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







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

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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.

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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  


Family History 101


Sam Sharrock, my grand father, who makes a point of writing he had been in uniform for 4 months until now when the photo was taken. The period he was uniformed 24/7 was the 1937 Japanese-Chinese conflict.

My cousin John and his wife Denise arrived in my hotel lobby about 9:20 a.m. And it was wonderful to see them again. This was only the third time we have met since meeting for the first time in Colorado for my mother’s small memorial service in 2012.

John was as interested in his uncle’s life as I was interested in my grandfather’s life. Both men being one and the same: Sam Sharrock. 


Henry was our personal guide and hired a driver and van which took us to our family’s places of interest. He done the same thing with another cousin two years prior.

During the day, we explored the back of old police stations where Sam worked from the time he arrived in 1922 to the day he was assassinated in 1942. 

My grandmother saved the old photos Sam had taken during his life in Shanghai. I had seen them many times over the years and  when very young, I would secretly sneak them out of my grandmother’s Chinese carved trunk in her flat in San Francisco. It was always a great treat for me to scour through the photos to see family, most of whom were from England and whom I didn’t know, but also to see the aftermath from bombings by the Japanese in Shanghai. This included dead bodies, an infamous dog who fed off them, and buildings demolished.


Now I was in the city I had only fantasized about. We were in and out of the  van all day. We went to the apartment house where our family lived and in a childlike prankster mode, we rang different doorbells hoping someone would let us in. There were several ways into the apartment complex and we were looking for a specific apartment. Eventually someone would appear and after Henry explained, in Chinese, why we were showing up uninvited to their homes, we were granted access to the inner courtyard.



                                             The courtyard on Weihai Road

I tried to picture how the G.I.’s in their jeeps drove in to pick my mother up on dates, as she had told me about. It was only when we got to the final entry point that it all made sense. It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the current inhabitant of the apartment was in a nursing home. The apartment was shut tight and we couldn’t get in to see the layout. 


But how cool it was to be there! After all these years I could actually touch the same brick walls and walk the same ground I had seen only in photos for more than 60 years.   

Henry was a gem for talking rapid fire Chinese to security guards all over Shanghai convincing them to let us into various properties due to his dogged persistence. The only place his tactics didn’t work was at Holy Trinity Church. We couldn’t even get inside the gates to see where my grandparents got married and where my mother was baptized; that particular guard wouldn’t budge. Henry also took the initiative to bang on a back door to the church in the event someone was inside working.  He was well worth his price in gold, as the saying goes.

We saw parts of Shanghai which most people would not be privy to seeing. It was an experience of a lifetime.

One of the most intriguing moments was when one of the workers at a police property beckoned me into the back area of one of the station. Denise followed behind and we were both a bit unnerved by the man showing us the way as if it was something he shouldn’t be doing or leading us to the chopping block. There were old rusty jail cells stacked with old furniture from schools, as it appeared to me, anyway. Chairs, desks, etc. A jumbled cobwebbed jailhouse mess with metal doors and old rusty locks. It looked like a damp nightmare for any prisoner.


We were led to a big metal door which he proceeded to unlock and then motioning us to enter. I looked at Denise and we both couldn’t talk as if we might break the spell this man was under to show us a room so secretive in Communist China. And this was done totally unprovoked and out of the blue. 

With a slight bit of trepidation, I started taking photo after photo of all the men’s faces framed and hanging on concrete walls in what may have been an administrative office for the police. Denise asked if she should get John so he could see it too  and I said yes! Unfortunately, the man started getting nervous and told me we had to go. I kept shooting photos as we were led out of what I learned was some sort of a tribute room to the communists who were killed. How/what/why I have no idea. Maybe the Nationalists killed them. All I know is we saw a secret place in Shanghai and I certainly love the idea of secrets as long as no one is murdered for them. By the time John and Henry got to us, we were already walking back into the prison yard so they missed the display.


We also went to Ward Prison which was built in the 30s and the largest prison ever built in China. This place was scary. But not content to only take photos of the exterior, I started down a passageway, passed the check-in booth with the guard looking the other way, and into the outer yard while taking photos before I realized the guard was yelling at me. I finally looked into the glassed in booth to see the uniformed guard waving his arms and yelling at me in Chinese to get out. He was probably swearing at me in Chinese, too, I thought it was pretty funny but Henry was not amused. He probably didn’t want one of his “paying guests” to be arrested and detained in a Chinese jail. Imagine all the paperwork that would involve!


