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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reaching out

One of the facets of my current job involves taking part in what are called Outreach activities. These involve sending one or two foreign service officers along with one of the locally employed Chinese staff to visit some of the cities located in our consular district, which includes the provinces of Ānhuī 安徽省, Jiāngsū 江苏省 and Zhèjiāng 浙江省. On these trips we usually meet with officials from the local Foreign Affairs Office, visit hospitals, companies and NGO's and give visa talks to interested students and businesspeople. The idea is to get out of Shànghăi 上海 and develop contacts in places that don't normally receive much attention from foreign government officials, and we're often warmly welcomed in the cities we visit.

This evening I returned from one such trip with two of my colleagues, an overnight visit to Tónglíng 铜陵, a city in the southern part of Anhui Province noted for its copper industry. The following are some photos of the non (or semi)-official aspects of our trip:

Preparing to depart from Shanghai's Hóngqiáo Railway Station 上海虹桥站 for Nánjīng South Railway Station 南京南站. From Nanjing, we took a bus to Tongling:

The lobby of the Anhui Tóngquètái New Century Hotel 安徽铜雀台开元国际大饭店. The great thing about staying in cities out in the provinces is that you often pay three-star prices for five-star facilities:

The view from my second-floor room balcony:

Many cities in China have urban planning museums, which can be very interesting. They usually have mock-ups of their grand designs for the future. In Tongling's case, it's called the Xiwu Development Zone, and signs of construction could be seen everywhere as we were driven around the city. I inadvertently caused some embarrassment when I asked how much the overall cost of the project was, only to find out the two officials guiding us around the museum didn't know:

New apartments are going up all over the development zone, in scenes being repeated all over China. Our Chinese colleague wondered where all the residents were going to come from. The answer was it was expected people currently living in the older sections of Tongling would move in, along with those migrating from the surrounding countryside:

That evening, I went for a walk in the rain in the area around our hotel. Despite having a population of nearly 750,000, Tongling was the quietest city I've so far visited in China. That was partly due to the hotel being located in the development zone. The hotel fronts an attractive lake, which in turn is close to the Yangtze River 长江:

Back in my room and watching Chinese opera on TV:

The view from the rear of the hotel:

This appeared to be an outdoor bar of sorts, but the weather put paid to that notion:

The view from the front, just as we were getting to ready to leave:

 Considering its long history as a copper mining and processing, it should come as no surprise Tongling has a museum devoted to the subject. It turned out to be quite interesting, though plans are afoot to move the collection into a mammoth building in the new development zone later this year:

Before our last official function, a visit to a large copper and aluminum wire manufacturer, we were taken to see the International Copper Sculpture Park, an attractive park containing a number of (you guessed it) statues made of bronze. The authorities of Tongling, like their compatriots across the country, clearly have a lot of money at their disposal to spend on modernizing their city. It should be noted, however, that local government debt in China is reaching alarming levels:

An interesting dish that appeared at the end of our lunch: puffed barley and shrimp wrapped in a crunchy fried shell of some kind. Quite tasty. In case you're wondering, Tongling's culinary claim to fame is ginger:

A quick pic of yet another condo project, taken from the car as were being driven back to the bus station:

Traveling by public long-distance bus - one of the "perks" of working for the government:

Back at Nanjing South Railway Station for the train ride back to Shanghai:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bund from M on the Bund

Mmm on the Bund

This Sunday is a cold, rainy one, meaning it’s a good day to stay inside and sit in front of the TV, watching baseball games and HBO. The contrast could not have been greater with the previous Sunday, the day after we had returned from our weeklong trip to Guìlín 桂林 and Yángshuò 阳朔. Last Sunday was a beautiful day, warm but not hot, with clear blue skies. And for once, we timed things just right, having reserved a table for brunch just prior to leaving on our vacation at one of Shànghăi’s 上海 premier restaurants, M on the Bund 米氏餐厅.

Amber in front of M on the Bund…:

 …and on the Bund 外滩:

M on the Bund was one of the first of the many upscale restaurants now populating the Bund. The food is surprisingly unpretentious considering the setting – I started things off with a mimosa, followed by a bowl of ribollita, an Italian bean soup. The main course was called a “Weekend Fry-up” – steak, lamb, sausage, bacon, a grilled tomato, sautéed onions, mashed potatoes and a fried egg. Dessert was chocolate mousse and Turkish coffee. It wasn’t cheap for the three of us, but it was certainly nice to get out and do something like this as a family. 

The best thing about M on the Bund wasn’t the food, as good as it was. It was the outdoor 7th-floor terrace giving great views of the Bund, the Huángpŭ River 黄浦江 and Pŭdōng 浦东:  

Following brunch, we took a short stroll to the start of the Bund, the 1916 McBain Building, the first in a long line of beautiful waterfront buildings:

Turning right, we took a different walk in time, going into the Shanghai Natural History Museum 上海自然博物馆. The museum will soon move into a modern building set to open sometime this year, but for now it remains housed in the 1923 Shanghai Cotton Exchange Building. Inside, it was still 1956:

Hopefully the new digs will better showcase the museum’s allegedly large collection, but the some of the dead things on display were pretty cool: