Exploring Shanghai: The Shanghai Museum (a bit of culture)

Along with all the other attractions and ‘places of interest’ in China visitor numbers at The Shanghai Museum are reduced to 1/4 of what they used to be pre-COVID. This is not a problem if you arrive somewhere early in the day but we were too late to get into this museum and we forced to use the QR code to book a slot two days in advance at a specified time. It wasn’t easy to navigate as the booking system was all in mandarin so lots of guesswork was involved but we managed in the end!

So we turn up at our appointed hour and show the screenshot of our reservations. Then at the next checkpoint we had to show our Shanghai green health code. Then to another official we had to show our passports to prove that we were who we claimed to be. Then we went through a ticket checking machine. Then airport bag scanning security. Then a thorough body scan and pat down. All to get into a museum!!!!! Good grief.

The structure of the museum itself is interesting. It is a square building topped by a dome and arches. The dome in ancient Chinese philosophy represents the heavens and the cube is the earth!!!!! The flat earthers would be pleased, I’m sure.

Inside the museum is an impressive collection of ceramics, jade, fine art and ancient artifacts.

We started in the jade gallery which I was expecting to be very green but it wasn’t at all. In fact most was ‘white jade’ which looked a lot like marble.

This little chap dated from 3500 years BC so pretty old and is a carved deity.

The jade was also carved into cicada shapes which were placed into the mouthes of the dead as part of funeral rites because they believed that being reborn as a cicada was extremely lucky. I’m not sure that I would want to be reborn as an insect. A cat maybe, they eat and sleep and have human servants, but a cicada, I don’t think so.

This bowl decorated with dragons was pretty impressive and one of the few green pieces that we saw.

to my surprise the ancient coins were not all round, some were this funny tooth shape. And when they did become round they had a square hole in the middle. This is actually quite sensible as the early folk could keep their coins threaded on a belt for extra security in lawless times. It was interaction with the traders along the Silk Road which influenced the production of flat discs for coinage. Paper money has been used in China since the 10th century which is when the rest of Europe was still in the dark ages.

The Ming vases collection was pretty cool and again my prediction of colours was challenged. We only saw a few of the blue and white designs.

Kevin particularly liked this bowl below which dates back to 3000 years BC with a face on each corner. It could be a modern guy in glasses!

This colorful ceramic was an official with imposing headgear.

And this little chap was playing football back in the 7th century. So somethings never change…

Outside we saw a fountain (Kevin managed to capture it without any jets-sorry ) which was actually a sound and light water show that somewhat incongruously was playing ‘Scarborough Fair’. It was NOT what we were expecting after all that ancient Chinese history and culture!!!

The Silk Road: Day 7 Sandsliding and other adventures in the Gobi desert

Our last full day on the Silk Road tour and what an action packed one it has been. We are in Dunhuang, a small town in the Gobi Desert and our first stop was the sand dunes.

Once again this was a place so remote in my imagination that I never dreamt that I would ever set foot here. The sandscape was stunning but because we went early in the morning it wasn’t too hot. It was also fairly cloudy so we didn’t burn (luckily)

We had the choice of a optional camel ride and it just had to be done. It cost only £10 for an hour and a half!

They put me on the lead camel and off we went. The camels were dromedaries which meant they were easy to ride as you sat between the humps. Obviously getting up and down was tricky as you had to lean right back but we soon got the hang of it.

The four of us made our own little caravan and it was easy to imagine what it must have been like for those Silk merchants.

Apparently an average caravan would have approx 20 camels but of those 7 would be carrying the clothes and personal effects of the traders. Only 13 would have goods to trade. It was a lucrative but risky business as they were prone to ambush by local brigands. Just doing this tourist trip we had a real sense of how grueling the journey must have been but also how beautiful.

We were taken to a high dune and opted to climb it in order to get the best views. It cost an extra £2!

This was the ladder that we had to use.

