Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive



Story of Chinese Freshwater Pearls


A long time ago, I got a pearl necklace from my mother. The pearl looks like tiny rices and now it is as old as me…..well, it is at least 20 years old 😉

Since I have been taking quite a few groups to see the pearl harvesting and the pearl factory, my interests towards the freshwater pearl started to grow more and more.And the more I understand it, the more I felt that the change of pearls is almost like the change of China. From low-end products and copy foreign ideas to innovation and become a leader in the industry. Continue reading “Story of Chinese Freshwater Pearls”

A Day with Janny

Sometimes I wondering what does it feel like to spend a day with me for people travel from other countries, what sort of experience do I bring to them, etc. Sometimes I wish to get into other people’s mind and see what will they understand from the prespective which I gave to them during a tour.
This is a post from Brian Krueger, he is an Internet entrepreneur, author, lecturer and business leader on the subject of entry level job search, especially for college students and recent graduates. Brian was most recently Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition for before departing to become Co-Founder and CEO of Mobile Recruiting Ventures. He previously worked for IBM and Computer Sciences Corporation. 
In 2011, Brian and his wife Kristin spent a day walking around Shanghai with me, and they will return to Shanghai in 2013. I can’t wait to show them more of Shanghai.  They have a very nice blog for their world cruise.
Following is their story of the Shanghai trip in March 2011.
When we woke at 6a, we were already tied up alongside the dock.  I went out looking for a city view or possibly a peek at a sunrise, but we’re pretty boxed in here at the port and it’s still pretty foggy.  Here is the best pic I could get from port side of the ship (we are tied up starboard side):
This pic is of the Yangtze River with the Pudong (new Shanghai) skyline in the background.  Just to put size and scale into perspective, most of those skyscrapers in the background are 40-60 stories and the tower is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, one of the world’s largest TV towers.  Behind those two boats going further upriver are scores more stretching as far as the eye can see up the Yangtze River.  I was talking to one of the ship’s officers and he said that we arrived so early to get on the other side of the convoy, which he said will continue in one direction for 6 hours, then the boats going in the other direction will go for six hours.  Most of the boats are carrying coal, like the boat in the foreground of the pic above.  Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port.  There is a building with “Cosco” on the top of it right outside our balcony, not sure if that is global headquarters for Cosco, but we see Cosco ships all the time in Puget Sound back home.
Shanghai has a total population of 23 million, so about 3x the size of New York City.  It is the world’s largest city proper in the world (some other cities are larger in their metropolitan area).
It’s going to be a pretty warm day today, although this is a high chance of rain.  Forecast high is 62 and low is 51, which is warmer than normal.  We’ve had a string of good weather throughout this trip.  Yesterday was rainy, but we were at sea, so we were snuggled up inside with plenty of indoor activities going on.  Our port days have all been warmer than the normal average and very dry.  We’ll see if today keeps the record going, in spite of the forecast.
We did a Bible study and video sermon this morning from John Elliott entitled “Freedom from Slavery” then did some walking around Shanghai later in the day.

Janny Chyn was our local walking tour guide for the day.  She gave us a good overview of the city in several different areas.  We went first to Yu Garden.  Here is a gate as we came near (but not yet to) Yu Garden:

These people were doing a form of tai chi that looked kina like our Zumba class in the morning:

This is the more traditional tai chi, being done on the sidewalk with scooters racing by:
They were lined up along the sidewalk, about 10 or so people, all doing tai chi:
Another traditional Chinese building on our way to Yu Garden:
Look at the people in the foreground of the picture with their dogs in the basket of their bikes.  Janny said that this is one of the ways people take their dogs out for a walk in China.
This is a local dumpling maker.  How would you like that job, filling up the dumpling containers?
Lots of the dogs we saw in Shanghai were dressed in a variety of outfits.  I like how this one had both a top and pants:
This is at the entry to Yu Garden, these flowers floating on the water:
Inside Yu Garden, one of the traditional buildings facing the garden.  Note also that the trees are blossoming behind Krissie:
Note the lentil in the doorway above.  Janny said that the Chinese are very superstitious and they build things to keep the evil spirits from entering.  So the bridge to enter is in a Z configuration, because evil spirit can only walk straight and they cannot jump (hence the door lentil).  There is a mirror in the house to keep them away, since if they see their own reflection, they will be frightened and run away.

I liked how this stone entryway framed the garden behind:

You can see more of Yu Garden here.  And note that throughout the day you will see what looks like a “mist” in the background of the pics.  That is actually mist and it lasted the entire day:
There were dragons in several areas of the garden, this wall was topped with one:
There are elaborate lanterns and ceiling decorations in the buildings:
Still in Yu Garden, very picturesque:
This is on the top of one of the buildings, note the warriors and the dragon:
Two dragons facing each other over a gate:
There was a nice koi pond in Yu Garden as well:
Note the stone behind Krissie—that is a very rare and valuable stone, so it was made the centerpiece of what the owner of the garden would face from the nearby building:
Another tree in early bloom:
Look closely at this poodle.  It is wearing shoes:
Do you know what this is in the pic below?
We guessed cable box, Internet connection, phone connection, electrical box, all wrong.  It is a milk delivery container.  One key for the milkman to open it, another key for the local owner.

These children were walking down the local street:

Note that they all wear pants with a flap that allow them to both have their diaper changed easily as a baby and to go to the bathroom as a toddler.

Do you know what this guy is carrying that looks like a big flower pot?

Yes, it is a pot, but not for flowers.  It is a chamber pot.  He had just emptied it and is returning home.

