“Where has the moon got to?” The cloudless azure sky stretched limitless in all directions as I paused to catch my breath and look above—the view of the horizon all round was obscured by the outline of mountains. We were at the top of the world and wondering, “Are we really standing on one of the few man-made structures visible from the moon?” The undulating wall followed the profile of the mountainous land it stood on—at places the ramparts were so steep we had to clamber up the steps whose rise was higher than the tread wide. Just then, an elderly American couple passed me. My thoughts darted back to reality and I saluted their spirits—the incredible feeling of being there was making it difficult to keep thoughts coherent. Down below, an establishment of dwellings seemed as though it was in the middle of nowhere.
One of the cars of the continuously moving rope way scooped us off the platform down at the foot of the hill and hauled us all the way up to the top of one of the mountains from where we started our Great Wall experience. With our feet dangling under us and the land underneath retreating fast, the adrenaline was sent rushing even as the wheels trundled every time the car passed one of the suspension towers. The echo of my team mates’ ecstatic screams filled the valley below. On our way back, the experience was altogether different: hurtling down the meandering toboggan chute was a perfect way to round out the adventure.
The Olympic Garden (the site of Beijing Olympics), another marvel of engineering, stands testimony to the fact that China has arrived. The gigantic screen stretched across the concrete trusses surrounding the curved walls of the stadium, with dazzling images of ice hockey playing, threw flashes of light across the square sprawled around the stadium. It was easy to imagine the grandeur and the cosmopolitan atmosphere the place would have had eight years ago. The chilly air, the floodlit ambience and the starlit night sky made a perfect combination—the Olympic torch burnt close by, a true representation of the human spirit.
A train journey from Shanghai to Beijing and back gave us a glimpse of the Chinese countryside. As the train gathered speed, the high-rise concrete apartment and office blocks gave way to endless acres of arable parcels of land dotted with polytunnels. Vehicles along the freeway running alongside and complete with all the street furniture looked like toy sets before the bullet train racing at 300kmph.
Cut to Shanghai alleyways. An interesting sight is the deftly maneuvering scooters navigating Shanghai’s streets despite heavy traffic—both pedestrian and vehicular. The lidded pannier mounted behind the pillion seat gave the scooters a utilitarian look. Sometimes it seemed like local business proprietors were carrying around their stuff, while at other times it was regular office goers trying to snake through the heavy rush hour traffic.
An open air tourist bus ride across the city gave us a low-down on the major landmarks of Shanghai—the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Bank of China Tower, the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Tower. From the topmost deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower, the sight of the city sprawled across thousands of acres in all directions was a thrill to watch as well. Pleased as Punch.
Chopsticks! They watched curiously as I struggled. Eventually, I gave up and went back to fork and knife. The minions at the local restaurant looked on as I ate my broccoli-mushroom and rice. I must admit that even after Hong’s repeatedly demonstrating how to hold chopsticks between the fingers and carry the food all the way to the mouth, I couldn’t do very well. Clearly, this art will take some getting used to.
Finally, a mention of the local cuisine. Strange smells wafting across the city streets made us realize we were away from home. Freshwater fish, eels, crustaceans, seafood, and water plant—all kept alive in water-filled tubs with air bubbling through. Street food culture in Shanghai is pretty popular. Patrons of all ages dining outside along the sidewalks are a common sight.