At least we had a ladder!!! But I have to say that towards the top it got pretty steep and each tread was filled choc a bloc with sand. As you can see it was also very narrow and I felt once or twice that I might lose my balance. It was slightly outside my comfort zone. But we made it.

The next problem was how to get down. There were more tourists coming up the ladder behind us so it wasn’t that way. It was this.

A sand slide! Yay.

Oh boy that was exhilarating!

Then we walked to the other amazing natural feature of this location, the crescent lake.

This picture is courtesy of one of the others in our group who did a dune walk instead of the camel ride. We didn’t get this high ourselves. Formed from a natural underground water source this is a superb scenic spot. It used to be much bigger but as the town of Dunhuang has grown and taken some of the water away the lake has shrunk.

The temple beside it is new, the original having been destroyed in the cultural revolution.

But these prayer tags show that spirituality is alive and well in this communist country.

Then it was back to our hotel to wash the sand out of our hair and we were off again. If I am totally honest I could have just fallen asleep at that point. The fresh air and exercise was great but grueling at my advanced age!! There was to be no rest for us though as we had one final attraction to visit.

The Mogao grotto is a series of ancient Chinese Buddhist caves hewn into the rocks at the base of the sand dunes. Begun in 366 by a wandering Taoist monk who whilst traversing the dunes had a vision of 1000 Buddhas so he stopped and chipped away at the sandstone to make himself a little cave where he sat and meditated. This holy man attracted devotees and soon everyone wanted a cave.

Altogether there are over 700 caves of varying sizes. Each has statues and wall paintings which have been remarkably well preserved. The picture here shows some of the caves where the monks and painters lived during construction.

The Red Guard had been dispatched to destroy the ancient site but the then director was friendly with the local party president and he called in a favor and the guards were called away. Thank goodness.

The caves were cut out by individuals and families who saw their creation as ‘merit making’. Families would then make pilgrimages to their cave for special ceremonies or meditation. The wealthy families had large ornate caves like huge rooms but some poorer folks just had tiny ones. Like this.

Cave construction lasted between the 4th -14th century then as shipping took over from the Silk Road as a preferred trade route the site became forgotten. The local government also moved residents into the fort at Jiayuguan behind then newest part of the Great Wall and away from these locations as that was deemed safer. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that a local farmer rediscovered them. Many had become buried in the shifting sands. He discovered one room with over 20,000 preserved silk paintings and Buddhist sutras (texts) and he tried to get help from local officials who basically ignored him. He met some European explorers who did believe him and who recognized the importance of these ancient treasures. However many of these artifacts are now in The British Museum, The Louvre and Harvard University!!! Very tactfully our guide said that they were ‘being preserved elsewhere in the world’

Only about 70 caves are open to the public nowadays and no photography was allowed inside.

Here are some images that I found online of what the paintings are like. Many date from the 7th century and retain their original colours.

Each cave had a set of statues and paintings of 1000 Buddha images.

The final stop was the 7 tiered pagoda seen here from the outside

Inside was a giant seated Buddha statue 35 m tall. It looked a bit like this from the ground.

Originally there was no roof so his head poked out of the top!

That’s all for now. We are very tired as it has been all go with very little if any rest. We are off to an open air theatre production tonight which promises to be very good.

This has been a trip of a lifetime which we booked with only one week’s notice because we are stuck in China and can’t travel anywhere else. It has been quite an experience with so many different things each day and I am really glad that we have done it. I feel that I know a lot more about chinese culture, geography and history than I did before. Shanghai is so cosmopolitan that it has been described as ‘China-lite’ and Jinqiao, the suburb where we live is ‘Shanghai-lite’ so this excursion was an excellent way for us to see some of real China.

One thing I should say though is that we were subjected to intense scrutiny at every attraction along the way. We all have chinese SIM cards and apps and we not only had to produce our passports everywhere but also our green health code. Tourists from outside even if they were allowed in would not have access to all that. Our guide made sure that we arrived at each stop in time to complete the additional checks. Our group had enough mandarin to order a meal in a restaurant but nowhere near enough to have been able to navigate all the additional bureaucracy. We couldn’t have managed without our English speaking guide.