This guy is cleaning out his chamber pot after emptying it:

We then went to Xia Hai Temple where Janny showed us how they lit the incense…
…then bowed at each position in each direction:
This is the entrance to the first temple:
Buddhism in China is a combination of several influences, including Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto.  Lots of Buddha statues:
Afterward we walked through a market area where they were cooking local delicacies:
And selling live chickens  If you look closely, you will see the remains of chickens in the red tub below:
They kill and de-feather the chicken right there at the shop.
This guy was selling a variety of beans as we made our way to the Jewish Ghetto:
There is a mix of different modes of transportation including bicycles, scooters, strollers and walking, all mixed on the same streets:
This is the interior courtyard of the Jewish Ghetto.  Many Jews relocated here between 1933 and 1939, although only one Jewish family stayed in 1949 when the Communists took over:
There is a park in the Jewish Ghetto where the kids were out playing:
The three boys on the right were fighting over the green ball:
These two men were playing a form of Chinese chess:
This is a hot pot restaurant, where you buy food on a stick, then cook it in a hot pot:
We had lunch at Shanghai Min Restaurant:
Shanghai food uses more soy sauce, is sweeter and uses more oil than typical Chinese food.  We had chicken soup, beef tenderloin wok style with peppers, asparagus and Shanghai style fried rice.  It was the highlight of the day for Krissie (mine was cricket wrestling and marriage market, coming up soon).  The lunch was wonderful, the dessert (sticky rice) was awful—yuck!
Even though I didn’t get a picture of it, several times during the day we saw people walking around in just their PJs.  Janny said it’s more comfortable for them to walk around in their pajamas.
Then we went to the cricket and bird market.  Outside they were selling cans for storing your cricket, small ones for normal crickets and large ones for fighter crickets:
Do you know what these are for?
The trays at the front are food dishes and water dishes for your cricket.  The grey and orange pentagon pots in the back are “cricket taxis” for moving them from one place to the other.  Top right are brushes, which are used to tickle the crickets to get them to fight.
There were all sorts of birds for sale in the market, cage after cage after cage:
This is the different type of bird food for sale, made right there on the premises:
Or you could buy a little worm to feed to your bird:
This is cricket food, sold in small packages:
Here are the fighting crickets for sale.  No kidding.  They have cricket fights (looks more like cricket wrestling) and then bet on the matches.  The Chinese like to bet on just about anything, including cricket wrestling.  Janny said this guy was probably there all day examining the crickets to decide which one to buy as his fighter:
He would take out a cricket and put it into this small container, then tickle it with one of the brushes you see on the right.  If the cricket showed its teeth (I didn’t know that a cricket has teeth?), that is a good sign that it will be a good fighter.
This is a cricket match on TV, the one on the right is about to attack the one on the left:
Yes, this is two crickets in a duel to the death (or until one of them breaks a leg), then the match is over:
You could just buy a “normal” cricket to make a cricket noise that you could carry around in your pocket.  Or several crickets to give you a peaceful sound to put you to sleep.  But a fighting cricket would cost anywhere from $1 to over $1,000.
Krissie in front of the more expensive birds.  If they sing and/or talk, that commands a higher price:
Krissie in front of the Shanghai Museum at People’s Square:
Then we went to the Marriage Market:
Parents come to the Marriage Market to make matches for their children.  It’s more than just a few parents coming together to try to matchmake their kids, they are very organized about it, including putting up personal ads about each guy or girl:
Note the pic in the one that is top left.  It’s rare to see a pic.  But you will see age, what type of job they have, how much money they make, where they live, what kind of car they drive, etc.
I had to act like I was taking this pic of Krissie and Janny to get the actual pic I wanted of the people behind them.  Most of the ads are placed on an open umbrella:
This guy was very popular:
When Janny read the ad, she found out that the guy’s son is 28 years old, earns 180,000 RMB/year (about $30K/year) and she said he was a hot commodity.
Janny is 28 and said that when you are over 30 and single in China, you are viewed as being “expired.”  She said that the A guys go for the B girls, the B guys go for the C girls, the C guys go for the D girls, so the D guys and the A girls are left without.  She’s an A girl, so if you know of an A guy in Shanghai who isn’t intimidated by an A girl who has a good education and a great job, contact Janny.  If you need a good tour guide in Shanghai, she’s great.
We rode a subway over to the French Concession.  When we first got on, we were squished in like sardines.  But then we switched to another subway after a few stops and it wasn’t as crowded.  Note the girl and the little boy in this pic working the crowd for money (the girl is singing, the little boy is begging):
We went into a part of the French Concession that used to be narrow back alleys, but is now converted to retail shops and restaurants:
Nice place for young people to hang out:
We ended our day on The Bund, with a view of Pudong on the right of the pic and our ship (very faint) in the middle left of the pic (not the one in the middle of the river, further back).  It’s still very hazy, but we haven’t had any rain:
Janny also took us to the Fairmont Peace Hotel, which has some wonderful art deco design:
Then we walked from The Bund back to our ship (also visible in the background of this pic, but again very hazy):
We ate dinner on the port side of the ship, where we could see the Pudong (new Shanghai) skyline when a brightly colored ship went by:

