1. Chinese acrobat show in Shanghai. Unimpressive costumes, very bad make-up, elevator background music, no overarching theme or story; just pure jaw-dropping display of human abilities. Like 4 motorcycles riding in a highly synchronized fashion in a steel-wire ball about 20 meters in diameter, going around the equator and from pole to pole and somehow, incredibly, managing not to collide with each other.
2. Views from the on-the-river restaurant in Shanghai: 1930's High Street (The Bund) with authoritative 10-story financial buildings, reminding us of a St Petersburg waterfront, on the left; 2000's Pudong with what seems to be hundreds of modern, gravity defying sky-scrapers of the new-age multinationals on the right.
3. Shopping: I am usually not a big shopper, but this time I was in shopping nirvana. And this is without buying any of the $10 North Face jackets or $5 Gucci bags. My list: silk-embroidered slippers, tea, white-and-gold embroidered silk jacket, pearl necklace, silver necklaces with pearl pendants, red silk dress, silk handbag, chinese dolls, tiny tea set (with each cup the size of a vodka shot glass), regular tea set, tea cups, souvenirs, chinese painting, and a duffle bag to bring it all back in. I was trying to restrain myself while there, but once I got back I realized that I should have bought more...
- Lady, lady, coma-looka! Cheapo-cheapo.
- 280, but just for you 200.
- 30? You joking! Gooda, this is gooda silka.
- Ok, ok, final price 150.
- Giva you gooda price, real gooda price - 120.
- No joke now, gooda price 100.
- No, no, don't leave, final final price 70.
- 35? No, no money for me, no money. Ok, ok, 50!
- Just 5 Yuan, gimme 5 yuan more! Ok, 40 ok, you good negotiator, you good.
4. Getting massages at the end of a long hard travel day. Foot massage, head massage, full body massage - pick a new one every day. No music, no oils, no smells, just pure unadulterated hand-waving magic. And having chinese tea (or beer, or wine) and chatting with my co-ed classmates at the same time. Yet another item on my never ending "things to learn once I finish Wharton" list.
5. Hiking 6 miles on the Great Wall to Sumatai, zip-lining at the end. It is truly one of the great wonders of the world - a wall stretching as far as the eye can see, 1000 of times over. This is where you start to appreciate the sheer power of millions and millions of worker-people.
6. Watching the sunrise at Huangshan (the Yellow Mountains, where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed) from Lion's Peak 1890 meters high. Climbing up for about 20 minutes I managed to escape most of the crowds (the other folks were watching it from the peak appropriately called "The Monkey Watching Over The Sea of Clouds", to which one might have added "... surrounded by a sea of Chinese"), and was sitting on a rock all by myself with the only other peak visitors, 10 young Chinese guys, standing safely behind the metal chains.
7. Biking around Beijing - by far the best way to get around the city, especially at rush hour when there are no taxis to be had and the subway is too full of people even by chinese standards. Literally everyone and their grandmother is biking (in fact, there are more grandmothers on the bikes, as they don't drive). Going in a crowd of bikers, with a full-width bike lane (e.g., the width of a car, sometimes even wider) with special traffic signs for bikers; if only they did the same in Boston. Of course, the bike ride had to be followed by massages ;)
8. Getting a sense of China through the company presentations and talking to managing directors (both ex-pats and locals). Their war stories deserve a separate entry - China is an eclectic mix of western-style capitalism, with associated competition, astounding growth and incredible opportunities; and a soviet-style government planned economy with associated beaurocracy, localized bribery, expectation of kick-backs, dearth of management talent and unexpected gaps in work ethic.
9. Going up the thousands of concrete steps in Huangshan - 1000 meter elevation change, with all the trails (and there are at least 3 going from the bottom up and many more trails providing access to most of the 38 summits) made up completely of concrete steps, going straight up and down, not in zig-zags or serpantine. To us it seemed even more impressive than the Great Wall. And the steps were all in perfect conditions, with literally dozens of repair/maintenance crews working on sections of trails.
10. The view of the Forbidden City at the heart of Beijing, surrounded by all the modern skyscrapers from the temple on a 150 meter high hill in Jingshan park, created with the ground dug out of the moat surrounding the Forbidden City. The eunuch and concubine/harem stories complimented the absurdity of the Starbucks and "Made possible by American Express" signs in the Forbidden City itself.
I could go on (I feel like I should have mentioned the food, which was hit and miss, but the "hits" were really worth it), but than it would not be top 10 anymore...
I am China-sick already - can someone recommend a *good* Chinese restaurant? Dim sum in Chinatown on Sunday, anyone?