January 15–Shanghai

After a good sleep in Shanghai’s fine Long Men (“Dragon Gate”) Hotel and a great breakfast buffet, we boarded our bus for the 30-minute drive to one Shanghai’s great tourist attractions, the Shanghai Museum. Opened in 1994 to rave reviews by the world’s museum cognoscenti, this carefully designed museum has over 200,000 objects on display, ranging from colorful costumes of  some of China’s 52 ethnic minorities, to an outstanding collection of Tang and Ming style furniture, to a remarkable display of Chinese currencies used over 3,000 years, to bronzes and to what has been described as perhaps the world’s finest collection of jade.

Enroute to our next stop, Jack provided an interesting overview of the Jewish presence in Shanghai, and the large role this group played in the city’s economic development. Jews first came to China along the Silk Road from Persia (Iran) in the 8th Century, followed much later after the Opium Wars in the 1840s by Sephardic Jews from India, Iraq and Egypt. Then in the 1917-48 period large numbers of Ashkenazi Jew arrived from Russia (fleeing the Russian Revolution) and Western Europe (fleeing the Holocaust).  Shanghai was attractive to many as it was one of the few places which did not require an entry visa.

Then it was on to Shanghai’s historic Bund (an Anglo-Indian term best translated as “embankment of a muddy water front”) on the Huang Pu River, the river that separates West (“Xi”) from East (“Dong”) Shanghai. It was at this location where much of Shanghai’s economic and colonial history unfolded in the 1840-1949 period.

Then came an hour and one-half of shopping (some real, much window!) on Nanjing Road, a high-end shopping mecca that might be compared to New York’s  5th Avenue.  It is an interesting example of how China has morphed in 30 years from a highly egalitarian society (everyone equal, but poor) to a consumer-oriented society with one of the largest high-low income differentials in the world.

Our last event of the day was the 4 PM church service at the Shanghai Community Fellowship in a colonial-era church in the now-trendy French Concession.  The pastor, Rev. Dale Cuckkow, is from Chicago and the service somewhat “non-traditional”.  The energy of the service, the music, and perhaps the sermon may have pushed some of our group a bit out of their comfort zone!Earlier Jack informed us that, while the great majority of residents of Shanghai profess no religious faith, among those holding a religious belief, Christians are now the majority, followed by Buddhists!

It was then on to dinner at a restaurant featuring service, and presumably some of the food types, from the Dai nationality. The colorfully-attired Dai is an ethnic group from the southern most tip of China bordering Thailand, an exotic, tropical place called Xi Shuang Ba Na–and the only location in China where wild elephants remain–but are threatened by the poachers in search of highly-valued elephant tusks.

Jim from Shanghai