Peace Hotel: High-Tea

The famous green roof Peace Hotel
China may be a land of contrasts, of high rise cities and rice paddies tilled by oxen, but few cities offer the varigated past of Shanghai — colonial port city with a history of war, capitulation, blockades, and stunning architecture that spans almost a 100 years of style and design. One of the icons of that past is the Peace Hotel which started life as the Cathay Hotel, built by Victor Sassoon as part of his real estate empire in Shanghai.
The Peace Hotel Lobby
The original hotel officially opened on August 1, 1929. It was widely known as the “Number One mansion in the Far East “, due to its prime location along the Bund and for its luxury, including the distinctive copper-sheathed roof 77 meters above ground, white Italian marble floors, and priceless Lalique glass artwork. It was also the tallest building in Shanghai and hosted many famous guests over the years including Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, General Marshal, Noel Coward and President Bill Clinton. It was known for its Old Jazz Bar and band, which has been resurrected and plays again today. From 1949 to 1956 it was used for government offices, but in 1956 it resumed its use as a hotel, the name being changed from the Cathay Hotel to the Peace Hotel. A major 3 year renovation was just completed in 2010 to bring it back to its 1920′s glory.
The gorgeous high tea experience
Yesterday, I ended tour at the Peace Hotel with a lovely British couple – Michael and Adrienne, they have been married for 49 years. Adrienne’s eyes lit up when she discovered that it is still the high tea time in the hotel’s Jasmine Lounge. In her words, it is the perfect way to recalling Shanghai’s ‘Paris of the Orient’ and its fame for having introduced European high tea to the city in the 1930s.
It was a lot for tea, can’t find any space for dinner afterwards
To me, I could never resist good food and it is wonderful to have British people confirming that the quality of the high tea in Shanghai is as good as what they have in London. The other thing is that you don’t really have to dress up to enjoy it 😉

Chinese Soy Sauce

Back to just a year ago, if someone tells me that I will have anything to do with Chinese Soy Sauce, I will probably think that he is crazy. Now, not only I am providing the only soy sauce tour in China but also working with the factory to help them marketing their products. It is to my surprise that such good products could not compete will the mass production junks and people has so little access to know or buy healthy food. Tomorrow, the very first Slow Food tour to the soy sauce factory will start and following is some info about it.

History of Traditional Chinese Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is originated in China 2,800 years ago and spread throughout Asia. Red cooking or hongshao is the word for Shanghai cuisine. For centuries, the city’s culinary culture has been stewed, simmered, sauteed and braised in soy sauce, a brownish-red condiment with a rich fragrance. Soy sauce is a condiment produced by fermenting soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae molds, along with water and salt. After the fermentation, which yields fermented soybean paste, the paste is pressed, and two substances are obtained: a liquid, which is the soy sauce, and a cake of (wheat and) soy residue, the latter being usually reused as animal feed. Most commonly, a grain is used together with the soybeans in the fermentation process, but not always. 

The Manufacturing Process: Brewing or Chemical-hydrolyzation.

In older times, the mixture was fermented naturally in giant urns and under the sun, which was believed to contribute additional flavors. Today, in industrialized factory the mixture is generally placed in a temperature and humidity controlled incubation chamber. The fermentation method takes more than six months to complete and results in a transparent, delicately colored broth with balanced flavor and aroma. The non-brewed sauces take only two days to make and are often opaque with a harsh flavor and chemical aroma. In the current market, most branded soy sauce is often made from acid hydrolyzed soy protein instead of brewed with a traditional culture. When compared to brewed soy sauces, they have a longer shelf-life and are more commonly produced for this reason. They are sometimes called Chemical Soy Sauce by those who prefer brewed sauces, but despite this name are widely used due to greater availability and lower prices. Carcinogens have been identified in relatively recent times of Asian brands of Soy sauces. Some of these carcinogens may form during the manufacture of chemical sauce. Companies are obliged to remove these contaminants.

Chinese Soy Sauce types

Light or fresh soy sauce (生抽 shēngchōu ): It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning since it is saltier, less colourfully noticeable, and also adds a distinct flavour. The light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans is called tóuchōu (simplified Chinese: 头抽), which can be loosely translated as first soy sauce or referred to as premium light soy sauce. Touchōu is sold at a premium because, like extra virgin olive oil, the flavor of the first pressing is considered superior.

Dark and old soy sauce (老抽 lǎochōu), a darker and slightly thicker soy sauce, is aged longer and contains added molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. This variety is mainly used during cooking since its flavour develops during heating. It has a richer, slightly sweeter, and less salty flavour than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is partly used to add color and flavour to a dish after cooking.

Another type, thick soy sauce (醬油膏 jiàngyóugāo), is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar. It is occasionally flavored with MSG. This sauce is not usually used directly in cooking but more often as a dipping sauce or poured on food as a flavorful addition.

Qian Wanlong: The Best Soy Sauce

Know as a famous old brand of “handmade” naturally fermented Shanghai soy sauce, Qian Wanlong. Qian was the owner in 1880 and wanlong means booming or prosperous. In 2008, the Qian Wanlong soy sauce-making process was listed as one of China’s Intangible Cultural Heritages – the only one in the industry. It is believed to be one of the few companies in China that still make soy sauce the traditional, old-fashioned way.

  •     Only Use non-GMO Soybeans
  •         12 Procedures in Production
  •     No Additives and Preservatives
  •     No Artificial Colours, No MSG

Artisan Soy Sauce

Following is a really wonderful trip review from our client regarding her experience in visiting the Heritage Soy-sauce Factory

Shanghai is blessed with the only surviving hand-crafted soy sauce factory in the area, possibly one of the few left in the world. The Handmade Heritage Soy Sauce Factory which makes Guan Jiang Yuan soy sauce was started by the Qian Wan Long family over 130 years ago. Because it has been making soy sauce the same way for so many years it was awarded China’s “Historical Intangible Cultural Heritage” in 2008 which gives it certain protections and aid so that it can continue to operate and remain open.

You see, making soy sauce by hand as they do it in this factory is a long and slow process. As seems to be the case everywhere, soy sauce has fallen victim to mass production. A commercial company like Kikkoman can make a bottle of soy sauce in about 20 days. This place: about 2 years. It’s like the difference between a fine aged cheddar and Velveeta. They have to use a lot of “stuff” (chemicals) in Velveeta to try to get it to imitate cheddar, in a short period of time.

So what makes this company’s soy sauce so different? It’s the fact that it is allowed to age and ferment naturally, rather than doing it at lightening speed by chemical hydrolysis. Interestingly while we were tasting and comparing the handmade and commercially made soy sauces, I was smelling the artisan sauce and I suddenly caught a whiff of something that reminded me of cheese–that kind of yeasty smell.

The main ingredients, soybeans and wheat, are stored in this room. The very high threshold of the door is supposed to keep out rats

First soybeans are cleaned in the pot on the left, then soaked for 12 to 24 hours depending on the time of year.

Then they are steamed in this big contraption

The soybeans are spread out on this table and mixed with wheat, rice and what our guide called the “fungus”. I’m guessing it may actually be a yeast of some sort–perhaps yeast doesn’t translate easily from the Chinese. They use a bamboo scoop for mixing that you will see in a later picture.

The soybeans are spread onto countless bamboo trays to allow the fungus to grow for about 5 days. This is a critical step as the fungus can be killed very quickly if the temperature goes too high in the rooms. The soy master often sleeps here to be sure the temperature is maintained appropriately.

Salt water is then added to the bean and fungus mixture and the whole thing is put into these large clay pots with bamboo covers. Just like oak casks contribute to wine’s flavor, so too do the clay plots contribute to the flavor of the soy sauce.

The soy beans are left in the pots for at least year and stirred every 10 days. It’s at this point that the magic starts to happen. It’s because the pots are exposed to the 4 seasons and the changing weather and temperature that “interesting stuff” happens. Even the sun and the dew contribute to the taste of the soy sauce.

After a year or so, the mash looks quite a lot like something at the bottom of a pit toilet but smells just like soy sauce.

The mash is brought inside and squeezed out using this contraption. The run-off is collected and mixed with more salt water.

The leftover mash is used in two ways; to make another soy type product that I was unfamiliar with and to feed the pigs. There have been times in China’s history during periods of famine, when the leftover mash was used to feed people.

Back into the clay pots the liquid goes for another year for the sun and weather to work their magic. The soy master uses his 30 years of experience to decide when the sauce is perfect.

So the Kikkoman folks? They make up for all that natural sunlight and seasons and dew with msg and artificial colors and other, unpronounceable things. The Soy Factory only uses soybeans for the taste and wheat for the color and sweetness, and nature for all those undefinable flavors.

The soy master, in the middle, will tell you that his soy sauce has more anti aging properties than wine and that the longer it is fermented, the healthier and better tasting it is.

Perhaps there’s something to his claim, because Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and guru of all food trends has just been to visit the factory as research for a book on the health benefits of fermented foods.

But there are a billion people in China and this little factory with it’s 400 clay pots can’t produce enough soy sauce for all of them even if they were willing to pay the 40rmb (6.30 USD) price per bottle for the 2 year old cheap stuff or the 200rmb ($32 USD) price for the 3 year old Rolls Royce of soy sauce. The factory workers are thrilled that they now have government support for their factory because they are so proud of the work they are doing and they think it is important to preserve the traditions they are keeping. They are hoping to extend their manufacturing base to other provences to recruit younger people who can keep the traditions alive as all the current workers are getting older.

However, they worry that because soy sauce making by it’s nature is a very slow and meditative process, that it will be boring and unappealing to young people. But, while it seems like a simple process, the soy master would tell you the subtleties of conditions like weather and temperature, make it anything but easy and knowing when a batch of soy sauce is ready to be bottled is the same as knowing when a wine will be in full bloom.

These are antique implements once used in the factory: the bamboo scoopers on the left, to mix the soybeans and fungus, and a ladle that measured out exactly 250ml for customers who were buying the soy sauce

This was the barrel the soy sauce was originally sold from. Now days it’s sold sealed in glass.

This is a priceless Chinese relic, the only one left in China: It is the imperial permit or license to open the soy sauce factory from 130 years ago, necessary because of the large quantities of salt required for production.

All the rest of these licenses were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, along with all things considered “imperial”, but this one was saved quite by accident. It is made of a very good wood, probably ginko, and a carpenter saw it and wanted it for its wood. So he took it down and hid it in his shop and no one ever found it, thus saving it from destruction.

So, yes this soy sauce is great. There’s just one catch. You can’t buy it. Or maybe you can, once a year at one grocery store in Shanghai, if you happen to know which one and happen to see the line snaking out the door. Otherwise you’re out of luck. They actually bottled some just for us, so we were able to buy some. And only one restaurant, other than their own uses it in their cooking. It just seems a shame that if this is supposed to be such a superior product, it’s actually not available. We were all ready to volunteer some marketing advice to these people!

We were told that as part of our tour, we would get to sample some foods to use with their soy sauce. I guess the Chinese idea of sample and the Western idea of sample are two different things:

We were brought to their restaurant which is in the old factory building

Turnips in soy sauce


soy sauce beef

White cut chicken–mostly bones and skin

A shanghai-ese specialty dish, Pudong version with vegetables

tofu skin with vegetable and meat

Sticky rice ball soup–the balls were filled with meat or a sweet bean paste. The insides were fine, but the exterior was a sticky mess. Quite unpleasant.

Eight treasures

Steamed 3 flavor food, a local specialty. Includes quail eggs, pork, dumplings and pig skin. Nobody was too thrilled about the pig skin, but this dish was one of the most delicious of the bunch

ham, bamboo and pork soup: the fancy tower was toppled with chopsticks and stirred to make the soup

Hairy crab. Thankfully we were told we didn’t have to bother with the crabs on top.

We just got to eat these yummy pasta-like bits underneath

duck soy sauce lion head. This very much reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing, only better.

