Seattle Day Tripping

To quell my wanderlust between trips to faraway places, I keep an eye open for local activities which interest me.

Seattle is less than 15 miles away yet now that I am retired and no longer commute, it’s rare for me to leave the quiet hamlet of Edmonds to venture into the city beehive of people and traffic. Yet when I read an article about the opening of the Amazon Spheres to the public, I invited a couple of friends to join me on another adventure to the big city. (We visited Seattle’s International District/Chinatown during winter.)

For the Amazon headquarters’ tour of the spheres, reservations are a requirement, and they are open only two Saturdays a month. Once registered on the website (see below for link), print the free ticket or have it available on your phone. Government ID is required (i.e. drivers license). Take public transportation or if you drive, the garage is across the street. Take note of other buildings as you approach the mind-bending spheres since the architecture and colors of other Amazon office buildings are also impressive.

A greeter welcomes visitors into the large sphere while ushering us inside. I found the check-in process at the front desk efficient. Within minutes we’ve shown our IDs, tickets are scanned, and we are led through a turnstile to the ‘inner sanctum’ of the large sphere. Unlike the zoo, there is no map to guide or instruct us, no arrows pointing the way, so we figured it out as we went. Taking the stairs to the first floor we gaped at the massive structure, which, although on a much grander scale, reminded me of the geodesic domes Oregon friends built in the ‘70s. We stood there for a few minutes getting the ‘lay of the land’ and wondering where to go next. Guides are stationed on each floor if you have questions. Also, it wasn’t until we were departing much later that we saw an elevator is available.

Living Wall

Looking up at the scale of the sphere I was in awe and once I understood the layout, it’s only a matter of visiting the ‘exhibits’ as you would a museum. Surrounded by roughly 40,000 plants, many of which are labeled, I recognized several tropical flowers and plants from my trips to Costa Rica which fills my heart with warm memories. The three spheres include plenty of options for sitting (or even lounging) while peacefully inhaling a tropical humidity and imagining the plants are growing happily in such a beautiful environment. I could almost hear birds chattering, butterflies flitting, and hummingbirds clicking in my ear.

Amazon’s Day One Building seen from inside The Spheres

Large misters expel clouds of moisture for the trees, plants and flowers on a regular basis. There is a hint of coolness to the humidity reminding me of hiking in Costa Rican jungles and feeling my skin soaking in moisture. In the Amazon Spheres I am relieved there is no apprehension of venomous snakes lurking beneath a fern.

Large Misters

As you gaze around the space, stand quietly amid the plant displays and living walls while breathing in the pristine air of biodiversity. Let the forms and shapes envelope you while your imagination whisks you off to a rain forest somewhere in the world as you stand in downtown Seattle.

On the third floor is a woven straw-like structure called the ‘bird’s nest’ which is approached by a small suspension bridge bouncing with each step. Cindy, Donna, and I sat on the nest’s wrap-around bench for awhile resting and chatting. A group of five or six people arrived and asked if one of us could take their photo. I moved my purse and unnecessary jacket from my lap onto the bench and stood up while Donna scooted over a bit. A man handed me his phone and as I raised it to photograph them, I heard the familiar clatter of my phone hitting something as it fell. I thought it had slipped from the bench to the bottom of the nest, but it had fallen 50 feet or so to the floor below. There was a collective gasp as we all looked at one another.

Bird’s Nest

Peering over the railing I saw a woman sitting in a chair and a young man walking by. They were both staring at my phone on the floor and looking a bit confused. The woman looked up at me and said, “It’s ok, no one will take it.” Cindy dashed downstairs to retrieve it as I resumed photographing the energized group sitting in the bird’s nest.

Cindy yelled up to me, “Your phone is fine!”

We were all astonished my phone didn’t shatter from the fall. One person in the group I was photographing, told us the floors were rubberized and he knew since he was an Amazon employee. A somewhat spongy floor helps tremendously for cell phones flying out of bird nests and eases the impact on walkers’ feet. During the work week, lucky Amazon employees use this space for breaks and probably meetings.

Spending almost two hours looking at these magnificent, and rare, plant specimens was a treat.

Fig Tree Trunk

Feeling satisfied by our botanical experience, we ventured outside and fell into a conversation with one of the greeters stationed outside the door. I asked her if the partially constructed building across the street was the one involved in recent headlines and was told, “Oh, yes.”

Just two days before on our local news, it was announced that Amazon, with 45,000 employees, paused the construction of their newest building because the City of Seattle is tossing around the idea of a head tax payable by big business employers in Seattle. There was TV coverage of steel-workers chanting “No head tax! No head tax!” while an outspoken council person was voicing her support in favor of the head tax program to provide for the homeless. We were standing in the area where this recent demonstration took place. It looked like only the office building’s steel work was near completion.

After our lively conversation, the greeter pointed us in the direction of the Spheres’ Information Center below. Walking into this open display area I was immediately impressed by the huge slide show directly ahead on three walls showing flowers and plants from the spheres. I read a little about the process the architects went through to select spheres, settling on what is known as a ‘Catalan’ form.

