Night train to Shanghai

"If China is a dragon, Shanghai is its head."
- Deng Xiaping

The Rochester Oratorio Society caught an overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai on Monday. After much merriment and a fitful sleep, I woke before dawn to watch the Chinese countryside. Low, brown houses, lush green fields, and white egrets stood in the early morning mist.

We streaked past a coal plant, a recycling center heaped with plastic bottles, and a fish farm. ROS arrived at Shanghai at seven a.m. and walked into what I heard was the hottest day on record so far this year.

It's tropical. The cicadas are deafening. The heat stopped a few singers from wandering through Yuyuan, or Yu Garden, one of the few old pieces of Shanghai left to see and home to a famous garden commissioned in 1559.

Aside about health: I would guess that fifteen to twenty percent or more of ROS members have experienced digestive problems, despite avoiding the food and water that might create them. For two days, I personally felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I know of two singers that have had to skip a concert because they weren't feeling well. This morning at breakfast, three people at my table described having respiratory trouble since arriving in Shanghai.

Shanghai is so different from Beijing that it seems we've arrived in another country. Sycamore trees line the streets, and the sight of palm trees remind us we've gone south to a port city rising at the mouth of China's longest river, the Yangzi.

Beijing is the capital city of China. It's sprawling and cultivated, full of imposing gardens, ancient temples, wide boulevards, and official-looking office parks. Seventeen million people live there. Shanghai is often compared to New York City. With eighteen million people, it's laid out on a grid, contained by natural boundaries. Where Beijing spreads out, Shanghai thrusts up.

We've arrived in a sci-fi fantasy-land. The Oriental Pearl Tower, the tallest in Asia, stands on muscular concrete legs and looks like it might pull up and stride off to the South China Sea.

ROS singers zipped up the Oriental Pearl Tower to take in a panoramic view of the city. Then we boarded a boat for a nighttime cruise down the Huangpu River. We passed the Oriental Pearl and a thousand other buildings twinkling in the night. Whole buildings flashed and blinked on. Barges chugged past us down the muddy river, making waves and eddies that shimmered and writhed with color. Swallows dipped into the river. We turned our faces to the hot evening wind, catching whiffs of smoke, diesel, and sea air. A black freighter churned by, its red Chinese flag flapping in the wind.

Today we have some free time, and I'm hoping to explore the neighborhood around our hotel. Daunted by the heat, I'm also thinking about visiting the aquarium. This afternoon, we'll rehearse with the Shanghai Symphonic Choir for tomorrow night's concert.

A couple of clarifications about previous posts: we are not singing with the Shanghai Symphonic Orchestra, as I'd originally thought. I misunderstood the itinerary. Instead, we're singing at the orchestra's concert hall with the Symphonic Choir. The good news about this is that we're performing the same program as we did in the Forbidden City concert Hall in Beijing, plus a few combined pieces with the Shanghai singers. Second, ROS received a third prize in the China International Chorus Competition in the adult category. There was a children's category and one for "elders" as well.

The hotel we're staying in overlooks apartment buildings, a construction field, and a broad, raised highway. About every five minutes, a passenger train glides by with a whoosh.

Construction workers are renovating the room next door. Bang bang bang. Drrrrrrill. Tap tap bang. Grrrrrind. I can't stay here for long. Already, I'm getting a taste of what it's like in Shanghai, one of the most densely-packed cities on the planet.



Enjoyed your interview with Eric

Hi Brenda,

You have done a fantastic service to all of us back home and unable to travel th China. Your commentaries and photos have been fabulous and your last interview with Eric was so interesting and Eric has done us proud. I hope all travelers have recovered from their health issues and wish you all a safe and fun trip as you return home. Take care, Jo Ann