Green vegetables like only the Chinese know how to make them

Shanghai red beef–the dish I learned to make in my cooking class

fried dumplings

And to finish off the meal, a big old bowl full of pig skin. Amazingly, it was still this full when we left the table. Hmm…

Reblogged from DECRYPTKNIT: Knitter on the loose in Shanghai:

Nanjing Massacre

I decided to do a short overview sheet for an up-coming trip to Nanjing Massacre Museum on 14th Feb, and yes, somehow 38 people picked the most unusual event for the Valentine’s Day. 

The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, was a mass murder, genocide and war rape that occurred during the six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanjing (Nanking), the former capital of the Republic of China, on December 13, 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War.


  • Aug 1937, Japanese army invaded Shanghai, Nov 12 Shanghai was captured
  • Nov 22 – The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone is organized by a 15 foreigners to shelter Chinese refugees, area of 3.86 km², with 25 refugee camps  
  • Dec 1, capital relocation–Chiang Kai-shek left Nanjing on Dec 7
  • Dec 5, prince Asaka appointed as commander and issued an order to “kill all captives”
  • Dec 9, Japanese army arrived outside of Nanjing urging the surrender within 24 hours
  • Dec 10, no response was received from the Chinese by the deadline
  • Dec 12, general Tang Shengzhi retreated, 100.000 untrained soldiers defending Nanjing
  • Dec 13, Nanking fell to the Japanese by nightfall, six-week period of Nanjing Massacre, Japanese troops engaged in rape, murder, theft, arson, and other war crimes
  • Dec 14, The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone lodges the first protest letter against Japanese atrocities with the Japanese Embassy
  • Dec 18, General Iwane Matsui knew the rape, murder, and looting in the city
  • Jan 1938, the Japanese army forced all refugees in the Safety Zone to return home
  • Feb 18, 1938, the Nanking Safety Zone International Committee was forcibly renamed “Nanking International Rescue Committee”, and Safety Zone effectively ceased to function.
  • Feb 19, 1938 – The last of the 69 protest letters against Japanese is sent by the Safety Zone Committee to the Japanese Embassy
  • Late March 1938, the end of the massacre
  • May 1938, the last refugee camps were closed
  • Mar 10, 1947, Hirohito and Matsui was prosecuted, prince Asaka got immunity

DEATH: Nanjing Massacre total death of 300,000 Chinese.

RAPE: 20,000–80,000 women were raped, including infants and the elderly.

Sara Imas – a Jewish woman’s amazing life in Shanghai

When I met Sara Imas, I was immediately amused by her high engery level and felt that she has so much passion about life and people in Shanghai.  The more I gets to know her, the more suprises I got. 

Sara’s father Leiwi Imas was the President of Shanghai’s Jewish Club. In 1939, at the age of 43,  to escape Adolf Hitler’s holocaust, Leiwi arrived in Shanghai among the more than 30,000 other displaced Jews that floated into the city between 1937 and 1939. With no money in pocket, he sold his only gold watch and opened a small bakery on the city’s French concession.  By the 1940s  he owned a dozen businesses, including two bakeries, three wine shops, a carpet shop and a truck-rental firm.  In Shanghai, he married to a Polish woman and had Sara as her only daughter.

Leiwi Imas chose to stay in China when most other Jewish refugees left after World War II.  At an old age, the businessman, customs officer and ex-president of the Jewish Club in Shanghai died peacefully in a downtown villa in 1962.

His daughter, Sara Imas, grew up among her Chinese peers without a Chinese passport, speaking only Mandarin with a local accent. After living through upheavals in Chinese history, including the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), and failing to find love despite three failed marriages to local men, in each of these three marriages, she had one child. With 2 teenage sons and one younger daughter, she migrated to Israel in 1991 at the age of 41 and made a living selling spring rolls.

Once there, the Jewish woman, who lacks a college degree, demonstrated an amazing ability to provide for herself and family:

She learned to speak fluent English and Hebrew, found a job in an Israeli court, sent her three children to Israeli colleges, returned to Shanghai 10 years later as the chief representative of a diamond firm to the Greater China area, and married a local government official. All of her 3 children also become very successful in life and business.

To learn more about Shanghai’s Jewish history, click here.

Chinese “Mating Ritual”: Explore Shanghai’s Marriage Market

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According to a study from the University of Kent, in ten years China will have approximately 24 million unmarried Chinese men who cannot find wives. That’s more than the current female populations of Taiwan and South Korea combined, to give it some context.

However, in the big cities like Shanghai, there seems to be much more single woman than single man. They can be described as 3S lady – Single, Seventies, Stuck, or the SAS lady – Single, attractive, successful. 

You might wondering why these nice woman become the leftovers? It has something to do with the ABCD rule in Chinese culture, and this  is the secret behind everything:

A type means the best in the market, and it then follows with B, C, D types.

So the ABCD rule goes like that:

A man looking for B woman

B man looking for C woman

C man looking for D woman

Then you have A woman and D man, they are pretty hard to match, right?

Every Saturday and Sunday, at the Shanghai marriage market, parents, with or without their children’s consent, arrange meetings, dates and potential matches for their kids. Some children, often too busy working to devote time to meeting a soul mate, accept their parents’ help. But its not easy even for a parent, and many also employ matchmakers. 

Matchmakers broker meetings for numerous clients usually charging RMB 10-20 per pairing. “I’ve been a matchmaker for three years,” says Mr Zheng “There’s no large payment up front. If you get married, I expect a nice gift and maybe an invitation to attend the wedding. I already represent two American men. Interested?” Even then, matching people long term, especially with the famously strong-willed Shanghainese women, can be difficult. “I’ve been here a long time,” muses Mr Fu, a local matchmaker. “Girls in Shanghai are strong these days. Although they don’t have as much trouble finding a man, there are still lots of unmarried girls’ names on my lists.”

