It is amazing how much some trees and greenery can excite foreigners who have been in Shanghai for a couple months. I was looking for somewhere to go this afternoon as tomorrow (Tuesday) is my one full day off each week, but this week I have training for work all afternoon. I needed to get out and do some exploring. I sent out a text to a couple friends this morning during Chinese class and got a response from Adam & Yumi (fellow MIM 2010 graduates who are studying in Shanghai this term) saying, “Going to a picnic to see cherry blossoms. Meet at Jing’an subway stop at one.” Hmmm… I don’t know where there are any cherry blossoms (or spots to picnic) anywhere near Jing’an Temple or on West Nanjing road – but I headed in that direction after getting out of class.
Apparently, Jing’an was only the meet up point. After a few delays and meeting up with Adam, Yumi and six others from their university, we hopped on the line 7 to ride all the way (14 subway stops) out to Gucun park. When we finally arrived and walked out of the subway station we saw – construction, more construction, cranes and an empty shopping center that reminded us of an outlet mall in the states more than anything. But it was further out of the city than any of us had been in quite some time, and beyond the newly constructed, still empty shopping center it appeared to be the end of the world. No more city, no more buildings, just… wait for it…. TREES and an empty road lined with colorful flags.
Gucun park – phase 1 is 180 hectares of manufactured nature. Yes, it is true they manufacture everything in China, even nature. Phase one is still being implemented, as we noticed when we were unable to enter the “exotic romance garden” as it was still under construction, and we saw truck driving loads of blooming flowers into the park. Phase 2, the sign says, will be another 250 hectares. I’m assuming of more gardens, pathways, amusement park rides (which strangely no one ever seems to be ride) and really odd out of place statues, artwork? Like machine guns, or the giant Tarzan like man with an ape .
We did find a grassy spot to sit down in and eat our lunch, and after awhile, were joined by a Chinese man who asked (in Chinese), “May I look at you for awhile?” We said he could, so he did. He observed the foreigners sitting on the grass eating, made some remarks in Chinese about us and then walked away as we got up to leave.
The cherry blossoms which were blooming were beautiful, but there were many more not in bloom yet. Waterways, bridges, the random art and plenty of good Chinglish made it a delightful afternoon. But honestly, greenery, trees, flowers and quiet open spaces made it worth the hour long subway ride. Was the air “fresh”? Perhaps not – the horizon in all directions was the normal China-grey, the sun slightly dimmed by the haze; yet, the CO2 loving, oxygen producing, trees and plants did feel nice. We felt that perhaps a bit more oxygen was being delivered to our nostrils. Maybe Shanghai has driven us to fantasize – but we take what we can get.