“…creating a sphere is more difficult than it may appear. While the Spheres bear similarities to, say, a traditional geodesic dome, this structure is far more complicated.

Like geodesic domes, the Spheres are constructed using a repeating geometric module. NBBJ is calling the pentagonal frames used to construct the Spheres Catalans, since they drew on the work of Belgian mathematician Eugène Charles Catalan—who in turn drew from the work of Archimedes—to create them.” Sarah Anne Lloyd,

Exiting out of the garage, it was a shock to see the cost to park. Knowing how expensive downtown Seattle parking can be, to pay less than $3 was a pleasant surprise!

We drove the back way into Ballard down 15th Ave., and the weather was warm enough to stop by Red Mill Totem House, across from the Locks, to sit outside and have fish and chips.

Remarking on what a wonderful experience The Spheres had been, we considered Seattle’s Volunteer Park Botanical Conservatory as our next “destination field trip.” It’s been years since I’ve been there.

Seattle Spheres link:

All photos copyright of V.C. Murray.


 Cheshire is a Cat & a District in England which Includes Bears, Ice Cream, and a Lake

After a very full 9 days, there was only one day left in England before we flew to France. We had things to do including packing, but first I had to lighten my souvenir/gift baggage. On our way into Congleton, my cousin-in-law, Denise, dropped me at a post office where I mailed home an expensive box filled with inexpensive souvenirs and gifts for family back home. Sometimes it is worth paying more especially if you have a multi-city trip and have two legs to go. so I wouldn’t I didn’t want to lug the items around Limoge and Paris or be charged for a 2nd bag on Ryan Air.

 Of course, in a busy British neighborhood post office on a Saturday, was one of the very few times on this trip when my debit card wouldn’t work because of the changing credit card ‘pin system’ which was occurring in Europe. On top of that, I hadn’t gone to the cash machine first but luckily Denise came to the rescue and the lone Postmaster was patient and understanding about the whole situation. The line was almost going out the door behind me and I felt embarrassed for holding things up but the postmaster assured me, in the atypical patient British manner, that it was quite all right, they would just have to wait. After all, he was open until 3 (it was 11) so there was plenty of time. I love that attitude and am glad I wasn’t one of those people waiting in line.

The Cheshire District in the North Country of England, among other things, was where Lewis Carroll lived for awhile and named the “Cheshire Cat” in his book Alice in Wonderland after this district.

The town of Congleton is known for bears, which my late mom loved and collected.  She would have loved to know her first cousin lived in a town known for bears. I bought a small stuffed one in her honor.



The first settlements in Congleton were Neolithic, Stone Age, and Bronze. Much later, Congleton became a market town after the Vikings destroyed Davenport. The Romans are thought to have been here, too, even if they haven’t found evidence of that…yet. William the Conquerer gave the district of Cheshire over to his nephew, the Earl of Chester. Much history follows with it’s first charter signed in 1272 by the 3rd Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, which is where they would hold fairs and behead criminals. On that note, the town charter was stamped with approval.

In 1451 the River Dane flooded and the town was destroyed, they rerouted the river, and rebuilt Congleton on higher ground.

In the 1620s, cockfighting and bear-baiting became popular sports in Congleton. But officials wanted larger crowds and they decided that meant they needed a large and fierce bear. Rumor has it they sold the town bible to acquire funding for a new bear. However, the truth was, they used the money they were going to use to purchase a new bible to actually buy the bear.  As the crowds increased and proved more money in the coffers, they were able to replenish the fund to finally buy the new bible.

Another publicized story from Congleton, is about John Bradshaw, mayor and lawyer, and, a regicide. Mayor Bradshaw penned his name as the first signature on the decree to execute Charles I in 1649. On the wall of The White Lion public house, there is a blue plaque stating that Bradshaw’s attorney office was here and he served articles in this 16th century building. (Note that the White Lion, in March, still had a couple of old Christmas, um, holiday trees, hanging off the facade.


Fast forward to the 21st century and Congleton carries on as a market town with a lovely pedestrian area where Denise and I happily stopped for cappuccinos and pastries. 







Congleton was also an important player in the textile industry well known for leather gloves, silk and lace which was a diverse product line.

The little village park celebrates awards for being pretty and back in the early days of film, presented silent movies in the little clubhouse with musicians playing mood tunes. It was currently celebrating Queen Elizabeth II‘s Diamond Jubilee. During my travel week in England, I saw other celebratory remnants from last year’s big occasion. It was a big year for London with the Olympics and a royal baby was on the way who could well be a future monarch. All very exciting stuff for royalists (like me).





Returnimg to my cousin’s home, we left Denise to finish packing while John took me to what would be my mini-version of Stonehenge.  This little out-of-the-way monument was a low key tourist attraction since we were the only tourists; my favorite kind of tourist attraction. Quiet. Rundown. No one else to step around while I took photos. And it was cool. 