The history of the market started in 1996, by a small group of olderly people(less than 20 people) trying to help their kids, later on it was reported by the local media. Now by 2012, it is the largest one in China, with more than 1000 people attending in a day. 

Does it really work? A friend told me a true story.

A 29 years old lady does not have boy friend,  and since she is approching the Expiration Date, 30 in Chinese standard, her father worries a lot.

So on a Saturday, he went all the way to the marriage market, it took him 2 hours by bus because they live far from the city area. By the time he arrived there, the market almost finished. He rushed – almost run into the center, but accidentally he knocked a woman down.

Feeling sorry and embarrassed, he  apologize to her and naturely they had a chat. It turns out she had a son who is also 29 years old. So they agreed to let them meet.

Guess what? After 3 months, their son and daughter are happily married. More amazingly, one works as an accountant, another is a banker. I bet they enjoy counting money together.

Venice of the East: Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town

Qingpu is one of my favorite areas of Shanghai. Around ten years ago, it was known as the countryside area where farmers and fishermen lived, but according to local history, it is actually the origin of ancient Shanghai civilization.

Qingpu Memory

When I was a kid, a visit to Qingpu’s water town meant a fantastic weekend getaway; a perfect chance to forget the demands of school and concrete city buildings. Thoughts of the yummy local food and the beautiful village would excite me the whole night before the trip. I’d get myself ready and plead my mom to leave home as early as possible. After a long, half-day journey, we would arrive at the most famous water town, Zhujiajiao in the Qingpu area, to enjoy a lovely holiday.

Zhujiajiao Water Town 

These days, the road to Zhujiaojiao is really convenient – a 90-minute trip by car. People can escape from their busy, modern Shanghai life and step into traditional water town life.  You can take a boat tour along the beautiful rivers in Zhujiajiao and find yourself lost in ease. This water town was formed during the Song and Yuan Dynasty and was officially set up as a town during Emperor Wanli’s reign of the Ming Dynasty.

Other names for Zhujiajiao include “Pearl Streets Pavilion” and “The Pearl Stream.” The town occupies an area of 47 sq km and is crisscrossed by rivers and canals with nine long streets running lengthwise along the rivers. There are thousands of buildings of Ming and Qing Dynasty as well as thirty six ancient stone bridges. Among these bridges is a large ancient stone bridge called “Fangsheng Bridge” or “Setting Free Bridge” where you can purchase fish to release for good luck.

There are numerous long streets and lanes in Zhujiajiao. Among these, Great North Street boasts “a mile-long road with a thousand shops.” Kezhi Garden is representative of the architecture of the rich families from the area south of the Yangtze River. The ancient streets paved with stone slabs, deep and quiet alleyways, arched stone bridges, and quaint boats express the beauty of life on the water in the ancient town of Zhujiajiao.

Zhujiajiao’s Local Food

The traditional native foods include rose-flavored fermented bean curd, fried gluten, dark-rice zongzi dumplings, meat wrapped in leaves, roast soybeans, and pork meat zongzi. In autumn, people can have taste of the fresh water crabs from Dianshan Lake.

Zhujiajiao People

The development of Zhujiajiao has brought prosperity to its townspeople. The economy has become more developed, offering various job opportunities to them. More and more local families have started their own small street front businesses, selling such things as zongzi dumplings, pearls and various crafts. The main streets are slightly touristy, but most streets are still home to local residents, mainly elderly people and young kids. Doors are often left ajar, and little distinction is made between the house and the alleyway as people go about their day. Most people prefer to keep their old life style and continue to maintain their traditional lives in Zhujiajiao.

Qingpu Museum

Not far from Zhujiajiao, the Qingpu Museum offers a place for people to understand the culture and history of this area. The museum has a collection of approximately ten thousand pieces. The architecture, composed of five interlocking oval cylinders and constructed with modern architectural materials, looks like a flying butterfly. Inside the museum, visitors can easily learn the history of Qingpu and Shanghai. The Origin of Ancient Shanghai Civilization is the exhibition in the south wing of the museum. Starting with Shanghai’s origin, the exhibit shows the long history of Shanghai with beautiful archaeological finds from the Qingpu of Majiabang Culture, Sonze Culture, Liangzhu Culture, and the Maqiao Culture. Charms of Shanghai’s Water Culture is the topic for the display in the east wing. It covers the changes of water systems and construction related to Qingpu history. The models of Qinglong Town Port demonstrate the prosperous life and trade during the Song dynasty. Sections of Bridge Culture and Water Life vividly present the custom and folk culture of the local people.


The ancient district of Zhujiajiao occupies approximately 3 sq km, and exploring it thoroughly will take you at least half a day – even more if you reserve some time for some of the numerous teahouses, coffeehouses, bars and restaurants. The best time to visit is on weekdays.

High-Speed Rail in China

High-speed rail in China refers to any commercial train service in the China with an average speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) or higher. By that measure, China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network with about 9,676 km of routes in service as of June 2011 including 3,515 km of rail lines with top speeds of 350 km/h (186 mph). In 2010, the BBC reported that by 2012, China was expected to have more high-speed railway track than the rest of the world combined.

China’s high speed rail expansion is entirely managed, planned and financed by the government. In response to the global economic recession, the government accelerated the pace of HSR expansion to stimulate economic growth. According to China Securities Journal, China plans to invest $451 to $602 billion in its high-speed rail network between 2011 to 2015.