Racing along, we took a quick peek into the Fashion Mart because I wanted some Chinese clothes, specifically old fashioned wide legged pants which I couldn’t find anywhere. Henry thinks I can get a pair made here. I just wanted a set of outdoor pajamas which so many Chinese used to wear. I was a bit disappointed to see how ‘Westernized’ Shanghai had become.  There was so little of the authentic way of life left to see. But from what I have read in other blogs, it is still feasible to witness Chinese life out in the countryside. It is apparent Shanghai is still a cosmopolitan city, as it always has been, but it is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world’s economic race to the proverbial finish line of wealth. A bit sad to me, but inevitable. 


Everywhere, any time, there are women in wedding dresses and formal wear being photographed. What I thought was a wedding photo was most likely a fashionshoot.

After seeing what I witnessed the next day, perhaps progress wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all…

An American in Maoist Fashion

It was exciting to know I had the world of Shanghai  outside the hotel doors. 

There were only four to-do items on my list for the day. Get my hotel room payment straightened out, walk over Garden Bridge (right around the corner), walk down the Bund, find the infamous No. 1 Department Store where Lola, my grandmother, and Nona, my mother, would have shopped in the 30s, and see the Peace Hotel.

To clear up the room payment, my credit union emailed how there should have been no trouble with my card, there were no declined transactions, and to tell the reception desk to get their act together and try to manually enter the card numbers (well, they didn’t actually say this, but I felt like it). The front desk employee ran it through without a problem, and I headed into the dining room for the over-priced, but fabulously opulent and delicious breakfast in the dining room which was the old hotel’s ballroom. Lola must have had cocktails and a dance or two here back in the 30s. Perhaps even my mom  danced here after returning from the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp after WWII in the 40s. She would have been of age by then, just barely eighteen years old.



To  top off the delicious food and smooth service, a lovely young woman gave me a customer service card to complete a customer service survey along with the gift of a fabric covered and mirrored lipstick box. Nice touch.



The Garden Bridge is an iconic image from my grandfather’s photos which I have seen all my life and now I was finally able to walk over it taking my own photographs.


 The Garden Bridge, also referred to as “Grandmother’s Bridge” because you can stop and gaze at the river.

The Peace Hotel, once called the Cathay, was a place I remembered my mom telling me about. What a beauty.  However, historically,  In 1937, a miscalculated bomb fell on the street right outside the hotel killing a massive amount of innocent strangers who were shopping on Nanjing Road.




  There are four of these large gold relief panels, depicting Shanghai, on the atrium walls of the Peace Hotel.

There were quite a number of people walking and shopping on this Friday, but nothing in comparison to what I would see the following Sunday.

As I wandered  up Nanjing Road, a movement caught my eye so I turned my head to catch a young boy, 2-3 years old, squatting and jiggling as he urinated on the sidewalk. Not even the gutter, just in the middle of the sidewalk. The boy’s father stood, a small distance from the boy, looking up to the sky as if he didn’t know this child nor notice he was behaving in a rather unsightly and inappropriate manner. 


Little boy pulling up his britches

A pleasant woman started talking and showing me her brochure of handbags (these are everywhere) and I found her to be an interesting companion for several blocks. We separated when she pointed out her alley with the stalls and I declined to be led down an alley.



My new friend who wanted me to follow her down the alley to buy handbags

I desperately needed to sit down and have an espresso. Although I try to use other coffee shops whenever I can, I saw the Starbucks and went for it. 


After walking through a maze of shopping stalls selling shoes, clothing, jewelry, etc., I found this:


Finally the No. 1 Department Store appeared in its grandeur. And, there was another Starbucks sign to investigate.  Resting up with a cappuccino, I tackled the department store.

The first escalator in China was installed in what is now the No. 1 Department Store in the 30s. Once again, this would have been a place my family would have shopped. I rode the elevator to all the floors looking for something rven remotely Asian looking. All I found was this special section dedicated to cheongsams in sizes I haven’t worn since my 30s! 


