Friday, February 25, 2011


We stayed two days at this World Class city. Hong Kong is really over the top. Although this former British colony has been a part of China since 1997, it is one of the freest and business friendly cities in the world. As you walk from the port through the city on Nathan Road, the major commercial street, you can feel the excitement and vibrancy. For the past 200 years or so, Hong Kong has been described as an "entrepot", a warehouse and trading center without import and export duties. Singapore is another. The busy port of Hong Kong receives goods from all over Asia and ships them to the West.

This tiny "nation" of 5 million has limited land to expand, so every available piece of land is utilized. Businesses are crammed into tiny alcoves, maybe 5 feet wide, with merchandise on the walls up to the ceiling. Street vendors abound. Many of the people milling about on the street are hawkers attempting to entice the tourists into their stores to buy tailored suits and dresses, handbags and knockoff watches. Most of the tailors are from India. Hong Kong is truly a melting port, as one sees people of many nationalities mingling in the markets.

We visited vertical shopping malls where it was difficult to locate the exit. We got lost in several enormous shopping malls over the course of our trip, mainly because I couldn't understand the maps at the information centers. I don't read Chinese very well.

Signs for Rolex watches are all over the place. Some of these watches may even be real. Western restaurants like Outback, TGI Fridays, Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC are well represented. On a prominent street corner is a Shakey's Pizza--I haven't see one of those in a long time. I was window shopping and spotted a sale for designer silk ties. The Indian hawker grabbed me and brought me into the store where I purchased several high quality ties for about $5 apiece (American). Close to the port we visited a store selling carved Chinese jade--some pieces were for sale at 5 million HK ($700,000 U.S.). In Hong Kong, as well as most of the countries we visited, American money is accepted.

One thing I found unusual was that in Hong Kong they speak Cantonese, while in Shanghai they speak Mandarin. Cantonese and Mandarin speakers literally cannot understand one another--like an Englishman and Frenchman attempting to converse. However, the Chinese characters for both languages are the same, as they represent ideas rather than sounds. Thus, the Cantonese speaker can write a letter (or email) to the Mandarin speaker, and they will both understand.

At dusk, we rode a double decked bus ride through the financial district, teeming with people, as we observed the daily lives of the natives. I sat on top of the bus while Dianne rode inside on the lower level, because she was still nursing her leg injuries and had difficulty with stairs. Many of the largest buildings house banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions, not to mention hotels.

Each night, they put on a spectacular laser light show--the props are the high rise buildings overlooking the harbor with computerized lights operating in sync. After the show, we had dinner at the floating Peking Garden restaurant--guess what!--Chinese food. We dined on a delicious 11 course meal including Peking duck, bok choi, octopus, sweet and sour chicken, Singapore curry noodles, noodles with soy, fried rice with vegetables, egg foo yung, and dim sum dumplings. I enjoyed dinner very much.

After dinner we went to the Temple Street Night Market--the day market is located somewhere else. Haggling over prices is expected, and if you know quality, you can get some good buys. We purchased a cashmere Burberry scarf for Dianne for about $7. It was probably a knockoff, but it was of good quality. At the same stall, a bright orange Harley-Davidson windbreaker caught my eye, and I schlocked 'em down to about $30 (U.S.), but then decided to purchase a red and black Ferrari jacket for the same price.

The next day when we took a harbor cruise on a sampan, it was as cold as San Francisco harbor in July. I was very happy to wear that warm jacket. Many people live on the harbor on small houseboats--Chinese junks, presumably in junkyards, financing them with junk bonds.

We visited a jewelry factory where we listened to a lecture on jewelry. This is geared more for the women tourists. As in tours in other cities we have visited, after the lecture, the doors opened and we were greeted by an army of salespeople that descended on us like mosquitoes. Every price is negotiable, but we didn't buy anything there.


Going back to the 1700's, the British imported huge amounts of tea from China. In return England exported luxury manufactured goods to China. The English suffered a large trade imbalance for which the Chinese insisted they be paid in silver. Silver was expensive, and to correct the trade imbalance, the British decided to export less expensive opium to China. The opium was imported from India. Many Chinese became addicted, and for obvious reasons the Chinese emperor banned opium. The British continued to smuggle in opium, and when the Chinese resisted, the British source of income went away, and war broke out--the First Opium War (1839-42). The British won, and the prize was Hong Kong Island.