The real-name train ticket policy has been applicable to high speed and bullet trains (C, G, D trains) since June, 2011. From January 1, 2012, this policy applies to all trains in China. The real-name train ticket policy is taken to relieve the difficulty in buying train tickets and effectively stop scalpers who profit a lot in trading train tickets especially during the Spring Festival travel rush every year. Passengers should buy train tickets and get on trains with the presentation of their own valid ID certificates or passport. One valid certificate is allowed to buy one ticket on the same date and in the same train, except for tickets of children with accompanying adults. 

Shanghai is in high-speed heaven: it not only boasts a Maglev, but also features direct HSR links to all major cities in the Yangtze River Delta region.

Here are some of my favorite HSR lines: 

Shanghai – Suzhou
Ticket price: RMB 41-65
Time: Around 30 minutes

Shanghai – Hangzhou
Ticket price: RMB 82-131 
Time: Around 60 minutes

Ticket price: RMB 135-233
Time: Around 90 minutes

Ticket price: RMB 555-935
Time: Around 5 hours

Tibetan Lama – Living Buddha’s Blessing

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This was one of the unusual experience during a recent custom tour which I arranged for an American visitor, Ben is very interested in Buddhism Culture and it was so interesting that we were able to meet a Tibetan Lama in Shanghai – who just happened to revisit this city after 5 year, isn’t that amazing?

To have a better understanding about Tibeten Buddhism, you have to know the following:

Lama is a title for a Tibetan teacher of the Dharma. The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru. Historically, the term was used for venerated spiritual master or heads of monasteries. Perhaps due to misunderstandings by early western scholars attempting to understand Tibetan Buddhism, the term Lama has historically been erroneously applied to Tibetan monks generally. In Tibetan Buddhism, the lama is often the tantric spiritual guide, the guru to the aspiring Buddhist yogi or yogini. As such, the lama will then appear as one of the Three Roots (a variant of the Three Jewels), alongside the yidam and protector (who may be a dakini, dharmapala or other Buddhist deity figure).

A basic Buddhist belief is that our bodies are made up of the 5 elements (water, fire, earth, air, and space – the Chinese label this one metal). And they also think that the whole universe is impermanent. The Buddhists believe that there are ‘subtle elements’ as well as the denser elements that we can see and feel. If a spiritual practitioner is compassionate and wise enough, they believe that they can dissolve their body into a “rainbow body” made up of the very subtlest level of the elements. After someone’s death the Buddhists practice something called Shi-Tro for the next 49 days(7 days a cycle).

Also a core Buddhist belief is that of the Bodhisattva or the wise one who can choose whether to come back to Samsara (earth where all life is suffering) or go on to Nirvana (where there is no longer suffering). The Boddhisattva intentionally chooses to return to Samsara “for the benefit of all sentient beings.” 

The reincarnation system for the Living Buddhas is the main point distinguishing tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism. ACCORDING TO TIBETAN BUDDHIST teaching, while reincarnation is inevitable for everyone, there are certain beings who have so trained their minds through intensive study and meditation that they can influence the conditions of their next birth. These tulkus, as they are known, are bound by their vow to return to lead others to enlightenment. The Dalai Lama, whose lineage can be traced through 14 successive rebirths, is the best known. But within Tibetan Buddhism at large there are many such tulkus. Sera monastery alone accommodates some 25 of them.

Lama Osel is the best known of these, and his story was the inspiration for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film about a Western reincarnate, Little Buddha – Lama Norbu comes to Seattle in search of the reincarnation of his dead teacher, Lama Dorje. His search leads him to young Jesse Conrad, Raju, a waif from Kathmandu, and an upper class Indian girl. Together, they journey to Bhutan where the three children must undergo a test to prove which is the true reincarnation. Interspersed with this, is the story of Siddharta, later known as the Buddha. It traces his spiritual journey from ignorance to true enlightenment.

The process of finding the “soul boy” usually happens 49 days after the death of a Lama, there are high monks who know where to search and they usually bring the dead Lama’s old things during the process. There are unbelievable stories like a boy select the Lama’s toy from 100 other toys and shouting “this is mine!”

The Grey Gardens in Shanghai


I just had the strangest Xmas eve and it has been all over my head. Everything started with my hopless curiosity towards Shanghai’s hidden buildings and its fascinating history.

At the off the beaten part of the oldest Shanghai corner, there is one small street called the heavenly light lane – walk inside the lane and looking for a wooden house with two beautiful Chinese red lanterns. Across from it, you will find a big black gate with a huge stone outside with the sign of Shanghai’s Gov. Protect building. 

Few people know about the story of this lane’s name, the heavenly light lane is the first place where Shanghai put the 1st public street electronic light, locals regarded the light as it has been sent from the heaven and guides people to their home.  So no one will be lost or suffering from the dark night.  Inside the big black gate, there is a big traditional family house with 3 gardens, it is over 250 year old and around 2000 square meters in size.

It feels like such a desserted place in the most crowed part of the city, standing by the gate, you don’t even sense any alive human beings inside.  Once you get in, the beautiful building is falling apart in front of your eyes. There is only a 89 years old woman and her 58 years old daughter live inside, it is hunted, overwhelming and you can tell how pretty this place was – and it is still unquestionably pretty.

The old lady speaks English and shared stories of her family, her daughter loves talking and always wanted to jump into the conversation even that she don’t understand much English. As mother and daughter, their difference is striking, one thing in common is that each of them has a crazy son and they are both trapped in this place or held back by their sorrows. 

“Don’t you feel this is sad? Don’t you have any compassion? ” – this question shots into my heart. I wonder if I ever should visit this place.