The Silk Road: Day 6 The Great Wall in the west and our minor celebrity status

We have reached the western end of the Great Wall and spent the morning exploring the last fort. The whole wall was finished at different times and this section was completed in the 1600s. The wall is over 10,000 miles long and I had imagined it as being a continuous line but that is not so.

The original sections were actually early city walls over 2000 years ago which the first Emperor joined together. Various dynasties continued construction but as you can see from the map below it was a haphazard affair with bits of wall all over the place.

Different sections of the wall use different materials and building techniques. Around Beijing the wall is made of stone and this is the image of the wall that most people have in their minds.

(Photo from a previous holiday in 2017)

The western section of the wall which we visited today was all made from clay and has a completely different feel to it.

Interestingly, we learned that the clay was made using the water from sticky rice which is glutinous and dries hard when mixed with sand.

Inside the fort was an old chapel area that now housed the statue of a famous general. Note the red face. Red denotes loyalty. White faces mean cleverness or trickery and black means justice.

The fort once housed 20,000 soldiers as well as locals who came in from the surrounding area so it must have been congested. This is the square where they all camped.

This is a stage where performances were held. Just look at the height. Apparently actors were quite lowly in society and they would wear long robes with platform shoes. This was because it was quite unlucky to see their feet during shows!!! Its a good job that doesn’t apply to theatre today.

The tour was fascinating as we learned about military strategies and local customs. For instance this staircase was climbed by soldiers using the steps but the generals rode their horses up the slope. It was quite steep so would have been lethal in the winter.

Throughout this whole trip we have been the only non-chinese people wherever we have been (except one hotel where we bumped into a group of teachers from a school in Shanghai that we knew. Basically they were traveling a similar route to us just a couple of days behind) apart from that we have been the only westerners.

While we were touring the battlements our guide was approached by a reporter who asked lots of questions about us. It turned out that some party officials were also touring the fort and they had a whole retinue of people with them. Being the ONLY foreigners there we had attracted some attention.

Here you can see them, the officials are in the blue shirts.

At one point their group walked past us and we waited to let them go. On the whole the men themselves ignored us but the accompanying photographers were another matter. Whenever they could they took our pictures and most of them had professional long lenses.

Our guide told the reporter that we were from Shanghai and we weren’t sure whether they were pleased to see tourists again or xenophobicly upset that we might have reimported the virus! We have witnessed locals deliberately putting their masks on when we board shuttle buses. And entry checks to all the attractions have been way more stringent and lengthy for us than for anyone else!

Interestingly she also told the reporter that we were all from England. She felt that it was safer to say that than to admit that some were Americans. I don’t think that my colleagues were too impressed with that!! But these are strange times we are living in

At one point we gathered for our customary group photo which our guide took.

Along came a guy with a camera who stood next to her and started snap snap snapping away. He was like the paparazzi!!! Our guide is only small but she really told him off and said that he should ask first. He stopped but by then he had his shots. We have no idea what is going to happen to them or if we are going to appear in Chinese newspapers, magazines or what!

Someone else approached and wanted our names. He wanted to use us in advertising for the fort but our guide sent him away. What an experience it was. We were conscious of being photographed from a distance too and in a small way we got a taste of what it must be like for the rich and famous.

Some other interesting things that we saw included this replica of 5000 year old cave drawings

The lovely names

And the unusual arrow tips

But the best sight was the guy at the gate dressed ready for battle.

I would not have liked to get on the wrong side of him!!!

The Silk Road: Day 5 The Rainbow Mountains

Once again the Rainbow Mountains were never on my bucket list primarily because I had never heard of them but they are gorgeous and I am so glad that I have had this opportunity to visit. Each day this tour gets better and better.

The whole of the Gangsu has province area is a huge geopark. 145 -100 million years ago the area was subjected to a pendulum swing of climactic conditions veering from extreme humidity to ice ages. The earth swung from being covered by ocean to rivers and back to ocean again resulting in striations or layers in the rock of different colours.

