Tower in Pudong.
We walked along the River, taking pictures of Pudong and marveling at the size of everything. Pudong literally means "East of the River," and twenty years ago it was rice paddies and farms.  Now this is Pudong:

More of Pudong.  This is looking south (to the right) of the picture above.
It goes on and on and on, massive skyscrapers and apartments.  We didn't explore much in Pudong, mostly because the interesting older things are in Shanghai Puxi.  But look at that and try to imagine the quantities of steel and concrete, drywall and glass that had to be brought to that small area of the world.  I heard that at one point most of the world's supply of drywall was headed to Pudong.  I can believe it.

 From the Bund we walked to the FangBang Temple district, really a bunch of little shops surrounding an old temple. The temple wasn't a very big deal--we didn't even see it!  We did see masses of people in the shops and restaurants.  This looked like a good place to buy souvenirs, but I hadn't decided to spend money yet, so I didn't really buy anything here.

Shanghai is built on the Yellow River delta--you see canals everywhere.  In the FangBang area most of the shops are built around bridges and over water.  It isn't particularly lovely but it is a respite from the high-rises that loom over you in most areas.

Our next stop was the Xingye Road area.  This is still part of the French Concession, I think, and the buildings reflect the European influence.  These days there are Western-style cafes and shops, but in the 1920s this was a residential area full of traditional Shanghai homes called "long-tangs."  They are two- or three-story homes built around a courtyard.  The entrance to the courtyard is over a high stone threshold and has a large wooden door.  All of the shops and restaurants try to preserve these entries, because they are so particular to Shanghai.  Each long-tang had three or four bedrooms, including a tiny back bedroom that was usually rented out to a student.

One of my favorite facts about this part of town is that Mao had an apartment at 76 Xingye Road.  Chinese communism was born in this little neighborhood where many radicals rented out the tiny bedroom.  So the home to one of the twentieth-century's biggest mass murderers and haters of all things free and capitalist has become a thoroughly gentrified, Western, capitalist neighborhood.

I don't even think you can see how crowded it was here.
A third neighborhood we visited that day was called TianZiFang.  This was an artists' colony, chock-a-block with tiny shops.  We were shoulder-to-shoulder with other shoppers here in the narrow streets.  This would be a great place to film a spy movie--it is wildly disorienting because there are no big cross streets, no grid and outlet!  Think corn maze but with four-story brick and tons of Chinese people. 

Finally, that evening we took a walk near our hotel to get a bite to eat.  This is the exterior of the largest shopping mall in Asia.  Wow!  Some very familiar shops, some less so, but pretty busy for a Sunday evening.  In hindsight, the lights and shops reminds me of Las Vegas.  This is yet another side of Shanghai, I suppose, all modern and Western-oriented.  The big names over there are just what you might expect:  Hermes, Chanel, Burberry...  And no bargains here!  Prices are pretty similar to what you would find at home.

So that is four neighborhoods in Shanghai, pretty different from one another, some with MUCH cleaner bathrooms.  I hope you can feel how disorienting it was--sometimes Shanghai felt a long way from home, but more of the time it felt like it just wasn't that different from anywhere I'd been before.  For my next post I hope to share a little more of what we saw in Shanghai, including apartments and the suburbs.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bon Voyage--Leaving for China

We flew out of Detroit.  Unlike the rest of the city, the Detroit airport is wonderful.  We had a great hamburger there, thinking it would be our last for a while.  (We were right.) The flight over was nonstop, Detroit to Shanghai, about four movies and three meals long.  We had the new Delta "Extended" economy seating, with an extra four inches of leg room.  It is totally worth the extra cost.

We left the U.S. on a Friday afternoon, and we arrived early Saturday evening in Shanghai.  My first impression was that twilight is very short there.  One minute you see that it is sunset, and the next minute it is pitch black.  My second impression was that it was extraordinarily clean--surprise!!  The bathrooms were immaculate.

