Wednesday, April 30, 2014

China 2014 Day 7: Jewish Shanghai, Confucian and Buddhist Temples

China 2014 Day 7: Jewish Shanghai, Confucian and Buddhist Temples

The day started early again with a Tai Chi class on top of the Fairmont Shanghai. Not a bad way to start the morning!
Tai Chi lesson first thing in the morning!
That was awesome. We started with an initial warmup, and then proceeded in a Kata-like format, doing flowing steps one at a time, and practicing them over and over. I had never done Tai Chi before and it had some very interesting "give and take" moves in it - Forward/Back, Open/Closed, Left Hand/Right Hand, Motion speed: "Soft" and then "Strength!", and we even formed a Yin Yang with our hands in one of the flowing moves. Very cool!

After the first "Kata" section, we then did a 2nd part with a "Tai Chi Weapon" -- an extendable fake sword made of metal and plastic. I noticed that my Warrior Poses from Yoga really helped in this section :) I worked up a good sweat and it was a huge amount of fun and a great start to the day!

Then a quick shower and brekkie and at 9am we met Patrick, our tour guide for the morning. Our plan for the day was to visit the Jewish Shanghai area, and we were super excited to see it all. We got in a taxi and soon arrived in the Jewish Ghetto area. One of the first things we saw was the JDC - the Joint Distribution Center.

Former home of the JDC - distribution of refugee aid for people in the Jewish Ghetto in Shanghai
We wandered through a park and the site of the original Jewish Ghetto, and a street with some homes on it that was the heart of the old ghetto.

Walking in the park
Former site of the "Stateless Refugees" Ghetto
Heart of the former Jewish Ghetto
Zhoushan Rd
Then it was time for the main portion of the tour, the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum and the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. This place was awesome. It is a very well laid-out museum and the Synagogue is fantastic - it was restored quite recently, in 2006 I believe. There is an occasional Bar/Bat Mitzvah or Wedding there, and upstairs there were photos of some of the events. They hold a database of 10,000+ Jewish people who lived in Shanghai or fled to Shanghai from WWII, so that people living there now or relatives can look up their family and learn more about the history of what their ancestors did in China or where they lived. We met a young tour guide/volunteer from the Museum and she showed us around and told us more about the history of the Jews in Shanghai.

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Musuem, an incredible exhibit
The Ohel Moshe Synagogue, Shanghai
Donated by the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai
Torah cover
Awesome photos on the wall of moments when the museum connected old friends together, Jewish and Chinese people who were friends in Shanghai as children
Upstairs there was an INCREDIBLE sculpture of the Book of Genesis, written in Chinese on a big, crystal Star of David. It was suuuper awesome. If they sold a small version of this, I would have bought it for my home in an instant. It was sooooo cool.

Cool Judaica donated to the musuem
Magen David and Chinese Characters together in this sculpture
I would LOVE this in my home. I was hoping they had a smaller reproduction of it :) It was a gift to the museum... so amazing.
Upstairs there were videos of the history of the Shul to watch, and a very well-done Holocaust learning section - important for people who visit to understand what happened. I was very impressed with the setup and the care they took with presenting the information clearly and without restriction. Very good.

We then watched a very affecting video with some multi-layered smoke and video effects, it was again, very nicely presented! Following this, we checked out the large section of the museum which was dedicated to the life of the Shanghai Jews. I was not actually aware of any Jews in China, let alone such a large number. It was interesting to hear about all the families who moved from Europe to flee persecution. There were many true saints in China like Dr. He Fengshan, sometimes referred to as the "Chinese Schindler". He issued many life-saving Visas to Jewish people in Europe so they could legally flee to China to find asylum from WWII and Nazi Germany. This man was very humble and low-key, and people didn't even know how many Jews he saved until many many years later. Incredible.
Dr. He Fengshan, sometimes referred to as the "Chinese Schindler". A true saint, the Chinese Consul General in Vienna, Austria, who issued many life-saving Visas to Jews in Europe to move to China
Shanghai Jewish Chronicle from 1943
Cartoon Art by a Jewish artist
During the time of WWII, China and Japan had a very complicated relationship, but nonetheless, some Japanese officials also helped get Visas for European Jews, so they could travel form Europe to Shanghai via Japan.

