On every street corner you can spot him.  His eternal smile finds you from nearly every inch of the Peoples Square. And just when you think you’ve escaped his Gumby-like figure, a street peddler accosts you, shoving a stuffed, blue toy of his likeness in your face.  He is the face behind the slogan, “Better city, better life”.  He is the mascot of the 2010 World Expo, Haibao. 


With all the world’s eyes on Shanghai next year, great efforts have been taken to live up to the slogan’s promise, just as my friends and I made great efforts to walk through the constant maze of construction that the streets of Shanghai have become in preparation for the expo.  

Vee Vee, our local host suggested we begin our sightseeing with the Bund, the embankment along the Huangpu River famous for it’s views of Shanghai’s architecturally diverse skyline.  Unfortunately, when we reached the end of Nanjing Road, where the road widens to meet the Bund, a construction wall blocked all view of the area. 


With a twinge of disappointment we set off to do some therapeutic shopping in the ritzy shops of Nanjing Road.  One such shop sold chopsticks of all varieties.  Most of them were intricately carved or painted, and I decided the only set I would actually dare to use practically would be the children’s set that had large handles at the top and three prongs on the end to be used as a fork if in fact the eater gives up completely.  These are definitely the chopsticks for me, I thought. 

Next, Vee Vee led us across the street to her father’s favorite store.  With its dark wooden decoration, smells of cedar and ink, and elegant calligraphy sets lining the shelves, the shop had a strong sense of paternalism and tradition.  In fact, as I browsed over the cases of jade Buddha statues, elaborately painted fans, and numerous time pieces, I found myself missing my own father, and the smell of books, old and new, overflowing the ledges of the bookshelves of my parents’ den. 

A calligraphy set made of a creamy color wood with dark streaks running vertically through the brushes caught my eye.  Vee Vee stood next to me, observing my interest in the set.  

“These brushes are made from the wood of a phoenix tree,” she told me.  “Have you seen the trees that line most streets of Shanghai?” she asked. 

I had noticed the trees.  The stood in perfect unison, so that if a person were to stand at the beginning of a lane and look down the street at the perfect angle, it would seem as though only a single tree stood before them, hiding the rest behind it. 

“How do they get the trees to grow so uniformly?” I asked. 

“They guide the trees from a young age with rope and other restraints, so they grow consistently.  These trees are very old.  My father says he remembers them looking the same as they do now when he was a young boy.” 

Deep-rooted tradition.  

Once we had had our fill of shopping for the day, we bought tickets for Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and had ourselves loads of laughs snapping photos with the wax figures of historical figures, western actors, Korean pop stars, and Chinese athletes.  Whose face do you suppose greeted us at the entrance to the museum?  None other than President Obama with a long line of people waiting for a photo.