These standing stones comprise what is called the Bridestones Neolithic Chambered Long Cairn. It’s the only known tomb in Cheshire to date to the Neolithic period 3500-2400 BC.  The tomb is on the west flank of Cloud Hill facing westerly over Cheshire County.  From what has been gathered historically by Antiquarians, these stones are mere remnants of a more extensive monument. Perhaps Manchester University will fund additional students for further research about this area one day.

From here I learned there really is an Ice Cream Farm in Cheshire County


I felt about 6 years old right then. This was a real ice cream farm with cows present who provide the milk and the owners sell their Hilly Billy ice cream on site. It’s all situated on a gorgeous piece of unblemished property.







The ice cream was delish and everything was just so darn quaint and cute.









And I can’t even begin to describe the farm and the beautiful land it sits on, so I won’t even try. A picture speaks a thousand words.



















From the top of Cloud Hill, there is a view of the area including the industrial plumes of Liverpool in the distance. The white structure in right side of the photo below is the humongous observatory, Jodrell Bank Observatory.


I learned one more last fascinating fact about the area. We briefly stopped at pretty little Lake Rudyard.  Kipling’s parents met here, which was how their son, Rudyard, was given his name. 

Standing outside the car and viewing this lake, in the middle of remote English countryside, I felt a strong presence of my mother and wished she was the lucky one standing here viewing our ancestoral country. She was the one who taught me about Kipling and who had all his stories in a collection of books. loved bears, and certainly loved ice cream.

This one’s for you, Mom, wherever you are.




Onward to France…

The Object of Your Story


Occasionally it’s mentioned in workshops or books on the craft of writing, how effective a physical object can be when subtly weaving it through your story.  Recently I finished reading the book The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman which uses a large 19th century portrait of a Parisian courtesan as an occasional object from beginning to end. Even without a picture to physically see, the author showed the reader the gilded frame, the woman’s posture, colors, and fabrics.  It easily came to mind whenever the painting was mentioned at various intervals of the story. It was a familiar object.  And, what I loved about this book was how the author wrote it as a fictionalized account of a newspaper article. It was a story of a family learning about their great-great grandmother’s apartment in Paris which was locked up for over 70 years. When the apartment was opened by family heirs in 2011, it was as if time stood still and they walked into 1940s Paris. I remember reading the newspaper article and posting it on Facebook.  I was fascinated by the story and thrilled someone wrote a book about it.

If you decide you want an object for your story, how do you discover what it will be?

As writers, we understand inspiration arises from unexpected places. You may be in a writers’ group when a new story pops into your head and the first draft is soon underway. Perhaps you are sitting at your desk or on a plane thousands of feet in the air when an idea for a new character is born. You can be anywhere.  That’s the beauty of being a writer.

It wasn’t long ago, as I was housecleaning, when an object in my home reminded me of someone I once loved.   I wiped dust off the Asian antique mirror and remembered a time, 43 years ago, when the man I loved looked at his reflection in this mirror, standing in my mother’s home.  I was across the room watching him when his reflection caught mine and we locked eyes. It was a moment which stood still in time for me. He’s been gone many years, but, oddly, his reflection and the memory of our connection remain embedded in  the wavy glass of this mirror.

My thoughts, as I continued dusting, trailed off to another time I could only conjure up in my imagination. It occurred to me my grandfather may have bought this mirror for my grandmother when they were first married in Shanghai in 1929. The mirror, with its new glass, survived WWII hidden in a Shanghai cellar. It was kept with other curios and precious objects out of sight and protected from the Japanese invasion and ensuing confiscations since these objects were in the cellar of a White Russian friend of my grandmother’s. If a Russian (or any nationality) was married to a citizen of an enemy country, they were sent to Japanese internment camps, which was the case of my grandmother and mother who spent 4 years in a camp because of the marriage between my  Russian grandmother and  a British man.

A couple of years after the war, in 1947, the mirror took a journey by ship to the United States and hung on the wall of my grandmother’s San Francisco flat well into the late 70s.  The mirror had additional journeys over the next 37 years when it lived in my mother’s home in Pleasant Hill, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; then to my home in Seattle, and eventually settling in Edmonds 11 years ago. I imagine one of my children and one of my grandchildren will take it from here.

And so it was a day of simple housecleaning which created my story-object. If I choose to do so,  I can carry this mirror through my book for almost 100 years of my family’s history.  I can write a historical fiction showing the reader many of the faces reflected over time, some known and some imagined; we have so much freedom as writers to create whatever we wish!

Stories and ideas pop up for writers from unexpected places and we are delighted when they pop up at all.

Vivian C. Murray







The Little Bookshop in Venice

On my first visit to Venice in 2003, I stayed in Cannaregio, one of six historic districts in this City of Canals. Exploring, I found the simple Santa Maria dei Miracoli, known as the ‘marble church’, which sits prettily next to the Campo dei Miracoli (a plaza) but it was closed at that hour.  I had just met my future son-in-law’s parents and learned they married in this church, and Cannaregio is where their children were born and raised.

The next day, I leaned out my hotel window and shot photographs of delivery guys in high galoshes slosh through ‘aqua alta’ (high water) while forcing flatbed carts piled high with UPS and FedEx packages.  Two hours and a couple of espressos later, the water levels finally subsided and I could walk back to see inside the church.