Over time the water levels dropped and the tectonic plates shifted making what had previously been horizontal layers now appear in vertical or diagonal patterns. Wind and water erosion has worked to create some unusual rock forms

In the morning we hiked along and up a Rift Valley formed by ice. Again it was strenuous simply because of the altitude but the views at the top of the climbs were worth it.

From here (below) we were standing in rocky, arid desert but looking back down the valley towards snow-capped mountains in the distance. Apologies for the phone mast but I could get rid of it.

Here is the camel

And these two are known as the man and woman

Thus is the magnificent Eagle’s head

And strangely since we are in China this was called The Louvre.

The flora was sparse but interesting. This plant is cut by shepherds and sold to pharmacies. It is used in Chinese medicine to create the sweet coating around bitter pills.

And this is a goji berry bush which I have never seen before.

There are snakes here so we kept to the paths and also rats. This was a new word for my vocabulary

I am not keen on heights but I pushed through and was very proud to have made it to the top of here

The Rainbow Mountains are sometimes known as The Painted Mountains and some pictures on the internet are photoshopped so the actual colours are not as vivid but they are equally beautiful.

This geological feature was largely unknown until 2007 when a Chinese filmmaker used the location as a film set. This film was popular and the public have flocked to the site ever since. This is the noodle shop built for the film. I think it is great that a film has generated a tourist industry.

And these prayer tags were uplifting

We went to three different locations where the views were panoramic.

Nature in all its glory

The Silk Road: Glurting

One of the highlights of this trip is the overnight stay in a Yurt. A whole new experience for me and I was very excited. Another tick on my bucket list.

We arrived late at night after a drive so bumpy that it added 500 steps to my Fitbit count!!!

The arrival was spectacular and the mountains were lit up specially for us.

The Yurt itself was comfortable and akin to ‘glamping’ so a colleague coined the phrase ‘glurting’. This one is ours. M6 was quite appropriate we thought.

As in a campsite there was a central shower block which was clean and had lovely hot water. But the toilets…

Ok so I need to tell you about the toilet situation on the Silk Road. It hasn’t always been easy. The predominant type is the squat which is challenging for us westerners who do not that the practiced thigh muscles and who are used to sitting. Anyone thinking of visiting needs to be aware of this.

Very often we have found toilet blocks which had the seat symbol on the door and our hearts were gladdened only to find that the desired . stall is locked!!! We were told that they use those cubicles to store the mops!! I went into one facility which was huge and had 8 seated stalls and ALL were locked. Also toilet paper is a rare commodity and we all had to buy extra packets of Handy Andys and regularly scavenge napkins from restaurants. If we find toilet paper anywhere it is a cause for rejoicing. And I won’t mention something of the smells…, you have to take the rough with the amazing on trips like this. I will just say that it is not for the squeamish.

At our Yurt site we had a toilet block near to us with one western style toilet which was broken! The other was at the other end so quite a trek! In the end I was so tired that I slept right through the night.

Breakfast was inside the giant Yurt but as you can see we had the place to ourselves.

The Silk Road: Day 4 China’s Grand Canyon

We traveled by high speed train from Xining to Zhangye. It took 2 hours and unfortunately it was late evening so we couldn’t see anything from the windows.

It was quite a palaver getting into the station as the government has new tracking regulations which seem to apply only to foreigners. An official wrote down our passport number, visa number and telephone number. It was a fairly labour intensive task but we got through in time to make the trip

Exiting the station at the destination was another lengthy information gathering process which also included finding the latest stamp in our passport for them to check, before we made it exhausted and travel-weary to our hotel. At which point we were told that we needed to show our negative nucleic acid test results which none of us had because we had been told that we didn’t need them!!! It was a tense time not knowing if we had a bed for the night and we all had to pfaff around downloading a separate QR code and filling in details online and then Kevin & I also had to find our quarantine results certificate from back in April which fortunately we had pictures of on our phones. It was a HUGE relief to fall into bed that night.