The British Parliament was upset. The loudest voice was that of the newly elected William Gladstone, a future prime minister, who believed that England should have gotten more. They demoted their chief negotiator, Captain Elliott. They effectively shipped him to Siberia--in this case the obscure Republic of Texas where he was appointed Charge d'Affaires.

Several years later, the British felt their merchants were mistreated by the Chinese, and the Second Opium War (1856-60) broke out. The British won that one also, the spoils being the Kowloon Peninsula.

In 1898, the British needed additional land for the defense of the colony, and they signed the Second Convention of Peking, giving the British a 99 year lease for the New Territories, 368 square miles of islands and mainland, adjacent to Kowloon. The lease expired in 1997. Although Hong Kong and Kowloon were given to the British in perpetuity, by the terms of the Sino British Joint Declaration of 1984, the British agreed to turn over the whole ball of wax to the Peoples Republic of China in 1997, which they ultimately did. China agreed to keep Hong Kong as a separate entity, and retain its separate and unique character as a trading center. Many feel the ultimate solution to reconcile China and Taiwan would be a similar arrangement. Hong Kong residents must obtain visas to travel to Mainland China.

Despite the changing of the guard, most of the streets have retained their British names. There is a Queen Elizabeth Hospital. There are 5 streets named after Queen Victoria plus Upper Albert Road and Lower Albert Road, named after her husband. There is a Prince Edward Road, a Gloucester Road (after the Duke of Gloucester), and Edinburgh Place (after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh). There is even a Princess Margaret Road.

Victoria Peak is still Victoria Peak. We rode the funicular railway up to the 1800 foot peak at a 45 degree angle. At the top is a large shopping mall, public parks and expensive houses overlooking the world class skyline and Victoria harbor. Between 1904 and 1930, the British authorities did not allow Chinese to live on the Peak, although now it is essentially based on wealth.

Hong Kong is truly an Asian Tiger, a center of commerce and banking, with a high standard of living. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this dynamic city-state built on free trade.

NEXT: Ken Goes to Viet Nam but the U.S. Government Will Not Pay for the Trip.


Friday, February 18, 2011



We boarded the Ocean Princess with about 680 other passengers and set sail for Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Islands, south of Japan. Actually, Okinawa is part of Japan, the smallest of 47 prefectures (states) in Japan. We landed in Naha, the capital, a city of 300,000. Okinawa is a strategic island, situated in the middle of the trade route between Japan, China and Southeast Asia. As such, it was worth the price of a major battle during World War II when much of the island was destroyed. The Japanese had heavily fortified the island, and it was honeycombed with tunnels. Today, a large U.S. military base still operates there and significantly helps the economy.

We visited the beautiful Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage Site, which was destroyed in the war and has been completely restored. It is painted vermilion red. the architecture is Chinese, but the interior is Japanese, with mats covering the floors. There's not much else to see in Okinawa, and we returned to Kokosai Street in Naha to do some shopping in the market.

There is an elevated monorail railway which runs the length of the island. We rode a tour bus however. On the main street, we quickly located the McDonald's, which we do in every city we visit. We were walking with a couple of elderly ladies from Oregon who were on our bus. Millie and I started talking, and it turned out she was also an Illini--from the Class of 1953. Her late husband was a lobbyist in Springfield, and she knew every major Illinois politician of her era, several of whom were later fitted for striped suits. Millie was a fan of Chief Illiniwek, whom we both mourn the passing, caused by political correctness run amok.

We went to the public market where Dianne tried on kimonos. There is a distinct way of fitting it and wrapping it around. We took several photos of the experience.


We returned to the ship for a day at sea the following day, January 26th, which was Australia Day. This is a major Australian holiday to commemorate the 1788 founding of the first White settlement there. (The first Black settlement was about 30,000 years ago, on a Tuesday, but the date was not recorded.) The (white) settlement was at Botany Bay, commanded by the British Captain Arthur Phillip who sailed with 11 ships, 759 convicts (191 were female), 13 children of convicts, 211 marines (with 46 wives), etc.

Our ship was decked out in green and yellow, the Australian colors. Several of the crew entertainers are Australian, and they passed out green and yellow leis for us to wear. I asked if they saw Sydney and Adelaide. They said no, but they saw Fred and Sylvia on the ship.

The Asia cruises bear little resemblance to Caribbean cruises. There were no first time cruisers or honeymooners as far as I know. This cruise was for adventurers, not sunbathers, although there were a few. Most of the people I talked to had been around the world, some both ways. Many had cruised to Antarctica.