Midway to the altar, I sat immersed in peace, quiet, and streams of dust motes colored by reflections from stained glass. All of a sudden, I was disturbed by loud crinkling noises and talking; it was a gaggle of chattering tourists who walked in wearing black garbage bags over their shoes and tied at their kneecaps.

Outside the 15th century church, two shops flanked one side of the campo (plaza). After peering into the pristine stationery shop window, I headed to the bookshop next door. The tinkle of a bell was triggered as I opened a heavy glass-inset wooden door.  I immediately noted very little semblance of order. It was my dream come true and a librarian’s nightmare. Wooden tables and bookcases held stacks of books ascending several feet while postcard racks with a mixture of cards were pushed up against the little bit of wall space available in the shop.

A weathered, yet dapper-looking, elderly gentleman appeared from the back while chirpily announcing “Buongiorno!”  He wore a business suit, a sweater vest and tie which looked like it was all from a much earlier decade. We hand gestured, due to language barriers, miming my wish to browse and his delight to have a customer. Soon, a children’s book, legal-sized with a water-color cover, caught my eye.  The artwork included Basilica San Marco, Venice’s iconic image.

The title “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” was loosely translated to “Water-Nymph and Catfish from Paris to Venice” by Claude Morhange and Cassandra Wainhouse.   As I picked the book up, the gentleman became animated.  “Molto bene!”  he exclaimed.  Pointing to the English words, he said, “You speak!”  With a twinkle in his eye and a gentle smile, I found him too endearing to refuse.The story was printed in both English and Italian;  I read the English side aloud and ten minutes later while closing the magical book, I noticed a wistful look on the old man’s face as he said, “Grazie mille.” (“Thank you, very much.”)  If I had small children in my family, I would have bought it, but my children were grown and there were no grandchildren.  Back into the chilly November sunshine, postcards in hand, I felt as if I had been in a magical time warp sprinkled with stardust.

Two years later I returned to Venice and ventured back to Campo dei Miracoli.  It was going to be my first grandchild’s baptism and I was searching for the right gift. In a beautiful stationery shop, I purchased a hand-blown glass wax seal with Gabriel’s initials. Going back outside to the sunshine, I strolled over to the bookshop. The elderly man who I met before was not there but I met his son who helped me find “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” on a table outside. I bought it, while I also inquired about his father; he told me ‘papa’ was home that day but was doing well.

Both items I bought were treasures for my six month old grandson whose baptism would be the following day in a villa near Venice. Happily, there was now a small child in my family, even an Italian one, who would someday read “Odina e Pesce Gatto“, perhaps he will be able to read and understand the Italian version, too.Ondina







Shanghai Spirits

Recently I wondered when the first ghost sighting was recorded, so as anyone would do these days, I Googled it.  There was mention of a book, “Ghost Sightings” by Brian Innes, where it is said the oldest written report of a ghost comes from the Bible. Saul goes to a medium (“a woman that hath a familiar spirit”) and asks her to conjure up the deceased Samuel, which she, it says, does by Samuel appearing in the form of “an old man covered with a mantle.”

Whether you believe in the spirit world or not, unexplainable ghostly appearances have been shared for centuries. But we can also sense the ‘spirit of a place’ or the ‘spirit of a person’ if we listen quietly.

While researching information for a book I’m writing about my family, one thing was missing. Reading and watching documentaries from my easy chair was not going to give me the “sense of place” I needed to continue.

With a few small miracles falling into place, I was off to Shanghai and my cousin, John, and his wife flew in from England to join me. Via email, we hired a private Shanghainese guide, recommended by John’s sister who hired the same guide two years prior (my grandfather, Sam Sharrock, was their uncle).

While waiting a day for my cousin, I explored the Bund and Nanjing Road solo while discovering I loved the culture shock of experiencing an Asian country for the first time. So many people wore the ‘good luck color’ of red, it was also crowded, and Chinese vendors would follow trying to lure me into an alley to see their wares. It’s also hard not to mention how a father thought it was ok for his young son to urinate on the sidewalk. This was China.

Little boy peeing

Little boy peeing



Exploring the fantastic British colonial buildings, I thought of my mother and grandparents visiting embassies, art deco hotels, and even the same department store on Nanjing Road which still operated as the No. 1 Department Store. These buildings were part of their lives during the 1920s-40s, when living there was envied as Shanghai was called the “Paris of the East.” It was a wild ‘free’ port of call with immigrants arriving from all over the war-torn world.


Astor House Hotel – side wing

Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store (with handsome Caucasian man in front)

Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store


Peace Hotel atrium


Astor House Hotel

Our guide, Henry, picked us up in a large van. Since my grandfather was a British police officer, we began the tour at Jinxing police station in an old Shanghainese neighborhood. It was fortuitous to find a couple of men chatting in front of the station. I photographed the exterior and the people in the neighborhood while listening to Henry speak in rapid fire Cantonese to the men. I’m not sure if there was a bribe involved, but 15 minutes later a key appeared and we were allowed through the iron gate into the compound.

