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Our trip to China

Arrival in Shanghai

01welcome
Welcome to China!
01view
With 24 million people, Shanghai is one of the largest cities on Earth, and China’s financial capital. (View from our room)
01nanjing
The city is very lively and crowded, yet there is no pushing, shouting, or soliciting. People just seem very happy.
01arc
I can’t read Chinese, but I believe this must be the entrance to China Town.
01dancegroup
People seem to like music. They gather to dance on the street - in groups,...
01couples
... or in couples.

Morning in Shanghai

02bund
Due to a time shift problem, we get up at 5:30am. The Bund is Shanghai’s river promenade.
02skyline
It allows a glimpse at the skyline of Pudong, Shanghai’s financial district across the Suzhou river.
02tai
Early in the morning, people gather to do Tai Chi with music. Background shows the world’s largest Wifi router.
02fabric
Tai Chi can also be performed with scarfs...
02lady
...or with a sword. (You do not want to meet this lady at night.)
02couple
Alternatively, you can dance to refresh your senses in the morning....
02gym
...or use the open air gym. All in all, these morning activities look very healthy.

Shanghai Center

03old
The old city center has kept some of the pre‐modern charm. Private life and public life blend seamlessly,...
03mix
...with washing, sleeping, selling, and cleaning happening inside, outside, and across the doors.
03market
Many of the streets host a market.
03aal
Meat is sold alive...
03meat
... or dead, and in almost all intermediate stages (not in the picture).

Confucian Temple

04temple
It is 9:00 now. We visit a Confucian Temple. Confucianism is a world view with ritual, ethical, humanistic and pantheistic elements.
04face
Confucius was a wise man who lived 500 BCE. Indeed, his smile seems to suggest he knows something that many others don’t.
04oase
Reportedly, he said that one should read 10,000 books. I like the idea of a religious leader who recommends reading more than one book.
04wishes
People write their wishes on colorful cards.
04peace
The temple itself is an oasis of peace in Shanghai.

French Concession

05food
The French Concession was “rented” to France in the 19th century. Local food options give you a strong desire...
05paulaner
...to go for European food. The “Paulaner Brauhaus” features German Schlager music and Chinese waiters dressed in Bavarian style.
05fountain
This area has been made up to resemble a European pedestrian zone, including fountains and Italian ice cream.
05sing
In the park, people gather to sing. The singer was most likely not a professional, though, because he seemed to truly enjoy the activity.
05cards
Other people gather to play cards. Another interesting example of a non‐alcoholic public social activity.
05shop
The silk store in the South of the city is advertised as a truly local clothing store. But if you look at the tag, you see that most clothing is actually “made in China”. Tough luck...

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition

06people
This is the People’s Square. Finally something communist here.
06flight
The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition simulates a flight through the city on a 360° screen that surrounds you entirely.
06model
It also shows the entire city in miniature. We learn that China embraces English as the global lingua franca, and that every child now learns English at school. This allows them to study abroad.
06model2
My university in France also wants to attract Chinese students. However, they believe it is easier to teach 200m Chinese students French rather than teach 200 French professors English. The problem is that they might be right...

Pudong

07pudong
Pudong is the financial center of the city. Note the elevated pathways for pedestrians.
07tower
The Jinmao Tower is 420 meters tall. It is shown here from the Shanghai World Financial Center, which is 490 meters tall.
07toilet
It is called “financial center”, because it is one of the fastest ways to burn tourist money. In return, it is also equipped with the latest technology.
07saar
We also learn that the Yangtse River has a Saarschleife.

Trip to Hangzhou

08stairs
The Shanghai metro system is very efficient and well‐organized. It also sports futuristic technology. Here: A staircase that moves automatically. Paris take note.
08checkin
The train station works like an airport. Tickets are checked by a machine, like for the metro. The booth on the right leads down to the tracks and opens when the train is ready.
08train
The trains are new and fast. Different from Europe, the doors are large and open at the level of the platform (no stairs). This is because when they built the platform, they already knew the position of the door. Clever.