We participated in the trivia contests, which we did on most sea days. Usually, the contest was won by "Mr. Clark" sitting in the back of the room who was well known by the crew members. As it turns out, "Mr. Clark", actually Brian, or if you're dyslexic, "Brain", and his wife Isabel spend most of their lives on cruise ships. A British couple, officially living in British Columbia, they have logged over 2600 days--about 8 years--cruising. Since they've been around the world a few times, I considered them to be the mavens of any upcoming port. The next day, we were scheduled to land at Keelung, Taiwan. Mr. Clark said it rains 365 days a year there. We asked, "What about Leap Year?" He replied, "then it snows!". That is his sense of humor.

He also told me the story of an elderly woman who essentially used the ship as her retirement home. He didn't identify the cruise line. On an Antarctic cruise, she was dying, and they kicked her off the ship. They don't walk the plank anymore, but they ferried her to South Georgia Island where she died. They didn't want her to die on the ship--too much paperwork.

The ship has activities for everyone, and they are listed in the daily newsletter, called the Princess Patter. I called it the Pitty Pat, after the GWTW character. So if you're a friend of Bill W., you can meet with him. (I know that's the AA group.) There was no listing for Friends of Bill (FOB) who held the good jobs during the Clinton Administration. But I was trying to figure out who are "Friends of Dorothy". I was planning to go and find out, but Dianne told me to stay away. As it turned out Dorothy sat at our table at dinner, and we became good friends, but she insisted she wasn't that Dorothy. I never got to meet the other Dorothy.


Taiwan has an interesting history. It was Japanese from 1895-1945 when it was returned to China. It was called Formosa which was the name given by the Portuguese. The main island is located 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, but it also includes 79 islands, some of which are as close as 1 mile from the mainland. In 1949, Chiang Kai Shek, the president of Nationalist China fled there with his government when the Communists took over mainland China. The Chicoms have been attempting to get Taiwan since that time, isolating it diplomatically and periodically threatening it with military action. Given that acrimonious history between the two Chinas, one would expect the two to have little or no contact with each other. But Mainland China is Taiwan's biggest trading partner (Hong Kong is fifth). Many mainland factories are owned by Taiwanese. Taiwanese frequently travel to the mainland. Taiwanese natives are a minority on the island--most people are Chinese, from the mainland.

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, is an Asian Tiger, a strong, highly developed market based economy. There are four Asian Tigers--Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. Taiwan is heavily industrialized, and is a leader in information technology. It is the world's leading manufacturer of computer chips.In the Asian competition for the tallest buildings, Taipei, the capital city is right up there. This is a prestige competition, and Taiwan 101 is the representative--a 101 story building, which was partially obscured by the smog and haze.

We visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, a magnificent building flanked by the National Concert Hall and the National Theater, all in traditional Chinese architecture. The building is a tribute to the Generalissimo, a cult figure, who died in 1975. The Memorial contains a huge bronze statue of Chiang, in traditional Chinese dress. It is guarded by servicemen with an hourly changing of the guard. Exploring different halls, we saw photos and artifacts of Chiang's life.


Chiang Kai-Shek was a protege of Dr. Sun Yat Sen who led the 1911 Revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Chiang was the leader of Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) which exists to this day. Even today, Chiang is a controversial figure.During World War II, he was known in Pentagon circles as General Cash-My-Cheque because of the huge amount of financial aid he kept requesting to fight the Japanese and the Communists. General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, (no relation to "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, former baseball pitcher and congressman), the head of U.S. Forces in China, Burma and India, argued that Chiang was incompetent as both a leader and a general. Stilwell often rankled Chiang, probably getting off on the wrong foot when Stilwell originally called him "Mr. Shek". Eventually, the charismatic Chiang prevailed, and the outspoken Stilwell was replaced. Chiang may have been a SOB, but he was our SOB. He is revered in Taiwan to this day, so be careful what you say about him.


The Martyr's Shrine is the national cemetery honoring Taiwanese war dead. The Changing of the Guard is a spectacle to be seen. Six guards with gleaming rifles and shiny boots with cymbals attached to their heels, perform elaborate routines of heel clicking, rifle tossing and bayonet twirling in perfect execution.


This is another magnificent example of Chinese architecture with several pagodas still in use as a shrine by the Chinese parishioners. Dianne had an accident there. While descending the narrow steps to the ladies room, she fell and severely injured her ankle (torn ligaments) and bruised the other knee, requiring stitches. She was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the Taiwan tour. For the last 2 weeks of the trip, she wore a walking cast and used a crutch. But there was no way she was terminating the trip, and she hobbled over to see virtually all the attractions for the balance of the trip.