Kashing Road

Jiaxing Road Police Station, 290 Harbin Road, built 1907, known for having arrested Chen Duxiu, one of Chinese Communist Party founders

Jiaxing Road Police Station, 290 Harbin Road, built 1907, known for having arrested Chen Duxiu, one of Chinese Communist Party founders

Taking in the scene, I noted sagging roof lines, rain gutters hanging by a sliver of bracket, and rusted iron bars on the ground floor windows.

In the back of the compound I found a collection of clean, brightly flowered enamel chamber pots next to a door which led me to think someone must be living in this squalor.


Laundry and boy with balloon in doorway with old woman looking out window above - we are a curious lot
Laundry and boy with balloon in doorway with old woman looking out window above – we are a curious lot


I could almost see spectral wafting figures of prisoners being held here before transferring to the goliath Ward Prison nearby. I only knew of Sam from stories shared by my grandmother and mother, the black and white photographs, as well as letters he wrote to them. I envisioned him in his crisp high collared black police uniform patrolling these same grounds. I was fascinated by what secrets this building held; was this where the bomb went off in his office?

Climbing back into the van, we were pensive while chatting about Sam and his tragic end. The driver took us a short distance to the apartment building where the family lived and after exploring the honeycomb of entrances, we found the red door of F01, our family’s apartment. Unfortunately we were not able to see inside as the tenant was in a rest home, of which the guard informed Henry. This building had a historical plaque and was in good condition, so it was unlikely it would be torn down anytime soon.

The Family Apartment's Front Door

Sharrock’s front door on Weihai Road


Partial exterior shot of apartment building on Weihai Road

While taking photos of the rosebush in the central garden of the gated complex, I wondered if these roses served as inspiration for my mom’s love of roses. I remembered memories she shared with me with one scene in this  driveway. Young military men picked Nona up for dates in their American issued jeeps and she told me how nervous she felt. I have a photo of one of those times and now I could actually touch the brick on this side of the building.


Inside the apartment courtyard

Another time of reminiscing, a  fond memory my mother shared was of hopping her bike and riding out the gate full steam ahead. The rickshaw drivers shouted obscenities in Chinese admonishing her for going too fast as she weaved around them. My mother said she loved the ‘freedom of flying’ with the wind blowing her hair back off her face while she pedaled in pubescent madness. This was a happy time shortly before she would spend 4 years in a POW camp.

Now, seventy five years later, I jay-walked the busy lanes in front of the imposing brick building and imagined the spirit of a young girl flying down Weihai Road on her bicycle; in my mind’s eye I could see her disappearing in the distance.

My six senses were brought alive by traveling to the city of my mother’s birth while giving me the “sense of place” I needed to write their story.

Nona and a friend with jeep of a GI (who is probably taking the photo)

My mother (on the right) and a friend with jeep of a GI (who is probably taking the photo) next to her apartment building.


Standing in the portal leading to the family apartment door

Eat, Wok, Stare – Just Another Shanghai Kind of Food

Full disclosure: “I am not a foodie.” I am not going to show you luscious examples of all the savory dishes I ate in Shanghai, mostly because I forgot.   And, I basically eat when I have to eat something to keep my energy up, but I do choose carefully so I don’t become ill. Fast food is not my favorite so it’s only out of desperation that I go to one of those joints. (I feel that way about coffee at a certain coffee chain started in Seattle, too.)  There is something ‘too corporate’ about these chains and I would rather give my money to smaller businesses.

I also prefer food brought to me at a table rather than buffet-style, and in a foreign country, it is helpful when a menu is in both English and the local language, but a few photos illustrating the dish will do fine, too. I’m not that fussy. Otherwise I take a look around at what other diners are eating or ask the server what they recommend if they happen to speak English. No matter what, you won’t starve if you can’t speak the language. You just figure it out.

With that said, I absolutely relish seeing different foods in other countries and it is common for me to take photos of food-related items which are different from what I am used to seeing. Like sculpted ice cream on a stick:


Terrible photo because I was being rushed by others.

Eating in China was not totally ‘foreign’ to me since I grew up in a family who went to Chinese restaurants in our neighborhoods as special treats. And San Francisco was full of awesome Chinese restaurants. As a bonus, I learned how to use chopsticks early on in life. Shanghai carried on in my mother and grandmother’s lives until the day they died.  And now that I think of it, oddly enough the last meals I had with them were at Chinese restaurants, 17 years apart.

Arriving at the Pudong airport in Shanghai in March of 2015, one of the first signs I saw was for  Burger King.


The next day, I had breakfast in the dining room of the Astor Hotel, where I was staying, with an elegant and scrumptious buffet.

DSC00513 DSC00514








And on my first walk along Shanghai’s busy Nanjing Road, a colorful case of lacquered fruit popped into my sight.


These colorful fruits seemed to be lacquered with a thick clear icing. Sugar, I presume.