The Taoist Temple in Hangzhou

09path
Hangzhou is one of China’s premier tourist destinations. Here is a path through the bamboo forest.
09temple
We visit a Taoist temple in the jungle. Taoism has an ethical, ritual, pantheistic, and philosophical dimension, and emphasizes compassion and harmony with the cosmic spirits.
09ying
Maybe its most known symbol is the Ying and Yang. In practice, Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all mix in China, and hence this temple reveres Laozi, Buddha, and Confucius equally.
09dragon
The occidental world has something to learn from a system where 3 world religions mix peacefully.

The West Lake of Hangzhou

10lake
The main attraction point of Hangzhou is the West Lake. It is framed by numerous temples and pagodas, and populated by (Chinese) tourists.
10beauty
It has its beauties...
10just
...but in the end it is just a lake with much fog.

Hangzhou

11ampel
Traffic lights in Hangzhou are very verbose. We just don’t know what they say.
11roof
To protect waiting cyclists from the rain, they have installed roofs. This does not seem to increase the cyclists’ readiness to wait at traffic lights, though.
11insects
We buy insect repellent. We do not know whether we have to spray this on the insect, feed it to the insect, rub it on our skin, or rub it on the insect’s skin. We will drink it in regular intervals and observe the effects.

VLDB conference

12talk
And yes, we also work. We are here at the VLDB conference. I give a talk and a tutorial. The conference is extremely well organized.
12show
It offers a spectacular show right on the West Lake. We believe that it was a metaphorical summary of the history of China. We later find out that it was rather a love story between a snake‐turned‐human and a man.
12play
Due to China’s one child policy, a single child has to fulfill all the parents’ dreams simultaneously. Hence, many children receive an extraordinary education. We see a proof of this.
12food
Food remains a challenge. (And, no, this is not the flower decoration of the table that I put on my plate. This is the food!)
12lift
Chinese hotels often do not have a 4th floor, because 4 is the number of death. Also, this allows saving 1/7th of the cost when constructing a 7 floor building.

Flight to Changsha

13boom
I go to Changsha for an invited talk at the APWeb conference. China is literally booming. The cities are huge, and they become continuously larger.
13smog
This comes at a price, though. The entire country is covered by a layer of smog. The pictures shows the normal clouds and the background smog.
13pickup
The APWeb organizers are extremely kind to me. For the first time in my life, one of these welcome panels at the airport is for me.

APWeb

14hotel
The hotel of the APWeb conference is impressive. I give an invited talk.
14talk
The conference includes receptions and food,
14turtle
but food remains a challenge (here: braised turtle). Fortunately, there is always plain rice. I become vegetarian.
14google
Internet is painfully slow. In addition, Google, Gmail, and Dropbox are blocked in China. I try to change a flight reservation, and this is nearly impossible without access to my reservation emails.
14book
The hotel phone cannot call to Europe. 3 very kind reception staff spend 3 hours trying to change the flight. I finally succeed myself by calling the agency via Skype.
14firewall
The “great firewall of China” makes the internet a pain. As it turns out, the guy who invented it is even speaking at this conference (pictured). I’m surprised he’s still alive.

APWeb Banquet

15acro
The conference banquet has an acrobatic show.
15sing
Tradition has it that all professors have to sing. This applies only to Chinese professors, though.
15massage
After the banquet, we go to a foot massage. Pain and joy can be so close together...

Trip to Zhangjiajie

16insects
Clarification: The insect repellent has to be sprayed on the skin. This works much better than ingesting it.
16boom
We leave Changsha to go to Zhangjiajie. We pass by hundreds of skyscrapers. Changsha is just one of the 150 cities in China with more than 1m inhabitants.
16third
The countryside of China is more third‐worldish.
16rice
It is covered by buildings, roads, and rice fields. Reportedly, in many villages, people live nearly exclusively on rice...
16food
...which is a totally understandable from my perspective, given the alternatives.