Now, I am going to tell you a little story that my sweet husband is not proud of.  They had changed the taxi stand location, and as we were looking for it, a man with a badge walked up to us and said, "Taxi?" We said yes, and he asked us to just follow him.  He would get us a ride to the city.

DO NOT DO THIS.  He took us out of the airport building, across the covered walkway and into the parking deck.  At this point I had (EXTREMELY FOOLISHLY) handed him my bag that he had offered to carry.  So we were stuck.  In the parking deck, he assured us that he had a "Buick, very nice" for us to go to Shanghai in.  This little bitty car pulled up, smaller than my parents' 1982 Buick Skylark.  (They don't have that car anymore, BTW.)  Nice badge-man loads our bags into the car and sends of packing with a much sketchier looking younger man.  Bill and I are in the back seat.  I wish I could tell you what I thought of Shanghai as we made our way in, but instead I was thinking, "OhmyLordwearegettingkidnappedandtheywilltakeourkidneysandwewillwakeupinsomeflophousein-
abathtuboficehowwillweexplainthistothekids?"  For real.

On the way to the hotel our driver had made numerous phone calls to someone, apparently to get directions.  This was a little mysterious since we were staying in a pretty popular part of town, near the stadium in Shanghai.  Bill's partner, Charlie, and his wife, Jean, were waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel.  Charlie fussed at us for such a dumb taxi move, and then yelled at the driver for trying to rip us off.  It was always helpful to have someone with us who could yell in Chinese!

Unbelievably, I have no hotel pictures.  I usually do better than that, but I just totally forgot to take any this time.  We stayed at Hua Ting Towers, and it was a perfectly nice, Hilton-like hotel.  There really is nothing remarkable to tell you about the hotel!  We had a great breakfast buffet every morning, where you could tell that they catered to a truly international clientele.  There were Asian,  European and American breakfast favorites, along with baked beans.  I was able to have my scrambled egg and a cup of coffee every morning to start my day off right.  Apparently most hotels in Shanghai are very accustomed to hosting Westerners, so good breakfasts are pretty easy to find.

Starting with my next post I'll have a lot more pictures, because we took a ton of photos away from the hotel.  Back later!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

China, part 1

Time to get back to writing.

Bill and I went to China a couple of weeks ago.  I know, CHINA!  It is literally half a world away, the longest plane ride I've ever taken.  We took this trip without the kids, partly out of caution and partly because plane tickets to Shanghai are unbelievably expensive (and we never have miles for anything like that).  But now that I've been, I'd take the kids in a second.  For now, though, I just want to share what I saw and a little of what we experienced.

First, why on earth did we go?  My husband has factories in China, and it was time for me to see them.  Way, way back (more than twenty years ago now), Bill and a couple of guys in graduate school started selling American equipment to Chinese factories.  It was a great sideline as he pursued his Ph.D.  The catch was that they couldn't get most of their money out of China.  BIG catch.  In order to get their money out of China, they had to import things--and that led to the idea of building a plant that could manufacture goods to sell in the West.  So that was how he came to have these factories.  It has been a long time now, and many, many improvements to the plants.  After we got married, we always talked about my going.  But pregnancies, babies, and life in general just got in the way.

Sometimes you just have to say, "Now." That is what we finally did this fall.

The next few posts are just my travelogue from my trip.  I like to keep notes in my super-cute and trendy Moleskine as I travel.  Since we've gotten back (two weeks ago now) I've also had some other impressions percolating, and I'll share those, too.  China can't fail to make an impression on you--it's just so darn big.  Not Texas wide-open big, more like suffocating, sit-on-you big.  Anyway, I'll share some of that.  Really, there were too many things going on for just one post.

Since I am admittedly out of the habit of posting, I will just say that I will try to post the whole trip over the next few days.  I have so many pictures.  And while it was not fun, it was interesting, and sometimes that is even better.  I am really looking forward to sharing this trip with the two or three people who read the blog.  (And your arrival at my little blog is much appreciated.)

And for the technical, in-and-out details of my trip, I like to post reviews on TripAdvisor.  You can find me there as "PeachtreeMom4."