On the top floor finding a movie theater, I was tempted to hang out with Liam Neeson but knew I had other things to do.


 In People’s Park, I was asked to take the photo of a young couple. After the photo, he milled around me and she disappeared, which I noted to him. “Hmmm, where is your friend?” I soon realized this was another scam and high-tailed it out of this concrete haven for criminals. (I didn’t like the feeling I was getting from the other characters wandering around.) 

However, thanks to this young man, I learned something about myself. It had been apparent people were looking at me a lot. I thought maybe it was that I was alone and Caucasian. But when someone stared and smiled saying she liked my coat, I was rethinking my position. I was wearing a new London Fog raincoat (great deal from a thrift store back home), and the same beret I have been wearing for years with a couple of small pins on it from places I have traveled. 

This guy pointed out the obviousness of my attire. I looked very militaristic with the coat’s wide lapels, epaulets on the shoulders, and the ‘military green’ color of both my pants and the coat. The young man said, “Ah, military look.” I probably looked like a throwback to the Maoist Era!

Walking on, and wishing I could be invisible, to save some energy I paid 80 cents to ride the trolley for a bit. 



                              Statue of The People in People’s Park

After the rain, the temperature was mild and perfect for walking but the humidity made it seem warmer than it was. 

Back on  the Bund, another couple approached me for the photo scam. I felt good being the wiser from my earlier experience. Although, at first I gave them the benefit of the doubt and took their photo. It was obvious when, once again, he was getting chummy. “Where are you going?” he asked in a fake little boy voice. Oh, please, spare me. I had no qualms leaving him in the dust.

I loved Shanghai even with the quirky people. I felt a sense of having been here before and a fond familiarity with the buildings and knowing the history.

Everything on my list was accomplished while walking the  4 mile round-trip stretch.

For the next two days I would be with my cousin and cousin-in-law led about by Henry our personal guide. My other cousin and cousin-in-law hired him two years ago for the same family itinerary. Henry knew what we were looking for, plus we would be traveling in a vehicle saving us both time as well as bodily wear and tear. 

I was more than ready to plunge into the “inner sanctum” of Shanghai.

Genetic Connections or Just Another Pretty ‘Face’

My mother and grandmother arrived in San Francisco via ship from Shanghai in 1947. Almost 70 years later, I sat in San Francisco International Airport waiting for my flight to Shanghai for my very first visit to my mother’s birthplace. What had once been a figment of my imagination when seeing family photos and hearing stories, was soon becoming a reality. Since I was born in San Francisco in 1949, it seemed only fitting to change planes there after my Seattle flight. I purposely chose SF over LA for this familiararity.

The noise in the SF airport was deafening. The international wing of the concourse had mainly  Asian flights arriving and departing and I had a feeling I was experiencing only a small fraction of the chaos, noise, and flurry of activity which will soon overload my senses for the next ten days. Along with primarily Asian families,  there are a few very elderly people who are perhaps finally returning home to China after fleeing so long ago. (My imagination is working overtime again.) And, to make it all a bit more crazy, there was a very large contingent of children on the flight, too. They were elementary students visiting their sister-school in Shanghai, as I find out later. 

So many unknowns are before me; this trip feels very different from other journeys I have taken.  I am glad there is the security knowing I have a hotel room, and am meeting my cousin and cousin-in-law the day after I arrive. Additionally, we have also arranged a guide to show us many of our family landmarks; Mr. Wong showed another cousin the same itinerary 2 years ago. (My grandfather was the uncle of my cousins.) 

Another known fact will be seeing the iconic Shanghai skyline, the church where my grandparents were married, which is the same one where my mother was baptized. The apartment house where they lived is still standing, too. I am not clear if any of the old British and Japanese police stations where my grandfather worked as a policeman, an inspector, and then acting superintendent-in-charge still stand, but that will become clear very soon.

Will I feel a genetic connection or will Shanghai just be another pretty city? I have a very long 12 hour flight ahead of me before I find out. 

View of Leaving the San Francisco, California Coastline Flying to Shanghai (probably over Pacifica in this photo, which is a little south of the City)