Zhangjiajie Caves

17wheel
Historical Chinese technology uses the flow of the water to turn a wheel, which lifts up the water into the tubes that lead to the fields.
17fish
The local pastime is to put a big fish in a cage with an even bigger fish, and watch as the latter eats the former.
17cave
We visit a cave and spend 2 hours following a Chinese‐speaking tour guide. Only 40% of the cave are open to visitors. 20% would have been OK, too.
17cpc
The Chinese Communist Party promises to “answer all questions and address all complaints”. While we are still pondering whether to ask about P=NP or about the slow Internet, we have to leave.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

18regret
We visit the National Park where the movie “Avatar” was shot.
18tourists
It’s not like we’re the only ones to have this idea.
18misty
The place does have its special atmosphere...
18strange
...and mysteriousness...
18peak
... as well as stunning 3D scenery...
18over
... and startling depths...
18sunset
...especially maybe at sunset.
18locks
The idea of padlocks has also found its friends.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park reloaded

19prevention
We have another day in the national park...
19cablecar
... this time going up by cable car.
19stones
The sandstone pillars are over 200 meters high. Since no man has ever set foot on their tops, the forests that grow there are untouched ecosystems.
19girl
The scenery is beautiful.
19simple
But in the end, it is the simple things in life that make people happy.

Trip to Shanghai

20buy
We leave Zhangjiajie to go back to Changsha. I resist the temptation to buy snacks in a road shop.
20fishhead
Back in Changsha, we try the local speciality: Fish head.
20tv
In case you want to prepare such food, take a Chinese plane. You might be lucky and see a cooking video (here: sea cucumber).
20maglev
After this instructive plane trip, I take the magnetic levitation train in Shanghai.
20fast
It runs at 430 km/h, which is really fast.
20skate
It is evening in Shanghai. People gather in the streets, and the young learn skating.
20dance
The older people dance. One of the dances has Discofox music, resembles Jive, and is called Chacha.
20round
When I ask a lady to dance with me, people form a circle around us in awe (or contempt; hard to tell if you don’t understand Chinese).

Longhua Temple

21worship
I visit the Longhua Temple. It belongs to Zen Buddhism, a school of Buddhism that concentrates on meditation.
21candles
People hold candles and pray in the four cardinal directions.
21kings
The Four Heavenly Kings are gods that protect the world and fight evil.
21arhat
The 500 Arhat are those people who have attained Nirvana, i.e., a state of perfection.
21monks
The monks pray in monotonous singings.
21buddha
The temples are decorated with fresh flowers. This has a clear olfactory advantage over the incense used in Christian places of worship.

Longhua Martyrs’ Cemetery

22cem
The Longhua Martyrs’ Cemetery commemorates the Communists (right sculpture) who were killed by Koumintang troops (left sculpture) in the Chinese Civil War.
22small
The Koumintang women can be distinguished easily in their shape...
22big
...from the Communist women. Something worth fighting for apparently.

Xintiandi

23bottega
The Xintiandi plaza offers European style food and is very popular.
23duck
Only the local restaurant “Boi‐Ling Wing” has less guests. I wonder why...

East China Normal University (ECNU)

24uni
I give a talk at the ECNU. The university was created in 1952 from several institutions to follow the Soviet-style higher education system.
24lunch
I am invited for lunch, and I explain that in Europe, there is a larger distance between the concepts of “animal” and “food”.

Yu Gardens

25yu
The Yu Gardens are the most crowded and touristic place I have seen here. All scams from the Wikivoyage page appear here, including the innocent young couple who wants to go out with you.
25bridge
The bridges are in Zig-Zag, so that evil spirits cannot pass them. This is because evil spirits can only walk straight. Smart!
25spot
The garden does have its nice spots, but is dominated by stones and tourists rather than plants.

Bye bye Shanghai

26cars
Shopping malls provide pleasant relief from the heat outside. You can buy everything here, even cars.
26paris
They also sell Parisian baguette. It is delicious! I think I should go and check out the original one.
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