Shanghai: Sophisticated and Fun

A dragon wall tile decoration at the Jade Buddha Temple.

By Carla Sue Broecker

It is the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and we are on board the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, a ship we have enjoyed sailing on a number of times. We have arrived in Shanghai and are docked right downtown in the middle of a “forest” of brightly lit skyscrapers. The ship has already been wonderfully decorated with Christmas trees, green garlands and bows on the banisters of all the staircases. As we are arriving, the entertainment staff is adding to the holiday decorations everywhere.

Shanghai is always fun and exciting. It is a very sophisticated city. For a good look take the elevator in the Jin Mao Building to the Observation Lounge on the 88th floor. It looks like NYC from that vantage point. Rather than getting off the ship on arrival, we chose to catch up with a few friends and leisurely get ready for the evening’s festivities to bring in the new year.

For dinner in the evening we made reservations in one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, Prime 7. Its menu focuses on large shrimp cocktails, large crab cakes and large steaks and pork chops. Oh yes, and they also have very nice Maine lobsters and crab legs. Vegetable sides are definitely made for sharing and are delicious. The most over-the-top item on the menu is a popcorn sundae for dessert. This assault on your Weight Watchers point count contains a scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, covered with chocolate and caramel sauce and topped with Cracker Jack popcorn, whipped cream and the anticipated crowning blow, a cherry. No, we went for the crème brulee and key lime pie this time.

We shared our table with a charming couple from Vancouver. This was their first cruise and they were having the time of their lives. We hope to see more of them before they get off in Singapore in 19 days.

After dinner the cruise director, an Englishman who is a very talented singer and also a superb ventriloquist, entertained in the ship’s Constellation Theatre. He was followed by a magician who was not the most “tricky” if you get what I mean. But, it was fun.

At 11 p.m. all who were still able moved to the ship’s central atrium where lots and lots of champagne was being served and silly hats and horns were being passed out to help top off the evening at the magic hour. Nobody missed us when we slipped off a little early and went to our suite to gaze at the beautifully-lighted buildings lining the Bund on the east bank of the Huangpu River. Directly across from our balcony was the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It looks just like a monumental Christmas tree topper. It is brightly lit at night but sadly a fairly heavy fog prevented us from getting a good picture. That said, it is claimed to be the tallest TV tower in Asia and the third highest in the world.

The Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Institute.

After breakfast the next morning we were scheduled for a shore excursion titled “The Art of Shanghai.” We boarded our coach and after a 45-minute drive we reached the Jade Buddha Temple. It is reputed to be one of the most famous Buddhist temples found in Shanghai. The white jade Buddhas were brought to Shanghai from Burma in the 19th century. One is seated while the other is in the recumbent position.

After a lovely drive through much of the historic area, we arrived at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Institute. The Institute is China’s first establishment dedicated to the study of traditional arts and crafts. Founded in 1956 in what used to be a grand French mansion, its appearance would remind viewers of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The institute carries out research and production in 19 categories of arts including wool embroidery, silk embroidery, ivory and jade carving. Many artisans who are known nationally and internationally work there and tourists can watch them create their works. Items including snuff bottles, tapestry, silk, ceramics, jade carvings, lanterns, personalized chops and jewelry are available for sale.

The next day we were at sea. This is always a good time to catch up on laundry or watch a movie or two – we watched “Wonder” with Julia Roberts. Then we went to dinner with Peter and Jill Corliss whom we had not yet met, but live part of the year off of Covered Bridge Road in Louisville.

After breakfast the next day we docked at Xiamen, which means “a gate of China.” Located on the southeast coast of China, Xiamen is a tourist city famous for its attractive seascape. It has been a major seaport since ancient times and boasts a wide gulf with deep water. The city has been called the Egret Island because of the hundreds of thousands of egrets inhabiting it. With all of its attractions, we still decided on “A Day in Quanzhou” shore excursion, a seven-hour tour of this ancient city located two hours from Xiamen.

On arrival, we drove to the Kaiyuan Temple and the East and West Pagoda. Also on these spacious grounds was a very interesting ancient boat museum. The lunch venue was in a large hotel where we were served a monumental Chinese lunch. There were all sorts of wonderful things even if we didn’t know what they all were. Everything was served on a Lazy Susan-style table and we kept the table spinning. For the more timid, they did have sweet and sour pork with peppers and pineapple.

The hotel’s lobby had a number of interesting shops, one of which included a six-foot tall wooden Buddha. I didn’t even ask the price after I found a cute little football-sized wooden pig that was 200 U.S. dollars. So I left it there. The two-hour ride back to Xiamen provided a two-hour nap, not needed but most appreciated. Just before dinner we sailed away toward Hong Kong where we were expected to arrive after lunch the next day.

Top: The entrance to the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai.

Sailing into Hong Kong is one of the most special treats you can experience on a cruise. The docking site is a circular harbor completely ringed by enormous, architecturally creative buildings. And, you should see the way they light up at night. You never get tired of seeing the show they can put on.

We docked at the Harbor City Terminal. It is multi-story retail madness. Every luxury brand you can think of is represented there in spades. Almost all adult clothing brands have separate children’s versions of their retail outlets. All brands are represented in one extravagant retail presentation after another.

But enough of the retail heavy breathing. We were on a mission. We worked our way out of the terminal and found a money changer near the Star Ferry terminal. We needed Hong Kong dollars in exchange for the Chinese money we had. Yes, Hong Kong has different money. No big deal, but we needed money for a cab to the Jade Market, a wonderful warren of tiny stalls with more jade, pearls and other souvenirs presented in an avalanche of “Hey, lady, look here” being chanted from every direction.

Last year when we stopped at Komodo Island in Indonesia, we bought a bunch of natural and black pearls that needed to be knotted into wearable strands. Our friend, Cheung Mei Kuen in shop #435, has a friend that beautifully knots pearls for almost nothing. She likes champagne so we took her a bottle from the ship and unloaded the pearls. She said they would be ready the next afternoon.

When we got back the next day we shopped the rest of the Jade market and bought a dozen tagua nut carvings on the way to meet Cheung Mei. These darling little carvings are made from a nut that is the size of a walnut. The carvings included a turtle, panda, squirrel, elephants and other cute subjects. While bought to give to friends, they are hard to give up.

That evening we had dinner with the Cruise Director, Ray Solaire. His home is in the Lake District of England. With his bachelor brother, they have inherited an enormous 22-bedroom home. He is a great singer/entertainer and has been sailing on cruise ships for 50 years! More about Ray later.

Bottom: Some of the Ebikes found in all large Chinese cities. The are rented on mobile phone apps for a very small sum.

Center: The 13th century five-story Renshou Pagoda on the grounds of the Jade Buddha Temple.

Tomorrow we are off to Halong Bay, Vietnam. VT