This museum features thousands of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks collected by Chinese emperors over thousands of years. The artworks were removed from the museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1931 to protect them from the Japanese invaders. They were moved from city to city over the years, and during the Chinese Civil War, moved to Taiwan. The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has demanded the return of these objects over the years, but the Taiwanese insisted that the items were safe with them, particularly during the Great Cultural Revolution under Mao. In recent years, both Taiwan and Mainland China have exchanged articles for exhibition.


This is a luxury hotel, an enormous vermilion red pagoda which I had difficulty capturing on the camera. Completed in 1973, it is the world's tallest Chinese classical building, at 285 feet high. It is decorated with traditional dragons as well as lion and plum flower motifs. When it was built, it was the tallest building in Taiwan. We ate a decadent lunch at the buffet with every imaginable type of Chinese food available.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011


We began our Odyssey in Chicago on January 19th, flying 14 1/2 hours in Business Class on American Airlines. The plane flew almost due North, rather than West as one might expect. during that long plane ride, I read a book about Magellan, the famed explorer, whose ship was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately for Magellan, he didn't get to finish the trip. He was killed in the Philippines when he foolishly intervened in a war between two local tribes. The airplane food was excellent. The appetizer was char sin duck and crab bundles. The main courses were chicken panang or beef filet with fayot sauce or ginger pesto salmon. I had the salmon.

We flew over Lake Superior, Canada, the North Pole, Siberia, and eventually Shanghai, China, which is at the same approximate latitude as Dallas and San Diego. You'd expect it to be warm, but no! We thought we had left the snow behind in Chicago, but when we arrived in Shanghai, it was snowing there also. Virtually the entire flight was in daylight, except over the Arctic.

At Pudong International Airport, no marching bands awaited us. In fact, in mid-afternoon, this huge airport in this city of 19 million was almost deserted. The authorities had difficulty with the portable stairway because of ice, and eventually they had to tow the plane back to the gate so we could disembark. airplanes have no reverse gear. We sat on the tarmac for an hour, waiting for the tow truck.

The reason for all of this was that they closed the airport because of the snowstorm--they had maybe 3 inches but they don't have snow equipment.

In any event, the Shanghai Hilton sent a car to pick us up but the driver was not there when we proceeded through customs. Fortunately the airport people were friendly and they directed us to the Hilton booth and then walked us to the car with out 4 suitcases. We drove through Shanghai on modern expressways past large apartment complexes. We crossed the spectacular Lupu Bridge, the world's second longest arch bridge with a main span almost 2,000 feet. We reached the Hilton, a classy hotel with 800 guest rooms and a huge lobby with several restaurants in it. At check-in, they whisked us up to the 38th floor to the Executive lobby which offers free computers and Internet as well as a huge complimentary buffet breakfast. The hotel gave us a personal shopper, Anna, who showed us to our room, a suite with all the amenities including 6 foot bath towels. Tourism is important to the Chinese, and they treated us very well. We were extremely tired from jet lag and crashed about 7 P.M.

The next morning, we signed up for a Gray Line tour, which we like to do in any city unfamiliar to us. We were picked up in a 10 passenger van by our guide Roy and the bus driver Mr. Xu (pronounced "Shu"). Two other tourists were on our tour, Gopi from Mumbai and Gladys from Malaysia. We got to know these ladies as well as the city of Shanghai. Incidentally Shang means "above" and hai means "sea". City above the sea! Shanghai is the world's second busiest seaport, close behind Singapore. We were bundled up for the cold, but most of the snow had been removed.

The city was preparing for the coming Chinese New Year in 10 days of so. Bright red lanterns, dragons and other decorations adorned most buildings and spanned the streets. This New Year is the Year of the Rabbit, and cute bunny rabbits were part of the decorations. It is customary for Chinese people to return to their hometowns for the New Year to be with family. This is not like Americans leaving town for the Fourth of July weekend--the New Year celebrations go on for about 40 days. The Chinese have an annual mass exodus, and Shanghai was not as crowded as it might have been. The streets are very clean, but the air is polluted, though not as bad as other Chinese cities like Beijing. A haze lingers over the city, partially obscuring the tall buildings. Many locals wear white masks covering the mouth and nose to filter the air or because the mask is perceived to prevent airborne diseases. Some ladies wear them to keep their skin fair--a sign of beauty.

