Spicy Shanghai: A report from Mr. Gustavson

Installment #3 from EFZ/Shanghai from Mr. Gustavson.

Because the school is essentially closed on weekends, we spent Saturday and Sunday visiting Shanghai.  I have already reported what we did Saturday, so will begin here with Sunday, another memorable day of getting to know a little bit more about this enormous and fascinating city.  In the morning, Yvonne took us to the Museum of Science and Technology.  Personally, it’s been a long time, maybe 30 years, since I’ve been to this kind of museum.  My memories of visits in Munich and Chicago are of museums celebrating mostly mechanical forces with various hands-on exhibits where you push or pull or hit a button and something happens.  These exhibits displayed various ways of generating power.  The buildings, magnificent in their time, certainly, had become a bit musty.  The Shanghai museum, built very recently, is striking from the moment one exits the subway and enters the huge gardens that surround it.  Curved and slightly asymmetrical lines mark the enormous facade that frames a huge geodesic dome at its center.  The building is encased in glass and full of light and looks outward on the skyscrapers of downtown Shanghai.  The exhibits go all the way from displays typical of a Museum of Natural History to interactive sections devoted to robotics and informational technology. 

From here, we went to People’s Park, apparently the hub of downtown Shanghai.  After hearing that Andrew (Harrison) and I like spicy food, Yvonne took us to a Sichuan restaurant where Zoe joined us and ordered another amazing meal of various preparations of rice, vegetables, fish, beef, and chicken, almost all of which were spicy in unexpected ways.  We had mushrooms with a small dish of what must have been the pure essence of wasabi on the side.  One drop was enough for a mouthful.  Two drops were dangerous.  We also had beef with what looked like peppercorns (hundreds of them).  One was enough to make my mouth tingle and feel alive (and almost cry for help).  There were many wonderful flavors, and we were thankful to have such good guides to help us understand how to enjoy them.  After lunch, we went to the People’s Museum in Central Park, an ethnographic, anthropological, and art museum with notable exhibits of seals, calligraphy, ceramics, and paintings on scrolls.  From there, what else?, more food – a light evening collation, in other words a nine-course meal beginning small with salad in peanut sauce, various rice dishes, hot and sour soup, and jellyfish head (yes, you read that right) and building toward a whole roast duck and a special Shanghai preparation of shredded pork.  We then headed toward Shanghai Circus World for an acrobatics show that built gradually from relatively traditional and simple numbers to increasingly difficult ones.  Many acts had elements of beauty and grace, all demanded a high level of athleticism and skill, and a few were downright dangerous.

Yesterday morning, the school’s director received us in her office to welcome us officially to EFZ and to offer us a couple of school-related gifts, including a key to the school that is also an ingenious key to technology.  She was very gracious and made us feel the importance of the EFZ exchange for both schools.  Afterwards, we all went our separate ways.  I tried a beginning Chinese class with a group of visiting Japanese students, who had already had a year of Chinese, and I was actually able to field a question (an easy one).  In the afternoon, Andrew headed into Shanghai to wander the streets to take photographs and found one quarter that was particularly interesting for the tension between the old and the new.  Shanghai has been in a building frenzy for the past 10 or 15 years and has to be careful not to lose too much of the traditional city in the process.  Meanwhile, Anne-Marie and I went to visit Professor Qiu, Gao’s former French professor, at Jiaotong University, where Gao also once taught.  Professor Qiu has been the director of the French-teaching program at the medical school connected to Ruijin Hospital, one of the best hospitals in Shanghai.  He helped us with our own personal project.  We are trying to learn something about Anne-Marie’s paternal grandfather, who was the police commissioner of the French Concession in Shanghai in the 1920s.  Prof. Qiu took us on a walk through the neighborhood where he once worked and eventually to the police headquarters which he once headed.  This building is now being renovated, so we put on hard hats and went inside to visit.  We had the impression of walking in his footsteps.  Afterwards, Prof. Qiu took us on a charming walk though this district and, after a memorable afternoon, left us at Fuxing Park, from where we headed to Xintiandi to meet up with Andrew.  There, we had a traditional Chinese meal of pizza and penne.  (Don’t tell anyone.)

We will devote our time today to some rest and recuperation, catching up on e-mail, and activities within the school.