Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shanghai Fulbright Orientation

Beijing Impressions: Beijing is big, as in BIG. (Think LA on steroids.) Renmin University is just outside the third ring road, which is a 14 lane road in the thick of the city. Distances are farther than they appear. Renmin University had been described as a “small” university, but it takes a solid 20 minutes to walk across campus. There are nooks and crannies that we haven’t begun to discover even after a week. Outings always involve walking a mile or two.

Shanghai: The Fulbright orientation was held in Shanghai from Aug. 24-27th. We awoke on the 24th and walked down to the east gate of Renmin (Dongmen) to watch the Olympic Men’s Marathon run by. A frissure of excitement went through the crowd as a helicopter signaled the imminent arrival of the runners. It was our one marathon event. Rick has run over 40 marathons and represented the US in two Goodwill games, so he had a special affection for this race and the masterful athletes who competed in it. We returned to our apartment to watch the conclusion, then met Ding Xiangshun and took a cab to the airport for our trip to Shanghai.

Shanghai is a huge, huge city, seemingly more densely packed than sprawling Beijing. We stayed at the Portman Ritz-Carlton (thank you Uncle Sam), which lived up to its name. The Shanghai protocol is not to allow 4 people in a room, so we had two adjoining rooms, slippers, robes, marble baths – the works. We had two lovely dinners at restaurants near the hotel. Both stretched our understanding of Chinese food. It isn’t like home. We’ll need to develop more flexible palates!

While the adults had a day and a half of very interesting meetings, the children participated in a children’s program. They saw more of Shanghai than the adults. We all had a shared outing Tuesday afternoon to a restaurant on the Bund (riverfront), then onto the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. The museum contained a huge model of Shanghai of the future. It was breathtaking in scope. Then on to Yiyuan Gardens and market for a flavor of a 17th century (?) Chinese villa. In the evening we attended a reception at theU.S. consulate, which offered some fascinating conversation with Chinese nationals who had traveled to the US on the Fulbright program. Every day reveals more about the complexity and depth of this country. It defies generalization.

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