Shanghai has a long and rich history. For more than a century, the European powers and the Japanese took advantage of the Chinese and established trading concessions in China, especially in Shanghai, but also Hong Kong, Macao and other cities. There's a French area, a German area, a British area, even a Jewish neighborhood. All this ended in 1949 when the Communists took over.

Some of the highlights of Shanghai include:


We visited the famous Yu Gardens, built 400 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. In the middle of the city is a peaceful, classical garden with pagodas, fountains, ponds and snow covered flowers. Just outside is the Yu Yuan Fashion Street and antique zone (Old Town)

with small shops selling arts and crafts and fast food restaurants featuring the popular dish dim sum (steamed or fried dumplings) and also a McDonalds.


We were taken to a tea house. Needless to say, tea is popular in China. The Chinese have an ancient ritual of making tea, and the lady demonstrated that for us. She reached into a jar and pulled out what appeared to be a walnut and dropped it into a pot of hot water. In a minute or so, it spreads out and blossoms. The water is poured into our cups and we have tea. We brought home a box.


Most Chinese are Buddhists, as well as Confucians and Taoists. These religions are not mutually exclusive the way Western religions are. they are syncretic. People are often all three. The Chinese go to this temple to pray. They grab incense sticks and light them at a communal fire and present them to the Buddha statue. The temple is unheated, and on this cold day, any fire was welcome. There are several golden and jade Buddhas in the temple including a Laughing Buddha and a Reclining Buddha, not to mention a large reclining marble Buddha donated by Singapore. These were brought to Shanghai by the monk Hui Geng who obtained them on a pilgrimage in Burma. We took photos but were careful not to disturb the parishioners.


This is a four story building with exhibits covering the entire history of China for the past 3-4 thousand years. Galleries are dedicated to ancient jades, calligraphy, furniture (Ming and Qing Dynasties), bronze, paintings and even arts and crafts by the 54 or so Chinese minority groups. We couldn't do justice to this huge museum in an hour, and we probably couldn't have absorbed it all, but we did experience a broad overview of Chinese culture.


This is the waterfront quay on the Huangpu River which runs into the nearby Yangtze. The term Bund comes from the Hindi-Urdu language and means "embankment" or "levee", and is not to be confused with the German Bund. The Bund is a promenade along the river flanked by numerous Art Deco buildings from the 1920's and '30's which comprised the headquarters of the major banks of the era. Prominent among them is the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC) which you're probably familiar with today. Also one can see the Sassoon House, now the Peace Hotel, built by Victor Sassoon, a prominent British-Jewish merchant banker. He was instrumental in bringing thousands of European Jews to Shanghai (under Japanese occupation) during World War II. You may recall the famous hairdo of the 1970's by Vidal Sassoon, a distant relative.

Across the river is the relatively new Pudong New Area, the financial district with its beautiful skyscrapers. All built within the last 20 years, these buildings are architectural wonders. There is a statue of Mao Zedong and a memorial to the war dead. Shanghai even built a tunnel under the river to accommodate last year's Expo (World's Fair). They did it in less than a year, but then they didn't have to contend with impact studies, environmental lawsuits, labor unions, local politicians and other causes of delays. Contrast that with the shorter Boston tunnel which took about 20 years to build.


This is an obligatory visit to pay homage to the predecessors of the current government which is Communist in name only. The Party was founded in 1921 in the French Concession in what was called the First National Communist Party Congress, which sounds more like a bank to me. The museum features plaques and documents, but none of us tourists cared to visit it in depth, and we walked past the building but did not venture inside.


At lunchtime, the our Gang of Four sat down at the table and the waiters kept bringing us food. the guide told us the Chinese eat anything that moves (except for the car). Chicken sausage wrapped in bacon didn't agree with me. But I did enjoy fried beef, mushrooms and noodles, shrimp balls, spinach. We had pau, tasty Chinese spherical buns resembling large marshmallows, filled with custard or red beans. They did have spring rolls, or egg rolls as we call them. On every menu is the popular dim sum, the steamed dumplings. We saw no chop suey or chow mein, which were actually created in San Francisco.


We were treated to a demonstration of unraveling silkworm cocoons on large looms, stretching them, and creating silk. then we were ushered into a large department store selling finished goods like dresses, shirts, scarves and ties.


Oysters are raised in a tank and seeded with the materials to allow them to make pearls. This particular species of oysters are not good for eating. The workman would slice open the oyster with a special type of knife and take out as many as 20 pearls from one oyster. Then we were taken next door to a showroom where an army of salespeople attempted to sell pearl jewelry to us.


