Wednesday, often called Hump Day, marked the last day in Beijing and our first day in Shanghai. We squeezed in one more bit of sightseeing Wednesday morning in Beijing. We went to the Hutong area, one of Beijing’s last and oldest neighborhoods. A hutong is traditionally described as a quadrangle of houses with the main house in the North. North is a very important concept to the Chinese and many historic areas are on a North-South line. When the Communists took over, they changed the main emphasis to East-West. They built a broad, multi-lane road that runs for 30 miles on an East-West axis. In fact, Raffles Hotel sits on that boulevard. While the government felt the change was important, people still held to the North-South concept. The government has relented and when they built the two main structures for the 2008 Olympics, the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, they built them on a North-South line. The government now claims to be the custodian of the traditional China.
Our visit to the hutong began was a leisurely stroll through a market area and we were guided by Lijia Zhang, noted author and lecturer. Our next activity was a ride through the hutong area in rickshaws. We stopped along the way to admire the scenery and we spent some time in a park where our senses were bombarded by so many interesting sights and sounds–senior citizens exercizing, a man practicing calligraphy on the ground using a long brush and water, heated games of table tennis, grandparents and grandchildren playing together, and myriad of bicycles parked while people visited.
After a stop at the Westin Beijing to “test their plumbing” (one does NOT want to use the public restrooms, if possible!), we headed to the domestic terminal at the airport. We were escorted through the maze of people and queues and found our way to our gate for our flight to Shanghai. One last bit of elan, Imperial Tours had ordered each of us a takeout lunch of chicken and caesar salad to be delivered to the airport from one of their favorite delis.
The flight was uneventful (a good thing) and when we landed in Shanghai, we were greeted by our hosts for the second part of our journey, Patrick MacLeod and Gerald Hatherly and the staff of A&K. Once on our way in our motorcoaches, our guide gave us a brief history of Shanghai, often called “Paris of the East.” I love Shanghai! Michael and I have talked about renting a place for a month at some future day so we can fully embrace this city.
We exited the motorcoach and were surrounded by applause from the staff of the Ritz Carlton Pudong, who lined the way inside. They provided a lovely aperitif, we picked up our custom-made black velvet Mao jackets with brightly colored lining and headed to our rooms. My girlfriend, Sam, audibly gasped as we entered our room. “Oh my God,” she said, “this is wonderful!” The girl has good taste because recently Conde Nast Traveler rated the Ritz Carlton Pudong as the best hotel in the world!
Quick wardrobe change again and, voila, time to go to Flare, the loft-style restaurant and night club on the 58th floor. Food, food and more food–all of various Asian countries–was provided and we were entertained by a trio of female violinists playing pulsating and lively music.
Next stop was back to our suites and the oh so comfy Ritz Carlton beds. We are most definitely in Shanghai!