A day full of ‘lasts’
China Day 9
This was our last day in Shanghai, and our last full day in China. We begun the day with a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple, which was both a historical site and an operating buddhist temple. About a third of the people there had come to pray, and the other two-thirds were crowds of tourists, shamelessly taking pictures and wandering all over the complex. It was strange to see such a juxtaposition. I shared some wonderful conversation with my friend Rebecca about our observations. Neither of us knew much about Buddhism, and were full of questions for our tour guide. I learned that the great, ornate statues were representations of their gods, and people would pray before this images to appeal to the deities. Many of these prayers were requests for success, wealth, and prosperity.
Perhaps the most interesting part was observing the difference in behavior between our two tour guides. One of them was probably just over forty years old, and he conducted himself respectfully. It is considered good luck to step over the temple thresholds with your left foot, and he did this consistently and naturally. He kept a low voice and respectful demeanor as he responded to our questions. Our other group guide looked to be just over twenty, and he acted very differently. He blundered in and out of rooms, loudly explaining what we were seeing with little regard for the others who where there. He would not have looked out of place if he was giving a tour at a crowded historical building; he seemed indifferent to any special conduct within the temple. For the rest of the day I engaged several locals in conversations about Buddhism, and found out that it is changing rapidly. The younger generation was much less interested in practicing Buddhism than the older folks in the community. Interestingly, the presence of new technology was cited as a reason for this. Why would technological advances affect younger people’s interest in practicing their culture’s religion? I got the impression that Buddhism in China could very likely be massively scaled back in the next half century. I’m curious to see how this pans out.
I left the temple teeming with questions too numerous and complex to resolve. We stopped by an area called Tianzifang, where we got one last chance to explore some alleys packed with shop fronts. I finished up my gift purchases but wished we had more time; I found these alleys very enchanting.
We performed our final concert at Shanghai University. We were joined by some string soloists who doubled the solo parts with our own violinists for our Vivaldi piece. Then, as a finale, we were joined by a choral ensemble from the university for a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. This was likely the last piece of music that I would play with the Westmont Orchestra, and I could not have chosen a more appropriate and beautiful conclusion. The end came sooner than I expected, and we crowded outside for a photo-op with our fellow musicians and hosts.
We gathered for our final dinner and celebrated a successful tour with more tasty food and a humorous awards ceremony. Our tour came to a finish with a fantastic cruise on the Huangpo River. Shanghai was truly a beautiful city by night. We were surrounded with huge skyscrapers, lined with colorful and flashing lights that danced playfully off of the water. Two of the buildings had full digital screens on one side that were over ten stories high. It was an impressive skyline to behold. Rebecca and I leaned out over the water on the stern deck and watched the river roll lazily by. This was wonderfully relaxing, and we chatted about how incredible the trip had been while gazing on the countless lit towers of industry and commerce. It was remarkable to consider the growth of this country (and especially this city) over the course of our short lifetimes.