A day later, during the first of two personal tour days my cousin John and cousin-in-law Denise, and I had with Mr. H., we were taken for lunch in locally well-known, too expensive (we paid for lunch on top of his hefty daily fee, although I admit he was worth it), and well-established restaurants somewhere in Shanghai. These restaurants were never obvious from the general tourist point-of-view and I doubt I could find them again.

DSC00797 DSC00799







The first restaurant (and only one I photographed) was this weathered and splendid building with flying eaves, and which was definitely old enough to have been a place my family ate in the 20s and 30s.  We arrived after 1pm when most customers (looked like all locals) were finishing up lunch and taking their time talking over desert.  It was a busy Saturday and we had an extremely long wait before we were seated.


While waiting to be seated, I looked at this wall for longer than I was interested.

In contrast to seeing the ‘real Shanghai’ neighborhoods that morning during our drive, it was obvious there was no poverty in this opulent establishment and it was far from being a working class restaurant.


fish in the floor

Koi swimming beneath our feet.


This shrimp dish was excellent.


Denise and I were picking leaves off our lips and out of our teeth as we drank our tea.


The little pond roped off in the center of the dining room. Seemed a bit weird since no one could drown. But, maybe they were afraid of ‘other things’ happening.


One of several dining rooms in this palatial building.

While we were eating our pleasant lunch, there was a young Asian boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who appeared to be fascinated with Caucasian people eating. I even ate with chopsticks which may have blown his little mind. I don’t know why, but he couldn’t stop staring and hovering, standing very close to our table, gravitating into my personal space to the right of my chair and maybe a step behind me. He openly watched our every move.  The boy’s family (presumably chattering away in some other area of the restaurant which I never could figure out) either never saw him to correct him about lurking or maybe he was the owner’s son? I have no idea.

In China, I noticed personal space is practically non-existent. This was my first time in Asia so if you have ever been in an Asian country you have noticed there is always the somewhat disconcerting feeling someone is looking over your shoulder or standing practically flush by your side.  I suppose with the high populations in these countries it is necessary and a non-issue to be so cozy with each other. It takes some adjustment to get used to the closeness of our fellow humans.

But, back at the restaurant, Mr. H.  finally barked out some stern Chinese words spurring the boy on to skedaddle over to the other side of the pond, closer to his invisible family.  I occasionally glanced around to find him in yet another corner continuing to keep his watchful eye on us. What was he so curious about, I wondered.

As we were leaving, I turned and looked back  to see the boy now standing at the edge of the dining room entrance, with a curious, almost wistful expression, watching us leave his familiar world. I smiled and sent him a small wave goodbye which prompted a sweet crooked smile from him as he happily waved back. It was kind of sweet in an innocent, stalking sort of way.

Later we went to another police station where my grandfather worked sometime during 1922-1942, and wandered through the imprisoned and creepy area which was down one of the alleyways I didn’t venture off of Nanjing Road. It was cordoned off by high concrete walls with a rolled barbed wire deterrent on top. The day had turned out to be very warm, which made me thirsty. As we were leaving to rush off to the next destination I saw the sugar cane carts outside the walls. I am not sure where the memory came from, maybe Chinatown in San Francisco with my grandmother, but I knew I liked sugar cane juice. I ground to a stop (Mr. H. was always in such a hurry!) and bought a cup of the juice while being reminded how refreshing it tasted.

Delicious sugar cane juice

Delicious sugar cane juice

During my 10 day stay, I ate at various places on my own. Most were a success, but not all. (During the 2 days with John and Denise after our time with Mr. H, we ate at the Subway on the Bund out of sheer desperation. Not my favorite place but it was close by when we were walking the Bund, plus we were hot, tired, and knew what to expect.)

One of the poor choices I made was ordering a burger from the bar in the Astor one early evening. I can’t seem to erase the taste of or the memory of the consistency of this so-called meat.

But to give the hotel credit, the little café in the lobby served excellent soup and the buffet breakfast served in the same ballroom where my family members must have danced at some point, tasted amazing.


The wonton soup in the Astor House café was excellent, the salad was sad, and they always served a banana with a meal.


Elegant way to have a cappuccino in the Astor House.












On the other hand, the little café across from another hotel not far from the Astor was another one of my random decisions which did not work out in my favor. Hope I don’t get sued, but this had to be my worse food experience in Shanghai. I thought I was being smart by avoiding the $12 for breakfast at the Astor by venturing up the road to what looked like a possible breakfast place. I had noticed the sign when getting dropped off at the hotel one night.

Unfortunately, another taste I can’t seem to forget was the ‘bun’ I ordered which also had some sort of indescribable meat inside. There was nothing fresh offered here and I should have known that if it was pre-packaged, odds were not in my favor. After one bite, I gave it back to one of the two women  saw working there and she started eating it with a big grin. Neither of them spoke English.  She seemed to be proving to me that it was delicious and I was the picky tourist.   I saw a cake slice which I figured would have to do as breakfast. That was tasteless. Perhaps that’s a good thing. The sad ending to this tale is it cost me more than what the breakfast at the Astor would have charged.  Not so smart, on my part, after all.