In the morning we visited a 900 year old monastery.

Very few structures remain from this period because successive dynasties burnt the buildings to the ground as they didn’t want the people to remember the old ruler and the the Cultural Revolution finished off what was left.

In the case of this temple there is an enormous reclining Buddha inside with Chinese features so it escaped destruction.

The surrounding compound was beautiful though.

There was a man writing poems on the pavement outside.

Our next stop was supposed to be another monastery which had been been constructed Petra-like into the rock but apparently they had decided only yesterday that all foreigners needed to show negative test results before being allowed in. We think that they heard we were coming!!!

This is a model of what we SHOULD have seen.

But instead we drove out of the city (Zhangye) and what was quite incredible was that it was all urban building as you would expect, then we went through a tunnel and came out the other end to this…

It was almost as through we had gone through some sort of portal and emerged in another world!

Lunch was interesting. We all ordered short noodles but when the bowls arrived they were way too salty. We have noticed here that the dishes are loaded with MSG and they even have bowls of it around for you to add your own extra! MSG doesn’t have the bad press that it once did but even so we tend to steer clear of it and in fact most of us were unable to finish the noodles.

Fun fact: you can get MSG from bananas

At the entrance to the canyon was an enormous prayer flag tent but this one was in Mongolian style. You can see the difference in the shape. It looks like a hat.

In actual fact were were close to the border with Inner Mongolia. When I was a child Inner and Outer Mongolia seem like the farthest away and most inaccessible place in the world. I had no idea that one day I was actually be here.

Then on to the canyon. This was simply stunning. The whole area was a lake in prehistoric times and the colors were muted but like nothing we had ever seen before in a landscape. It was almost like being on an alien planet.

Our American colleagues assured us that it was just like Arizona.

We were high at 2387m which meant that even short climbs left us quite breathless.

One of the really annoying things about China is their need to pipe music into all scenic spots. We speculated that it’s because they don’t cope well with silence but we don’t know for sure. It’s very annoying though as the beauty and tranquility were a little spoilt.

I was delighted that there was a good path with a sturdy guardrail but even so I didn’t go too near the edge!

Some of our group did an extra hike which involved climbing this ladder up the rock face

So I opted out of that.

All in all the day was amazing. The terrain was so unlike anywhere we have been before.

Once again thanks to colleagues for their photos some of which were better than mine.

The Silk Road: Day 3 Qinghai Lake

The Qinghai Province in Central China is a meeting place for Mongolian, Tibetan, Muslim snd Han Chinese cultures. Driving through the vastness of the grassland plateau I could just imagine Genghis and his marauding Mongolian hordes cantering through the region and how terrifying their presence must have been to the nomadic tribes.

It was Genghis, however who unified the warring tribes and laid the foundations for the development of The Silk Road.

And it is Marco Polo who really captured my imagination on his voyages along The Silk Road. How intrepid those early explorers must have been to travel for years and years in such inhospitable terrain and unforgiving climate. What took us five hours on a fast road in a reasonably comfortable van would have taken those caravans months. They too didn’t know the language and had to eat strange foods not to mention navigate in unfamiliar territory.

Polo wasn’t too complimentary about the people of Xining in his diary. He called them ‘idolaters who are fat with small noses and black hair’ He also noted that they practiced polygamy.

Today the rain held off while we visited the enormous Quinghai Lake. The red building out in the water is a disused torpedo testing site.

The lake is salt water, and only one species of fish can survive here. They are called yellow fish. During Mao’s revolution in the 1960s when famine gripped the country the local people survived by eating these fish. Today their descendants come and feed the fish to say thank you for keeping the people alive and to give something back to the fish.

Modern Chinese people have a growing penchant for photography, in particular posing for pictures. It is a national craze and wherever we go girls (usually) are beautifully made up and we see them striking pose after pose. It is more than just a selfie affliction, it requires a willing (usually male) photographer but on occasion we have seen whole photo shoots with lights, silver screens and the works.

