Old Shanghai is a Disney-esque maze of shops with Ancient Chinese architectural facades. It’s a cacophony of bright colors, exotic and familiar tastes, enticing aromas, glaring sounds, inexpensive (cheap) gifts for the family back home, and high quality merchandise.
The sales people work hard to lure the tourist into their shops with tantalizing promises of bargains and beauty and to insure that she doesn’t leave empty-handed.
I was looking for black pearl earrings to match the necklace I’d bought at the Summer Palace in Beijing last summer. I soon learned that the casual perusal of the jewelry counters was anything but casual. The pretty young women were ready with their calculators, offering one gem after another.
I gave up my quest for the black pearls when I realized that I could not determine if the pearls were authentic or if I were about to pay a fair price or an absurdly high price for fake pearls.
I decided that the one gift I wanted for myself would be wind chimes.
I looked in every likely shop. I asked in many shops … that was sometimes quite humorous as I attempted to mime the movement of the chimes and mimic the light airy melodies.
Thanks to a group of tourists from Germany, I found help from a nice woman who volunteers as a sort of guide in Old Shanghai. I breathed a deep sigh to find someone who understood me and could communicate with me.
She directed me across the street, into the gritty markets.
I admit that I was just a bit apprehensive because I was alone and obviously a tourist…my appearance screaming white senior citizen.
I kept my bag and camera close to my side as I pretended to know what I was doing. (Possibly my concerns were unnecessary.)
I walked up and down several streets, asking in one shop after another. A few shops sold wind chimes, but they were huge and absurdly expensive…the kind you’d hang in a Buddhist Temple, I thought.
Finally, just as the light mist turned to serious rain, I found my wind chimes deep inside the maze of shops. Of course, my casual inquiries about price produced a flurry of activity as this gentleman brought down one chime after another.
After at least 20 minutes of negotiating, I purchased the wind chimes. He tried hard to sell me more merchandise, telling me that this bell would bring good luck or that statue would attract money into my life. He seemed flattered when I asked to take his picture and posed for my camera.
A perfect ending to my afternoon alone in Old Shanghai.
As I sit at my computer back at home, this all seems surreal. Was I really there? Did I actually walk these streets by myself? Did I communicate with people even though neither of us spoke the other’s language. I must have. The pictures are stored on my computer and the wind chimes now hang on my patio, gifting me with light tinkling music when the breeze gently wafts across my patio and delighting me with a symphony during a storm.