The Jews in Shanghai did live in this Ghetto (amongst the sites where we walked today), and while not the most ideal of living conditions and while they did have restrictions placed on them, this was not on the level of persecution that Jewish people were suffering from in Europe at the time. There was some talk of camps in China from Nazi officials in Germany, but this never came to pass. No one is sure exactly why this was, but our tour guide explained that there are several theories. Some people believe there was a secret backroom agreement between the Japanese occupiers of Shanghai and Victor Sassoon, the owner of the Cathay Hotel (now, the Fairmont Peace Hotel where we are staying!) and of many many other major properties in the Shanghai Area. He was incredibly well-off and owned many of the ports, and apparently the Japanese wanted access to these shipping ports and owed Victor Sassoon a favour for this access. There are also some theories that the existing relationships between the Jewish people and the Chinese had some effect on this. Some also believe that all the Jews in China were spared further and extreme persecution due to the fact that it was 1942, and the war was getting closer to completion and Japan wanted to distance itself from Nazi Germany. Whatever the reason is, it was really fascinating and unexpected that Shanghai had it's borders so open and welcoming to Jews fleeing from Europe.

There was something I read there saying how China accepted more Jewish refugees than several other major countries COMBINED - countries you would have expected would have worked harder to help out. This was just very awesome. This really gave me a great feeling that the Chinese people and the Jewish people share a special bond and I am glad that we remain very respectful of each other. I have a lot of Chinese friends (growing up in multicultural Canada and also going to the University of Waterloo), and I've always noticed similarities between the two cultures. My buddy Andrew and I growing up always had very similar structures of parenting from our respective parents, and some very similar cultural things too - a lot of emphasis on family, and being home to eat dinner together, community service and being a good citizen, etc. We are good friends for a good reason! As the comic art from a WWII-era Jewish artist living in Shanghai says above, "(We) like the Chinese!" This was really encouraging to see how much Shanghai cared about Jewish Refugees during the War and I hope my fellow Jews around the world always remember this supreme act of kindness.

Outside the Synagogue
Cafe at the Refugee Museum, with old storefront signs from the Jewish Ghetto restored
Recreation of Shanghai's old "Cafe Atlantic", which was a popular restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto
We walked outside to check out the re-creation of an old street cafe that existed in the Jewish ghetto. On the way out we got some cool Shanghai Jewish Museum pins, and then took off towards the Confucian Temple.

Walking down alleyways towards the Confucian Temple
The Confucian Temple was cool, quiet, and a nice opportunity for lots of photos. We wandered around for a while, learned a little from our tour guide, and went into a jade store in the Temple where someone tried to upsell us to a ton of expensive jade jewelry. Ignoring the upselling part, we continued to wander the gardens, check out some cool teapots, and take lots of good photos of the 2 of us.

Prayer area
Beautiful lake
Good times :)
A huge teapot!
Chicken Teapot
Awesome rock
New and old
Another one at the Confucian Temple
Awesome bush
Awesome gardens
After a 30 min walk or so, we headed into a Free* Tea Ceremony. (Free is with an "asterisk"* here because, as we found out, there was a huge upsell at the end of this too!) Oy!

We had a good time listening and learning from the tea ceremony guy, and a chance to try some Herbal Confucius Teas... not bad. My favourite part was this crazy metal frog on his tea board which only had 3 legs and had a coin in its mouth. This is to show that "wealth comes in but cannot exit". The best part about it was when he poured hot water on the frog, it changed colour :) Gimmicky... but AWESOME. He also made us a Jasmine Flowering Tea which was Springs' favourite.

Tea Ceremony
Trying it out
Asking lots of questions!
After we finished the tea, again there was a super hard sell. He showed us tons of things and was really interested to sell us something, and everything was greatly overpriced. We had paid an entrance fee to the temple so we already figured we were supporting it, so it seemed a bit odd that there was so much selling going on, especially a temple of all places! We were uncomfortable with the amount of pressure to buy something and also the awesome colour-changing frog was 300Yuan ($50!!!!) so there was no way I was going to buy it. It also seemed in bad form to negotiate with someone at a temple, so we politely left and the tea dude seemed somewhat indignant. Anyway, off we went.

Our tour guide for the day was quite impressive in his extreme mediocrity, as he seemed to essentially be taking us to existing tour sites and then dumping us off there and letting the tour guide at the actual location do all the touring for us. We did get some interesting comments from him in the morning about the Jewish Ghetto area before he took us to the Museum, so that was pretty solid. Otherwise, we were more than ready to just get back to our own schedule and touring comfortably on the Metro on our own. He offered to continue along with us towards the Jade Buddha Temple, but we decided we were more than fine continuing ourselves so we politely ditched him about an hour before our tour time was supposed to be up. I think he was keen for lunch anyway so we both went on our merry ways.

