During my trip, I took along a notebook, like I did during Hajj, and filled it with my thoughts.

Here’s the first entry:

I’m writing this from the Nanjing Hilton which must mean it’s Tuesday, I think. (Oct.9th)

Shanghai has a population of about 23 million.

In a city!

The whole country of Canada is what, 32 million and that’s spread across the second or third largest country in terms of land mass, in the world!

You see sky scrapers everywhere in Shanghai! And then older buildings often with red or blue tile roofs and a window on the roof.

They’re the original housing.

How do you best describe Shanghai?

Basically it’s a mixture of 21st century and third world.

The first day we spent in Shanghai going to a place called Yu garden. It’s a Ming dynasty property (from circa 1450) in the middle of downtown Shanghai–a little Oasis of beautiful Chinese culture and tradition in an increasingly westernized, secularized, materialistic world.

It obviously cost oodles of money! And the folks who made the garden weren’t at all subtle about the effect they were trying to achieve.

In any Chinese garden you need water, plants, rock (mountain) and paths (I think those were the four elements). The rocks were hauled from miles and miles away from Tai lake, at great expense! The bigger the rock, the bigger the expense!

And usually this was done during the winter time. They’d drill into Tai lake and pour water on the road for miles. Overnight it would freeze and they’d push the rock on down the road. Repeat the next night and day.

And this Yu Garden really had some doozies!

Big huge boulders with gaping holes in them! Like the Jade Rock.

I think the most expensive was shaped roughly like a woman.

And according to the principles of Feng Shui the water (that represents money) has to be in front and at the back there is the rock so the money can’t run away or something like that.

It’s all about money!

They had so many different shaped doorways!

See the crooked pathway? That’s to prevent ghosts and spirits. Apparently the Chinese believe that ghosts can only go straight, they can’t follow zigzags so you’ll find many of the pathways are not straight.

Even in the cobblestone pathways I often saw the pattern of coins.

Money, money, materialism, materialism. Made me feel sick after a while.

But then it isn’t only Chinese culture that is getting materialistic. It’s a  world wide phenomenon.

I guess when things get really tough people look at wealth and are so hungry for it because every waking hour is so focused on survival that they look hungrily at success.

China is still a developing country, my tour guide reminded me, and it’s true.

The Chinese remind me so much of Muslims in fact. Not in obvious ways, but in their desire to be perceived well. I remember years ago, at Islamic conferences, the lectureers would tell us that we’re ‘representing’ Muslims and basically we should treat people with generosity, grace and kindness. Basically ‘do a good deed, it’ll make people look at Muslims and Islam in a better way’.

It doesn’t work.

It’s very hard to change a bigot’s mind.

If people have a bad and racist outlook toward a group of people, and you’re just as nice as you can possibly be, it won’t change their mind.

They’ll just think you’re the exception to the norm.

Even my parents used to constantly remind us that we were ‘ambassadors’ to our race and religion.

And that people would judge all other Pakistanis/Muslims etc based on the way we behaved.

Put a LOT of pressure on us!

China definitely seems to be in the same position and that became painfully obvious when we were first standing in the zigzagging immigration line, ‘foreigner’ section, waiting to have our passports stamped and our visas checked.

They had some of these LCD TV screens up and one of the messages that was playing was an admonishment to Chinese immigration officials to smile!

They had to tell them to smile!!!

Say “Ne hao” (hello) and basically be friendly.

That they were representing China to the world–and would be the first impression that foreigners would get of the country and basically to show their best selves to the world. (I just thought it was so funny that they were playing this for the foreigners to see!)

It made me chuckle–then my husband hissed at me, “Are you crazy? Why would you be laughing? They could be watching!” So I sobered right up. Didn’t want to cause an ‘international’ incident!

Funny thing is when I later told this to one of the Chinese tour operators, at first she laughed, then she agreed with my hubby. They could be watching and I could have gotten into trouble!

So much for good first impressions!