Here at the lake being a beauty spot the management clearly knew their clientele and had provided a range of props to assist the narcissistic populous.

It is really quite fascinating to watch. Never has a generation or country been so totally obsessed with recording themselves.

We decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. So we had s group picture by the scooby-doo mobile

The Silk Road: Day 2 The Grasslands

An early start this morning as we needed to drive for 5 hours through the grasslands of central China.

It was quite an amazing journey over two mountain ranges and across a vast empty plateau. I have to say that I am extremely impressed with Chinese engineering. The road was a four lane highway for the first two hours with long tunnels through the mountains, crash barriers and a central reservation (unlike the road trip in Nepal). I felt so safe. Even when we left the main road there were no steep precipices, hairpin bends or stomach lurching drops. No, this was an extremely pleasant ride through beautiful scenery and I did not have to shut my eyes or clutch the seat once!

We were high though. For much of the journey we were above the tree line and at one point we reached the dizzy height if 3817m, which is approx three times the height of Ben Nevis.

As you can imagine the air up here is pure but very thin. The temperature was only 20 degrees but it is easy to burn so we all had to be careful.

Along the route we saw this temple which is the former site of the Tibetan sky burials.

The corpse is left on a platform for the eagles to eat. Apparently if the birds eat you all in one go then you were a good person and will go to heaven. If they don’t then you are destined for one of the hells. Given the roads and the growth in tourism the site for sky burials has been moved as it needs to be in a more remote location.

The terrain is very rugged and reminded me of parts of the Lake District but on a much larger scale. The main farming is sheep and Yaks which grazed freely over the steep slopes.

We did get to see this white Yak close up. These are called ‘pretty girls’

In July the region hold horse fairs and we saw lots of these hardy looking animals as their owners showed them off.

Actually we are extremely lucky to be visiting now as the whole region has summer for only 30 days a year. The rest of the time it is cold and last year it even snowed in June!

In between the mountains was a vast plateau which stretched for miles and miles. It wasn’t windy for us but it is obviously a natural wind farm and we passed hundreds of turbines. I have never seen so many all in one place.

The Mongolian and Tibetan tribes who live here are semi nomadic as the government provided winter housing for them but they live in yurts for the rest of the year. We saw several pretty tent structures nestled in the hillsides

All over the landscape are dotted the colorful prayer tents

The flags have different prayer meanings.

White = peace

Yellow = good harvest

Green = good marriage/fertility

Red = long life

Blue = health

I think it is wonderful to stand near the top of the world amongst so much prayer.

The main crops grown at this altitude are wheat and Canola, from where we get the oil. The canola fields were in flower and provided a stunning photo stop.

Great for a group shot. The air was heady with the perfume from the flowers and the fields almost vibrated as the bees worked hard. We had to be careful when going amongst the flowers.

Lunch was a massive bowl of lamb noodles soup which the locals eat for both lunch and breakfast. For the evening meal they have lamb noodles without the soup!!! Not a lot of variety but it was tasty.

Then it was on to Chaka which in Tibetan mean Salt Lake. It is incredible that this country 2000km away has such an influence here. It would take 32 hours to get there by high speed train!

This salt lake was formed when all the present continents of the earth broke up from the giant Pangea continent approximately 200 million years ago.

It is an area of outstanding natural beauty with some amazing reflections.

The lake covers 40 square miles and it has been used to produce salt for over 3000 years and is still going.

During the 30 days of summer this is a popular spot for photography and girls pose in red dresses on the salty crust.

There are gigantic salt sculptures

And peaceful walkways

This was not a place that was on my bucket list because I didn’t know that it existed but I am so glad that we have visited as it is one of the unsung wonders of the world.

Thanks to the group for sharing their photos with me.