The Waibaidu Bridge, the first drawbridge in Shanghai was built in 1907 by the British. It marks the North end of the Bund area. the Chinese (but not the Europeans) were required to pay toll to cross it. Eventually the Chinese purchased the bridge as a symbol of their nationalism. Many young people are eager to get married there because of the bridge's iconic status.


On our second full day in Shanghai, we decided to explore the city on our own. The subway station is located 2 blocks from our hotel, across from the Jing 'An Temple, a famous Buddhists monastery looking misplaced amongst the high rises. Shanghai is an enormous city of 19 million people, and it has 9 subway lines fanning out in every direction. Of course, the maps and instructions are written in Chinese. There are no ticket agents--you must use automated machines. Hey, I have difficulty using these back home, but at least I can read the directions.

So I'm standing there with some 100 yuan notes (about $15), and I'm not sure if the machine makes change. We asked several people if they spoke English, and finally a young lady helped us figure out how to buy the tickets--only 3 yuan apiece. But I had to go outside and buy a bottle of water to get smaller bills. I put in a 10 and it spat out 4 coins change.

We decided to go to the Pu Dong Financial District and see the skyscrapers. We couldn't figure out which way on the Number 2 train. fortunately, another friendly person helped us out. We passed East Nanjing road and People's Square stops and arrived at Lujiazui Station. This is the financial district, all built since 1990, and these buildings are 1000 feet high or more--some of the tallest buildings in the world.

The major intersections have pedestrian overpasses reached by escalators. The through streets are 7 lanes each way, and those overpasses have probably saved many auto-pedestrian accidents. We walked around the intersection and found the Super Brand Mall, a large indoor shopping mall, the largest in Asia. It dwarfs anything in the U.S. Other than its size, this mall could be in any major American suburb except that all the customers are Chinese. The stores, however, are familiar to all of us. We window shopped at Best Buy, Sephora, Nautica, Louis Vuitton, Armani. We roamed through a department store featuring every familiar brand of lingerie. The food courts have McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, as well as Jiu Jitsu and several Asian food chains. I couldn't figure out the KFC chicken meals--the menus were, of course, in Chinese, so we went to McDonald's for burgers and fries. Actually, most foreigners point to a picture of the item and order it--we'll have the Number 3!

After lunch, we wanted to visit the distinctive iconic Pearl TV Tower--1000 feet high with large spheres around a concrete column. Street vendors were selling pictures of it outside. We didn't buy. The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is next door, and we went inside. The admission is 140 yuan--about $22 apiece, and we had a beautiful experience there. We saw the shark tank and the sting rays as well as other exotic fish and marine life.

The tallest building, the Shanghai World Financial Center looks like a giant can opener, with a large cutout around the 100th floor. Nearby is the Jin Mao Tower, the 3rd tallest building in the world. Shanghai has the tallest buildings anywhere, including New York City. We later found out that Hong Kong and Singapore are certainly comparable as tall buildings go.

That evening, we took the night tour cruise on the river to see the brightly colored night lights covering the enormous buildings of the financial district. Shanghai was the leading financial center of Asia until 1949 when the banks all moved to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover. In recent years they have returned--with a vengeance.


We found the people to be friendly and accommodating. Most of the young people speak English although the older folks don't. We make it a point to observe people, and they appear to be prosperous and happy. They joke around like people do everywhere. The young Chinese girls are fresh faced and beautiful. The school kids wear uniforms and are as mischievous as kids everywhere. They are as curious of us as we are of them.

In 2010 Shanghai hosted the World Expo, attracting 73 million visitors. As infrastructure goes, no expense was spared. the superhighways, tunnels and pedestrian overpasses are well maintained and clean. If Chicago is the City of Big Shoulders (as Carl Sandburg described it), Shanghai is the 800 pound gorilla. Everything is huge. Despite it all, I was told that street crime is rare, and felt safe everywhere.

The government is Communist and totalitarian but perceived as beneficial as long as one doesn't rock the boat. To limit population growth, the government limits the number of children a couple can have and can force a woman to have an abortion. Back in the 1970's, Deng Xiao Ping essentially embraced capitalism although he didn't dare call it that. He figured out that a market based economy works better than the Communist system, and his famous quote was "I don't care what color the cat is so long as it catches mice." In the process, many have said that Deng Xiao Ping helped more people prosper than anyone in history--1.2 billion.

NEXT: The Ocean Princess cruises to Okinawa, Japan.