My wife and I visited China from April 12 to the 24th. Our primary reason for the trip was to visit my son and his family in Shanghai. My son, Geoff and his wife, Bria, are the proud parents of their three month old daughter, Ava Patricia.
While my previous visits to China were limited to Beijing and Hong Kong, this was my first visit to Shanghai. The city is simply overwhelming in scale. With a population of 24 million, it has the largest city population in the world. To put this number in perspective, New York City has a population of 8.6 million, roughly one third the size of Shanghai. The city skyline is something out of a science fiction movie. Hundreds of enormous skyscrapers, one of which is the second tallest in the world dominate the skyline. Shanghai has every kind of shopping, restaurants, and museums. Our son treated us to some incredible food including rice dumplings filled with shrimp soup. He also hosted a dinner party for friends and colleagues at the Napa Wine Club, famous for its wine cellar, featuring amazing rare wines from all over the world.
My wife and I took a side tour to Guilin and Xian (pronounced Chee-An). Guilin is a city in the Northeast part of the country. The city is stunning for its topology, with nearly vertical mountains, composed of limestone which accounts for their unique steep shapes. With a population of 4.7 million, Guilin is another modern, growing metropolis, featuring hundreds of high rise apartment buildings. By the way, it seems as if everyone in urban China lives in high rise apartment buildings, many of which stand empty, monuments to over development. We took an excursion north to a terraced tea growing region accessed by a gondola. One wonders how the farmers could scale these steep terraced slopes to plant and then harvest the tea,
Our last visit was to the city of Xian due west of Shanghai. This is one of the oldest cities in China with a population of 8.7 million. For example the famous “silk road” began in Xian and wound all the way to Rome. Perhaps our most interesting excursion was a visit to the terracotta army about two hours from Xian. This site was the burial mortuary of emperor Quin Shi Hang, the first emperor of China. He allegedly began construction of the burial site at the age of 11, completed in 209 BC. The site spans 38 square miles and is comprised of three separate burial pits. The largest pit contains 6000 full size terracotta warrior figures. Interestingly, no two figures have the same features. The other smaller pit contains about 1500 figures. The third pit was a command center with about 500 figures of generals and other commanders. The entire site is replete with a museum, parking and lush gardens and walkways. I was reminded of Disney World in Orlando. We had the opportunity to meet one of the farmers, Mr. Yang, who discovered the site in 1973. He is somewhat a celebrity in the region and will happily sell you an autographed book of the site.
China clearly has its challenges. Traffic in Shanghai was menacing. Pedestrians and bikers have total disregard for passing vehicles. The intersections are death traps. My wife witnessed a collision between a cab and a biker, although the biker seemed OK. We didn’t experience the infamous smog but were warned that it could return momentarily.
This an amazing country. Its scale and natural beauty are stunning. Its modernity with its vast infrastructure and high speed rail, its modern airports and seemingly endless skylines of high rises attest to its explosive growth. I couldn’t help but think that China will be the dominant country of the 21st century and may surpass the US as the leading economic force in the world.