What can I say when I know that it is not up to me to change anything, the local gov. is offering the mother and daughter 5 million RMB to buy the place so the renovation could be done, but the daughter wanted more money. Their relatives have all been moved out and running successful business, they are the only 2 who are left behind to look after the old house. The older son of this 89 years old woman is a successful university professor in Canada, but her heart is always with her crazy younger son in Shanghai’s hospital so she don’t want to move to Canada. The divorced daughter said that she wanted to travel, but she also have to take care of her son who is in the hospital as well.

Is this sad? Yes and No, the house has become decrepit, but it is home to them. Life is not easy for everyone but there were happy moments, photos of this 89 years old woman who was an educated and beautiful Shanghai girl dressed in elegant Qipao. Paintings of her clever husband who was the most famous expert of ancient architecture in China, the daughter’s lively water-color flower paintings hanging on the walls of their house…

Life goes on, people have to move on.

Just like everything in Shanghai, things happened so fast and who has the time to be sad? Now, both of them are retired, the mother enjoy to chat with her old neighbors and the daughter like to dance in the park and charges an entrance fee towards the visitors, they argue with each other and they rely on each other. 

Anyway, I will go back again, I need to understand more and see what I could do.

After the trip, Xmas eve, I watched Grey Gardens – a movie based on the life stories of the eccentric aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis (both named Edith Bouvier Beale aka “Big and Little Edie”) raised as Park Avenue débutantes but who withdrew from New York society, taking shelter at their Long Island summer home, “Grey Gardens.” As their wealth and contact with the outside world dwindled, so did their grasp on reality. The two women become reclusive and known around town as the highly eccentric proprietors of Grey Gardens, which has become decrepit and full of stray animals taken in by the Beale women. They were reintroduced to the world when international tabloids learned of a health department raid on their home, and Jackie swooped in to save her relatives.

By the mid of the night, a “lost in touch” childhood friend contacted me for a merry Xmas, how strange is that we used to hang out together all the time during our teens. Now we have completely different life styles and the changes has been dramatic.







Compassion for Migrant Children

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There are an estimated 110 million migrant workers in China aged between 16 and 40 years old. They left home in the hope of building a better life for themselves and their family, yet when they start a family of their own, they are faced with a stark choice; either take their children to the cities and subject them to institutionalized discrimination, or leave them behind in the countryside in the uncertain care of relatives. 

Luckily in 2010, Shanghai became the first Chinese city to provide free education to all school-age children of migrant workers, through more government investment in facilities and teachers.  Compassion for Migrant Children(CMC) builds community centers in the heart of migrant neighborhoods, they offer programs for migrant children and their family.

The CMC Shanghai community center is about forty minutes drive outside of city center. It is located inside a huge wet market where you can find alive chicken, fish, meat and all kinds of veg. We went to join their reading program and worked with groups of 1-3 students to read kindergarten and first grade-level books in English. The program objectives are to help the students get excited about English, have fun learning English, and improve their reading skills.

The Rape of Nanking

Ever since that I got a group request of visiting the Nanjing Massacre Museum for Feb 2012, I started to reseach more about this part of the Chinese history. 

Little by little, I got access to books, photos and archives, but I did not read The Rape of Nanking until today. The reason is simple, the person who recommended me this book has said that herself could not finish the first 10 pages as it was very depressing to read, even its author Iris Chang suffered a nervous breakdown and killed herself in 2004.

Looking at Iris, she is beautiful, the best-selling author, mother of a boy… I am not sure what to say towards her tragedy.  So when I am finally decided to looking into this book, I have been prepared and ready to absorb all the disturbing historical infos….still it has been really overwhelming and too powerful to handle, cruel images and the craziness of the war filled up with my head and making me feel uneasy with the comfort of my real happy world.

Yet, I am still counting on the date of visiting the Nanjing Massacre Museum and the emotional feelings which will embrace me.

China has endured much hardship in its history, as Iris Chang shows in her ably researched The Rape of Nanking, a book that recounts the horrible events in that eastern Chinese city under Japanese occupation in the late 1930s. Nanking, she writes, served as a kind of laboratory in which Japanese soldiers were taught to slaughter unarmed, unresisting civilians, as they would later do throughout Asia. Likening their victims to insects and animals, the Japanese commanders orchestrated a campaign in which several hundred thousand–no one is sure just how many–Chinese soldiers and noncombatants alike were killed. Chang turns up an unlikely hero in German businessman John Rabe, a devoted member of the Nazi party who importuned Adolf Hitler to intervene and stop the slaughter, and who personally saved the lives of countless residents of Nanking. She also suggests that the Japanese government pay reparations and apologize for its army’s horrific acts of 60 years ago.

Bound Feet of Chinese Women

Find a pair of woman’s shoes at the Peasant Painting Village. The shoes belong to an artist, the old woman in this photo was her grandma in Shanxi province with the 3-inch feet. She will be 110 years old, if still alive.

Before 1911, for approximately one thousand years, some Chinese girls’ feet were bound with long strips of cloth to keep them from growing and the toes were broken and bent towards the soles of the feet. The ultimate goal was to achieve the “golden lotus”, a 3-inch long feet, arched and pointy resembling the lotus buds. Few women achieved this ideal. It was the standard of feminine beauty, eroticism, social status and a passport to marrying into wealth.

Gabby on the tour is feeling how small it is by holding it…

The Best Soy Sauce

Guess what? The world famous food writer Michael Pollan is in Shanghai!! He just did the tour of  Handmade Heritage Soy Sauce. Story about this soy sauce producer will be featured in his next book regarding different fermentations around the world. 

I loved some of his food ideas: ” the whiter the bread, the sooner you will be died”

Michael Pollan is the author, most recently, of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” His previous book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals”, was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World”, “A Place of My Own”, and “Second Nature”. A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing, Best American Essays and the Norton Book of Nature Writing. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper’s Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.

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