Perhaps too over-confident in our navigation abilities, we headed towards the Jade Buddha Temple on the Metro and then proceeded to get sufficiently lost for an hour as we tried to find it. That adventure was not without it's pluses though, as we ran into an old man and asked for his help, to point to the Jade Buddha Temple on a map. He showed us and when we left I said, "Xie Xie!" and he go SO psyched that I spoke some Mandarin... he was beaming a huge smile and was just so excited and he patted me on the back. It was hilarious and awesome. A little while later we got to the temple, and it was immediately more legit than the situation at the Confucian Temple.

Jade Buddha Temple
Monks at the Jade Buddha Temple
This was quite a peaceful spot, and as usual on this trip, our timing must have been spot-on. We heard that the temple was always so packed with visitors, but actually it was quite calm and very enjoyable. We heard some monks chanting, and saw people burning incense and praying. We had a Vegetarian Lunch there, and the Baozi was good. The other 2 noodle dishes were a little weird and it was not quite "Eating lunch with the Monks!" as Lonely Planet had advertised, but we had a good time nonetheless. There was some weird fruit on the juice menu that we'd never heard of and I almost ordered it, not seeing that the price was about $25 for a cup of juice! I was glad that Michal noticed before I ordered it ;) Unless it was some glorious combination of Mango, Cherimoya and Passionfruit (unlikely), prob $25 was a little steep :)

Old and new
Crazy apartment built into a rock formation
Fruit at the mall on the way back to the hotel. Awesome Cherimoya and HUGE cherries on the right!
After the temple, our plan was originally to go back to Xintiandi and to go to the Hotwinds shoe store we saw there and buy some of the Toms-like casual shoes since they were super nice and a great deal. We really ran out of time (and steam) and so we instead headed back to East Nanjing Rd to go back to the hotel... we arrived at the station, and to our surprise, there was a Hotwinds Store right there in the East Nanjing Station! What luck!

I got a cool navy blue shoe with a British flag on the back, and Michal found some awesome Canada flag shoes for my Mom! I really liked those too but they were a Women's Size and only went up to size 7, so they wouldn't have fit me. That was a fun little shopping trip. Then, on the way out of the station, there was a CRAZY AWESOME fruit stand with everything imaginable. The Cherries there looked NUTS. The fruit was insanely fresh looking and awesome. I wanted to eat it all. Instead, I "settled" for getting a Coconut/Cherimoya juice!!! WOW that was good. I downed that as we raced back to the hotel. We got back just in time to change, chill for a very short time, and then off to dinner and a show!

Tasty Yunnanese Food for dinner
Crazy building
Dinner tonight was super tasty Yunnanese food. We had some beef, chicken with vegetables, a full fish (but sliced into pieces), wine and beer, and a super light chocolate cake for dessert for someone's birthday.

From there we went to the "Era" Chinese Acrobatic show. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What an insane show!!!!!!!!!!!! It was totally freakin' nuts and absurd. The first moment that totally blew me away was a kung-fu style section where the guys on stage flipped through very tall spinning rings on the ground after running full-tilt at them. Crazy. Then there was a super crazy Ferris-Wheel type apparatus with guys walking around inside of it as it spun really quickly... and then instead of walking inside of the (somewhat) protected rings, some of the dudes started walking along the OUTSIDE of the rings... you could see how insanely precarious that was as they were stumbling a bit to maintain their balance and ensuring they didn't plummet all the way from the ceiling onto the floor. That was insane. Then, to take it up another notch, some of those dudes walking on this apparatus as it spun at insane speeds started JUGGLING FIRE?!?!!! What the!??!! Insane.

There was then a short intermission, time enough to get some Mentos Cola and Mentos Mango candies and calm down a bit from the sheer insanity and amazingness  of what we just saw.

And then, again! The piece-de-resistance of the 2nd act was not 1, not 2, not 3, but SEVEN guys on motor bikes all driving in one of those metal sphere bike cages. WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How that is even possible and how they all survived that absurdity is truly amazing. It was just nuts. Like Cirque De Soleil, but every single thing is insanely dangerous and there are no safety mats or crash pads anywhere. Just amazing. A really exciting and insane show. I loved the live music too.

Back we went to the hotel and took a quick shot of the Pearl Tower from the street. We then got up to the root and... the lights on the Pearl Tower were off, again! Dang it! We decided there was no point in going all the way over to the other side of the water to go up the Jinmao Tower if all the lights were off already. Darn. I was really looking forward to that. :( But... you can't do literally ALL the things, so it was OK. We got some nice photos up on the roof and we had such a good time in Shanghai that it was going to be sad to be leaving already tomorrow. What a fun time.

Pearl Tower at night
On the roof at night
Good times!
We packed up our stuff for an early morning departure tomorrow and ate some mango and dragonfruit before sleep.