The Silk Road: Day 1 Kumbum Monastery

We are so very fortunate that we are COVID trapped in a country that we haven’t yet explored much, that has so much culture to see and which has the virus largely under control. This has meant that during the summer break we have been able to take advantage of a trip along The Silk Road.

Some Concordia teachers who are China-bound have got together to do a private tour and we jumped at the opportunity. I apologize in advance to all those of you reading this who are stuck somewhere and unable to travel. The picture above is the seven of us.

Our trip begins in Xining in the province of Qinghai in Central China and we boarded an early morning flight from Shanghai. The airport was surprisingly busy and the plane was full. We had to have a green health code and wear masks (although I’m not sure this woman fully understood the reason!!!)

I had read that flights would resume but without catering so I was delighted to be served a sandwich and a yoghurt.

Xining is approx 2200 meters above sea level which meant that oxygen levels were lower and I could really tell every time I climbed a slope or set of stairs. As our guide remarked it was ‘hard breathing’. The area also has its own local cuisine which is noodle based because they grow wheat here not rice. It is also very meat heavy as the high altitudes mean that they need the protein.

Here you can see a girl wearing local traditional costume

On landing we went straight by van to our first destination, Kumbum a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

The weather was 14 degrees and raining which was actually a relief after the extreme humidity of Shanghai.

The monastery has been there since 1577 and contains Lamas, which is the Tibetan word for monk. In essence is is a Buddhist cult and whilst it adheres to the main tenants of Buddhist faith there are many differences. For instance monks can marry, acquire wealth and even have chauffeurs!

This monastery is famous for its 8 stupas.

Inside was the most beautiful teaching hall where the novice monks learn from 6-8am

The hangings are beautiful colored cloth which wasn’t glitzy and gaudy. There wasn’t gold around every corner but instead prayer wheels and I felt a sense of spiritual peacefulness. It wasn’t so much a tourist attraction as a house of religious instruction. In fact, if the boys from aged 10 and upwards fall asleep during the teaching senior monks wake them up with a clip round the ear from behind!

The buildings and courtyards were painted bright colors and we saw laypeople praying what is a grueling devotion which involves standing, kneeling, prostrating on the ground then kneeling and standing back up again. They are supposed to do this 100,000 times during their lives.

It made me exhausted just watching them but I was SO impressed with their core strength. Apparently you have to finish this devotion off when you retire so some of these people were not spring chickens.

The most unusual part of the complex was the Butter Statues exhibition.

Yes these displays really are constructed from butter. It is Yak butter which they also use to make smokeless candles, but here they mix it with wheat flour and minerals to make a paste that they can then model with. I was impressed.

We were conspicuous as the only non-Chinese people in the place. In fact someone in our group was approached by a local who joyously said ‘are they letting you in again?’ We had to disappoint him and say that we had come from Shanghai. He thought the borders were open to tourists again…

It was a long day and as our guide said, it was winding and clouding so we all got a little damp but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

An upgrade.

When we set foot in our Phoenix Mansion apartment for the first time on 30th July 2019 I knew immediately that I didn’t much like it. I was tired after a long flight and I hoped that it would grow on me.

The block is about 25 years old and looks unmaintained in all that time. Our apartment is on the 3rd floor (2nd floor in Imperial measurement as they call the Ground floor 1st floor!) It was just not quite high enough to escape the mosquitos.

The inside is light, clean and the building commands a high rent in such a prime Shanghai suburb HOWEVER there were several things that I knew were issues . Shabby just doesn’t cover it and compared to both our apartment in Bangkok and with my colleagues in other complexes here I wasn’t happy. So as soon as I could I applied for a transfer to a newer, more modern place.

I should at this point state that some of our staff actually like it here particularly as they can have their dogs and the lady who represents the management is very nice and efficient so sorts out all issues promptly. And it’s very spacious for Shanghai, Chinese friends who visited commented on how large it was for two people.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our first year here and we made the best of things at Phoenix. The sense of community was great.