Overpriced restaurant

Overpriced restaurant




At another desperate moment, I saw an exterior Starbucks sign, walked the length of a enormous department store with individual stalls selling shoes, clothing, and cosmetics, only to fin this “Brewing Soon” sign. Luckily on the following block I found one already brewing and open.


Thinking this was milk with a ‘cute character’ on the bottle, I found that when there is a peanut, it usually means it is peanut milk. I have never heard of peanut milk and after one sip, I never need to hear of it again…


















There was an evening I found a 7-Eleven type market during a downpour, when I just wanted a glass of milk and a cookie to take to my room. (See milk bottle caption.)

And the day I wanted to sit and have a cup of coffee. (See Starbucks caption.)

To end my stay, I had dinner at the local restaurant just up the street from the Astor. I don’t know what happened, but I have no photos to mark this particular visit. It may be that I was distracted by the stares (again). This time it was a whole working family in this empty restaurant who seemed bored to death, so perhaps an old American woman having dinner alone was their entertainment. (It was late afternoon before most people went out for dinner. As I was leaving they were becoming busy with locals.)

Everything on the menu was in Chinese and no one spoke English, but there were some photos alluding to ingredients. I chose a soup with shrimp which was very good. And as I sat there being the center of attention, they were distracted for a little while by a delivery of  large plastic crates holding fresh fish (I could see them swimming inside when l stood up in my booth and glanced over the top of a couple of the crates.). This was obviously the catch of the day for their dinner menu.

This Shanghai journey was a time when it would have been helpful to know the Chinese language, but I got by and never got sick. Plus I learned something: I know to pay attention to a peanut character on a bottle of  milk.

Two Faces of Travel: Traveler and Tourist

During my travels, I tend to seek out less traveled spots, therefore these places are less crowded, which makes me feel less surrounded, and makes traveling feel less stressful, and much more pleasant. But on this Sunday in crowded Shanghai, I understood it was time to surrender to a day of jostling with other tourists to see the sites. And we were paying a pretty penny for the personal tour, so I should try to pay attention.

On Sunday, Henry took John, Denise, and I to a few of the tourist spots around Shanghai. 


Before entering the Yu Garden, you must negotiate the Yuyuan Bazaar, an example of sprawling commercialism contained in 10 streets. However, shopping was not on our itinerary so we were whisked through the modern-built-flying-eave-structures to the ancient gardens with barely a glance or clear photo. 

The classical Yunduan Garden was completed in 1577 by a government officer of the Ming Dynasty. Pan Yunduan built it for his parents to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age. They lived only a short time after the gardens were finished, since there was a 20 year gap when Pan had to be in Beijing. 

Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying.  The garden has gone through many different phases in 400 years. Some rich merchants bought it in 1760 during the Qing Dynasty and rebuilt the dilapidated buildings but it was severely damaged in the 19th century during the Opium Wars (1839-1842) but in 1956, then had a five year restoration period, and was finally opened to the public in September, 1961. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) partly destroyed it again but from 1986-1993, the government repaired the garden to what we see today. 

It’s only my assumption that during the time my family, The Sharrocks, lived in Shanghai, 1922 – 1947, it was nothing more than a park for opium addicts much like in the slums of any large city.

The 5 acres of Yu Gardens include 30 pavilions in six separate sections. Vaulted bridges and winding pathways lead the visitor through a world built for Chinese scholars, politicians, and wives with genteel lifestyles (imagine: women in cheongsams drinking tea, discussing politics, and gossiping in one of the gazebo-style structures with pretty birds chirping, water gurgling, and grasses swaying from frogs hopping.).

Hawker making too much noise selling what Henry said was a ‘peep show.’ I think he was being sarcastic…


New pavilion construction at Yu Gardens entrance.


Moon Gate

Moon Gate


It’s almost easy to forget there are hundreds of other people who have joined you on this contemplative walk.  Note the word “almost.”


Bridge leading to tea-house


Ancient and original Yu Gardens Tea-house


Moon Gate



“Good old boys club” in a Chinese Tea-house?


Dragon’s head rising…

Dragon Wall

Dragon’s Body Framing the Top of the Wall….



Meditative pool next to one of the wive’s pavilions

   It was a lovely place to see. Just try to imagine it is just you and a friend taking a Sunday walk.



Onward to Sun Yat-Sen’s former residence. “Sun Yat-Sen set up the Military Government of the Republic of China in Guangzhou and took office as the Generalissimo of the Navy and the Army in 1917.” The house was nice, he was quite a versatile and intelligent man who was not only a politician but also a medical doctor. It was somewhat interesting, but  if I had to choose, I would not have bothered. Unless you are into Chinese politics (he was a revolutionary, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China, and his 2nd wife’s sister, who was one of the 3 Soong sisters, married Chiang Kai-shek) or the fact that this 1924 European cottage style (he died in 1925 so he only lived there a year) was China’s first major government-protected cultural site, you may want to choose a temple or one of many gardens in Shanghai. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s former home in Shanghai is located at No. 7 Xiangshan Rd. (FYI: There is also a classical Chinese garden in his name located in Vancouver, B.C. and is purported to be the largest classical Chinese garden outside of Asia.)


