Saturday, January 30, 2010

LOST: Message in a Bottle

The day that all LOST fans have been waiting for is finally almost upon us! After more than eight months of waiting, the premiere episode of the final season airs on Tuesday February 2! Now I'm not one for spoilers and I avoid them like the plague, but when ABC announced the "Message in a Bottle" contest a few weeks ago, I gladly entered. The prize for eight hundred fifteen lucky winners was a flash drive containing the first four minutes of the sixth season premiere of LOST. I thought as long as ABC was handing it out and it was merely the first four minutes of the show, it wouldn't be a real spoiler. Alas, I was not one of the winners, however is now streaming the same four minutes on the LOST page of their website. If you want to remain totally spoiler free then stay away, but if you want a preview of what is to come on Tuesday, go check it out, if for no other reason than to begin speculating on what it all means. Enjoy the preview and stay tuned for my thoughts on the premiere episode on Tuesday night!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shanghai: Part 2

I've been lax in finishing up my 2009 business of detailing our November trip to Shanghai, but life has left me little time to sit down and write about it.

When I last wrote, I described our initial impressions of Shanghai from the perspective of our ride from the airport to our hotel and our time at the hotel itself. After a couple of days of recuperation, we left the hotel with our guide book and bilingual map in hand ready to see Shanghai.

Downtown Shanghai Skyline

That first day in the city was unseasonably cold and even included snow flurries (apparently a Shanghai rarity). Our guide book outlined a couple of walking tours so we decided to start with the original Old City. Our walk began outside Yuyuan Garden and made our way around the outer walls to find the entrance gate.

My impression of the city at that point was that it was quite crowded although not as bad as I was prepared for. Perhaps the cold weather kept some people inside and off the streets. On our walk towards the gates of the garden, we passed many shops selling all kinds of products. We suddenly began to feel very foreign as we easily stood out as tourists who could be accosted by English speaking shopkeepers. At first their persistence was a bit amusing but it quickly became extremely annoying and we were happy to find the entrance to the garden.

Our first stop in the garden was the City God Temple. It was very interesting to see not only the many Chinese tourists but also many people burning paper and sticks in a form of worship.

After spending some time admiring the statues of the various Tao deities, we moved on to the open market area in the center of the garden. The architecture was beautiful and traditional however the area was a major tourist trap full of stores selling lots of junk and other souvenirs that we had no interest in. Of course a tourist spot wouldn't be complete without the ubiquity of Starbucks!

Huxinting Teahouse

After leaving the garden, we continued to follow the walking tour and found that most of the points of interest were actually tourist traps full of cheap souvenirs so we decided to abandon the Old City walking tour and head towards the French Concession for the second walking tour in our book. During our walk we passed through the well manicured Taipingqiao and Fuxing Parks. Amid the nature we came across a statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, one of the many juxtapositions of Communism amid the rampant Capitalism of Shangahi.

The French Concession was much less crowded than the Old City and it really did remind me lot of Seaux, the Paris suburb where I spent a summer during college. After visiting a few shops and seeing the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, we found a taxi to get out of the cold and make the trip back to our hotel.

Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas

Our second excursion out in Shanghai came a few days later. The weather was a little warmer thanks to a very clear sky with almost no smog. We decided to devote our afternoon to visiting a few art museums before attending an acrobatics show that evening. We began at the People's Square where we were warmly greeted by several young Chinese students who wanted to practice their English. After a few short conversations about Shanghai and American television, we made our way to the Shanghai Art Museum for lunch and a look at Chinese artwork (including several pieces of Communist propaganda).

Shanghai City Hall on the People's Square

Shanghai Museum on the People's Square

Clock Tower of the Shanghai Art Museum

Communist Propaganda Artwork

Communist Propaganda Artwork

Communist Propaganda Artwork

We finished up the afternoon with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) and a walk in the People's Park.

Tomorrow Square from the roof of the MoCA.

Shimao International Plaza from the roof of the MoCA.

For our final day in the city, we decided to take a taxi to The Bund, the financial district of Shanghai. Unfortunately, we found almost everything, including the picturesque river side walk, closed for renovation in preparation for EXPO 2010. All was not lost though as we had a great view of the Oriental Pearl Tower and the other skyscrapers in the Pudong District.

The Bund, under construction in preparation for EXPO 2010.

Pudong District

Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai was interesting and I'm glad I was able to tag along to another of Roxi's conferences, but we really didn't get the full experience of China since we never left the city. On one hand, it would be nice to see some of the smaller cities and other things like the Great Wall, but on the other hand, the more I travel outside of the United States, the less I want to continue said travels. Perhaps it's because we spent so much of 2009 outside of the US, but the more I travel, the more I appreciate all that we have access to here in the States. I am looking forward to the first half of 2010 in which we will be doing very little traveling until we go to Cabo San Lucas for my brother's wedding in July. Until then, we will stay put in Memphis and better acquaint ourselves with our new town!