On the plus side it is a serviced apartment so a couple of ladies appeared each Monday morning to have a quick whip round with a mop and bucket. They also provide us with fresh towels each week and clean bed linen once a month. Very nice, thank you. In the weeks in between we washed the set of sheets that we had. I felt a month was too long to go between changes of bedding!

But here the list ends.

The downsides severely outweighed the positives…

The most important problem was that there was no disabled access. In fact the entrance to the block looks like this

Six steps.

Oliver and Steph plan to visit and there was no way we could lift Steph in her chair up and down all those every time we went out for the day!!! We would all put our backs out. And in this close up you can see the state of some of the treads.

Our new place is newer so is ramped and access isn’t a problem.

Next come the lift and public spaces. There are no doors to the building so the Entranceway is very dusty, smelly and when it rains becomes lethal with standing water. The lifts are minging, to quote a Lancashire phrase, and one is like a padded cell as it is used to transport any construction whenever an apartment is renovated. There is no separate service elevator. This results in a dusty smell not unlike a building site. In our building the padding is also ripped and the whole impression given is ‘uninviting’

Once you arrive at the third floor you step out of the lift into semi darkness. I think it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the management to save money on lighting but honestly we struggle most days to see the lock to put our key in the door!

There is a stairwell which I refuse to set foot in!! It’s the stink which puts me off. Right opposite us is the ‘rubbish’ house and you can imagine what that smells like …

Most days the fire doors on every level are propped open (as you can see here) so with our fire warden hats on we were singularly unimpressed with the basic safety! No one else seems to care and we didn’t even have smoke alarms never mind a Carbon monoxide one in the apartment (until we kicked up a fuss).

Inside the apartment there are also some issues. Let’s start with the mould on the bathroom window. It’s a big problem in Shanghai at this time of year but it can be managed with good ventilation. Kevin worked hard to keep the air circulating but even so this is what happened. Not great for respiratory health.

And in the grouting of the bath

Note also the plug. This didn’t work, rendering the bath unusable as a bath. We complained and a fix-it-up chappie appeared and changed it from a rapid loss of water to a slow but steady one… so not great as baths go.

Each apartment is privately owned and decorated/renovated by the owner so they are all done to a variety of standards. Here is the standard of the grouting in our bathroom.

Not a great finish there.

The windows overlook the refuse sorting area for both Towers and several locals come each day to sort through the rubbish. In typical Chinese fashion they shout to each other while doing it and the noise can be quite disturbing.

The windows are all single glazed and ill-fitting. During the winter temperatures drop and there is only one source of heat in the entire space. We called it the ‘monolith’.

It also doubles as the Air con in the summer. There is an additional A/C unit in the bedroom (but no heater) however, it feels as though that hasn’t been serviced in years as it barely pumps out any cold air at all. We sweat through each night in the summer humidity. Well, at my age, I do anyway.

Finally the kitchen. Built for occupants of hobbit proportions it gives us taller people back ache when we spend any length of time doing food prep.

Here you can see the standard height of the dishwasher as compared with the units. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but after a while you really notice it. And a double sink but no draining board!

So we were DELIGHTED when a place became available in Green Court Serviced Apartments. A smaller unit but more modern.

Here is the compound

Dotted around are these delightful reading statues (which are right up my boulevard)

There is even a water feature and outdoor seating area.

We are in Block D and just look at how wonderful the lobby is

We get a smaller table but that’s fine. Its modern.

And the kitchen and bathroom are a joy to behold.

We have a wrap around balcony

With a nice view of the Catholic Church

But my favorite part is this enclosed balcony space. We call it the ‘Day Room’. The rug needs a clean and we will purchase some more furniture but it will make a very nice relaxing place to chill out. Possibly it will be even TOO hot in the sunshine.

But what spectacular views

Moving went very smoothly. You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you need to pack it up!!!

And we hired some local help…

Fortunately it is only across the road so he didn’t have to pedal far. Don’t worry, they had a van as well.

We had been running our food down to make the move easier but I was so tired/hungry/happy that I ate an entire tub of ice cream… oops!