Shanghai postcard: Stunning buildings, bustling streets, a touch of history

I was not shanghaied in Shanghai and yes, that was somewhat disappointing for my over-active imagination.

However, my first day there, a bank security guard rousted me.

My unpardonable sin: I sat on a flower bed ledge to study my map. It was the right street, but was I going the right way?

The guard gave me the “get out” thumb. When I tried to ask the right way to the Shanghai Museum, he gave me a blank look and that rude, annoying thumb thing again, shattering the popular belief that English is commonly spoken in Shanghai and making me feel like a deadbeat.

Despite this unfortunate start, my five days in Shanghai, often getting lost, were magical for one primary reason: the architecture.

I’ve seen spectacular buildings in Hong Kong and Singapore, but nothing like the imaginative ultramodern buildings that have been shooting up in Shanghai in recent decades.

Coming from Las Vegas, where extraordinary architecture is commonplace, I thought historical buildings would capture my interest. And they did. The Bund, the Jade Buddha Temple, the Master of the Nets garden in Suzhou were all worthy sights.

But the skyscrapers, their lines, their angles, their grace and beauty, kept my head twirling and my camera clicking. Even my hotel, the Andaz in the former French Concession, was so remarkable it was featured in an architecture book.

I would have liked more time in Shanghai, but the grand plan was to join my father for a portion of his Holland-America cruise through Asia and the Pacific, a cruise focusing on World War II history.

I missed out on the military ports, but made Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Manila. I have wonderful memories of every one, although I can’t claim to any deep understanding of them.

Cruising, to me, is like an appetizer. You get a taste, but not a full meal. But I enjoyed those appetizers and came away realizing how ignorant I am about Southeast Asia. How could I live this long and not know that Dr. Jose Rizal was the national hero of the Philippines? As a history major, shouldn’t I have known that?

Vietnam provided a death-defying experience, long after the end of the Vietnam War. I am of the age where some college friends were fleeing to Canada and cutting off thumbs to avoid going to Vietnam, while others were serving. I was of the generation that opposed the war, yet here I was as a tourist. It was hard not to feel uneasy as mostly bad memories returned.

Yet a 45-minute rickshaw ride on the streets of Nha Trang was an unforgettable experience as we battled cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and motorcycles. Few wore helmets. Some motorcycles were carrying as many as four people, a man, a woman and two children sandwiched in between. It looked like one miscalculation could wipe out an entire family.

Let me share one more memory.

In China, I was hesitant to ask about the press since the China Daily had just reported that a journalist in Hunan had been arrested for writing a critical story about a company that was allegedly falsifying its sales numbers. Jailed by police for a negative investigative story? Unbelievable.

In Brunei, I felt more comfortable asking about freedom of the press. A tour guide said yes, there was a free press.

“Columnists are allowed to make suggestions,” he said in all sincerity. I politely refrained from laughing.

Now that the vacation is over, it’s time to get back to making suggestions.

Wonder if “suggesting” that Nevada’s elected officials refrain from kowtowing to power brokers, financial supporters and special interests would accomplish much?

Doubtful, but at least it won’t get me thrown in jail, at least not in Las Vegas.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275.