Denise and I found this book display humorous. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen apparently needed some advice in the department of “women managing.”


Pigeon House in the backyard.


Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

Another residence we visited was the Shikumen Open House Museum at 25, Lane 181 Taicang Rd, Huangpu District. A Shikumen is the “most representative residential form in Shanghai, had the height of its popularity from late 19th century to the 1930s. The general layout resembles European terrace houses, but with the inside the structures of the residential style of South China.  Such buildings have a stone doorframe, which looks like a ‘Sui Gu’ (stone  hoop) over the dark solid wood door leaf, so it used to be called ShiGuMen (stone-hooped door). Due to the similar pronunciation of ‘Gu’ and ‘Ku’ in Shanghai dialect, it became Shikumen and is still in use today.”

The shikumen seemed to be a comfortable home and this display was nicely decorated for the 30s. It was a bit like visiting my grandmother!



Not a bad place for ‘grandma’ to sleep.




When I mentioned to Henry I’d like to see an original neighborhood, I wasn’t prepared for where he took us. The sprawling network of small living quarters and narrow passageways  seemed to be more in line of what was once called a “shantytown.”   Henry seemed  to even forget his manners by walking us through this neighborhood as if it was a living museum. At one point he even walked into someone’s kitchen with the tenant inside washing a pot. She promptly shooed him out of her kitchen and gave us all a look of utter shock and disgust; I didn’t blame her.  Henry was unfazed and carried on with the tour.  I felt uncomfortable and took less photos than I would have if these had been abandoned. It was heartbreaking to see how the people lived, and have lived,  for generations.  I would not be surprised if this neighborhood is slated for demolition very soon.  Many Shanghainese throughout the city have been offered compensation for new living accommodations as the Chinese government turns the country into a sprawl of high-rise and quickly made condos. The deal includes relocation away from Shanghai and into towns built miles away from other family and friends.





Myna Bird
Hair Salon

Hair Salon

Life Growing Up

Each water faucet is metered for the individual families.


Electrical meters for various families.


Crossed wires?


Lilong (alleyway).

Moved, No Forwarding Address

Moved and left no forwarding address…


Sometimes 4-5 families share one small apartment.


Shared outdoor sinks.


Statues for sale. I would have bought one for my garden if I could have fit it in my carry-on.


Interesting looking little guy.

Shanghai Library

DSC00842 DSC00843 DSC00844 

Henry took us to the library to vouch for me to be approved to carry a Shanghai Readers Library card.  This process involved forms, my passport, computer entries, and finally  my own card. I cannot check out books and physically remove them from the premises but I can read on site. 

From the main library, we were whisked off to the Bibliotheca, a library annex established by Jesuits many moons ago, and where they preserved and archived old newspapers and other historical documents. Taking photos of the outside would help me remember what it looked like when I returned on my own in a couple of days.  This was a very thoughtful thing for Henry to do; he did a similar thing for my other cousin 2 years prior.


Shanghai Library Bibliotheca Zikawei

Archival Building 

Exterior of the Archives Library

The Tour of the Traditional Tourist was drawing to a close (although the library doesn’t normally qualify as ‘traditionally touristy’) with a whirlwind walk of the Jade Buddha Temple (Yufo Si). This Buddhist Temple was where an enormous and quite beautiful white jade reclining Buddha resides as well as disciples of the Buddhist religion.

The temple was built in 1882 but moved to its present location in 1918. We caught part of a formal ceremony with all of the monks chanting, and which I love to hear. There were many Buddhist devotees lighting bulky wads of incense and praying before several of the Buddha statues in the Pavilion. It was a peaceful place to wander around; I could have easily spent more time finding a quiet bench somewhere. The temple is located at 170 Anyuan Lu, Puto District in the northwest section of Shanghai.

DSC01080 DSC01075 DSC01074 DSC01068 DSC01059 DSC01056 DSC01054 DSC01050

Prayers to Buddha

To finish the day, we took a quick walk through the pretty and obviously well-used and well-loved  Jing’an Park, which, unfortunately for my family and many others, was once called Bubbling Well Cemetery. My grandfather, Sam Sharrock, had been buried somewhere on these 8.3 acres in January, 1942.  However, in 1955, all burial plots and headstones were allegedly moved to somewhere in the countryside, and maybe to other cemeteries, when the Chinese government decided to make the entire area a public park. The government put out notices to family members but if you weren’t on the list, you weren’t notified. Obviously, neither my mother and grandmother in San Francisco, nor my cousins in Northern England, were on the list. Trying to find my grandfather’s final resting place has been futile thus far. Plus, we are still trying to find written documentation about Sam’s assassination, and why he was killed in action on that fateful day of January 20, 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. Was the story of my grandfather’s death, which was told to my mother and grandmother, true or was there some even more sinister reason other than the story he had uncovered an opium ring? In case there is something in writing to explain all this, at least now I had my Shanghai Library card to search.

 The Jing’an Park is located on Nanjing Rd (formally Bubbling Well Road).DSC01090

The former Bubbling Well Cemetery