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Shanghai and Ningbo

Part 1: Shanghai and Ningbo
Part 2: Tianyi Pavilion
Part 3: Ningbo's Chinatown
Part 4: Shanghai
Part 5: World Expo 2010


I wrote about Sushila Singh in column 399. She'd brought me to Bombay, India, to speak to her mahjong club there in 2009. In 2010 she organized a junket to China. The purpose of the trip was to visit two mahjong museums: one in Chengdu and one in Ningbo. The museum in Chengdu opened in March 2008 and splits its focus between mahjong and tea culture. The museum in Ningbo has been around longer (I first heard of it in 2002). I was less interested in the Chengdu museum, but greatly wanted to visit the Ningbo museum, so gratefully accepted her invitation to that portion of the trip.

The flight over was not a good one. I was seated in the baby row at the front of the economy section, with no place to put my travel necessities, no working overhead light (so I couldn't read or do crosswords or sudoku), and the audio program did not include the soundtrack to the movies playing in front of me. At least there was a very nice Chinese instrumental folk music track in the audio program. I couldn't do anything but sleep, and was able to manage precious little of that. To top it all off, when I left the plane, my sunglasses fell out of the side pocket of my backpack (which I didn't discover until after having gone through customs).

In Shanghai, I was met by a driver Sushila's travel agent had hired, and was driven into the city. Even though I'd made Shanghai tile-matching games for nine years at Activision, this was the first time I'd ever been to the city itself. The only things I knew about Shanghai were that it was a special economic region of China, very vibrant and modern, with a colonial waterfront called The Bund. And sure enough, after a while I started seeing old architecture among the new, and I was deposited at the Astor House Hotel, a very quaint and very old brick building. In the lobby there were pictures of famous former guests: President Ulysses S. Grant and Albert Einstein among them.

I met Sushila and her husband Pete in the lobby cafe. I commented on the colonial charm of the hotel. Sushila said, "you mean decrepit colonial charm." I discovered the truth of that when I broke a flimsy old sofa in my room and saw the actual museum display on Sushila's floor.

I learned that Sushila's visit to Chengdu had not worked quite as planned. The mahjong and tea museum she'd wanted to see was shut down until June. She and Pete did manage to see pandas, anyway. And did a lot of walking, which was hard on Sushila's knees.

After I'd unpacked and freshened up, we went out for dinner on The Bund.
We ate at a nice place called Mr. and Mrs. Bund. Awesome food. Great view from the rooftop veranda.
In the morning, I went out for a walk on The Bund. A little foggy.
There's that colonial architecture.
Bunch of folks out having their morning exercise.
Looking back towards the Astor House.

After breakfast, we were driven to Ningbo by the same driver who'd picked me up at the airport. We went on toll road the whole way. The Hangzhou Bay Bridge is really long. According to Wikipedia, "At 35.673 km (22 mi) in length, Hangzhou Bay Bridge is the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world, but it does not have the longest cable-stayed main span."

In Ningbo, we checked into the Crowne Plaza. A much more impressive-looking place. No colonial charm, but also no decrepitude.
After checking in, we went to the hotel cafe for some lunch.
The cafe opens onto a garden patio with some odd statuary. Is that W.C. Fields? With a monkey?
There's even a whole ship in the garden. Guess it brought W.C. Fields to Ningbo so he could get himself a pet monkey.
I saw in the hotel directory that there was a mahjong room. Pete and I went to check it out. There were about 10 little mahjong rooms like this one, all with automatic dealing tables. Two of the rooms were in use. In one room, the men were playing shirtless. It was hot, I don't know why there wasn't A.C. in there. I decided the room without the shirtless guys made a better photo. The two attendants on duty had never seen any non-Chinese come to the mahjong rooms before, so they asked to have a photo taken with me.

After lunch, Pete and I explored the neighborhood. I needed a pair of sunglasses, since I'd lost mine on the plane, and Sushila wanted a walking cane. Across the main street near the hotel, there was a large Christian cathedral.

We found ourselves in a shopping area. A shopkeeper we'd asked about sunglasses had pointed us this way.
We didn't know it yet, but this place was called Tianyi Square. Kind of reminds me of a place I saw in Amsterdam in 2005 (when I was there for the OEMC), the plaza in front of the Royal Palace.
I bought my sunglasses in an optical store. Most of the shops here are fashion shops. Most (or all) of the customers are young folks.
I had no idea who this statue depicts. But by zooming in on the plaque in the photo, I found that he's Lodewijk van Berchem. Googling him and translating the info I found, it appears that he's credited with being the guy who discovered a way to cut diamonds. The statue might have been paid for by a company that has a jewelry store here in the square.

Pete and I posed with the statue. I had no idea that Ludwig was examining a diamond. I just wanted him to be pinching my nose. But my nose didn't cooperate.

No canes could be found, but we did accomplish part of the mission, so we headed back towards the Crowne Plaza.
Ningbo has its own Bund, and that's where we went for dinner. I chose a smoke-filled Mexican restaurant run by a loquacious Frenchman. Sushila was "in Hell," certainly a letdown after Mr. and Mrs. Bund the night before.


Part 1: Shanghai and Ningbo
Part 2: Tianyi Pavilion
Part 3: Ningbo's Chinatown
Part 4: Shanghai
Part 5: World Expo 2010

Sushila Singh launched her Mumbai Style Mahjongg site in 2012: http://themumbaistylemahjongg.com/.

© 2010 Tom Sloper