1984: I was in China

Image: Me fooling around late at night in front of the Shanghai Art Theater. This waas just before China’s conception of their economy was changing)  shanghaiart1



I went alone to China, not with a group. It was the fall of 1984, closer to winter time. In Shanghai at that time of year it starts to get coat-wearing cold. Reminded me of Toronto, Canada, where the air is iced by the Great Lakes.

I’m a real Bay Area “gal,” born in San Francisco. A real native who thrives on the moderate weather. So the black wool coat I brought was barely warm enough for the coolness of Shanghai.

I flew on the China-owned plane (CCAC?); at that time I don’t think you could fly direct to Shanghai. We were over the Pacific when something went wrong. It was hard to find out what was wrong as nobody could speak my language and I could not speak theirs. We all smile a lot, though.

But we were heading back to SFO and staying in a hotel overnight to do the whole thing over the next day. The air carrier paid.  The next day there were no returns, and 13 or 15 hours later I landed in Shanghai. Not the way my Mom and Dad arrived, which is by ship but I landed at the airport where there were bicycles galore. I remember sitting in a car-taxi and looking back through the big window and seeing what seemed like thousands of bicycles following us is an experience I won’t forget. How did they avoid smashing into each other?

I had a camera with me but I was reluctant to whip it out and start shooting the bicyclers. I believe at the time there was only one American-owned hotel, probably the Hilton ( their names elude me now but I knew the managers of the hotel had lived in Shanghai, as my parents did, and at the same time. So, it makes sense. One of the brothers ran the Hilton in Vegas and I did meet him in person–for my research.)

Had I known I would have loved to stay in what was called the “French Quarter,” where there was a beautiful European style hotel. It was a much older hotel than the Hilton, obviously—with these magnificent  broad, curvy steps leading to the front door. Classy. 


(Image of the hotel I didn’t stay at–but isn’t it glamorous? 1920? 1930?)

The Jin Jiang, I think it was called. From another time when the Europeans were trying to cut up Shanghai. I’ll get the correct name for you.

I’m going to leave out a lot of details, sorry. I went to Shanghai because my parents had lived there and I wanted to see the city with my own eyes. I wanted to understand, try to understand, their experience. But, of course, that (the experience) was during WWII, and I will never really understand. I could see, though, I could feel, I could wonder and I could love every minute of this adventure.

And let me now mention that at that time American Express was a very important link for people. You could pick mail up there, you could leave messages, very different from the kind of business American Express pushes today.

Remember, I went alone to Shanghai. This uncommon for Americans, who definitely migrate toward groups,  certainly it would be a difficult choice for an American women. But, I am the female Hunter Thompson, so it’s not that surprising.

At one point i was approached (not by the Chinese government) to head up a company that made CDs. I was told I would be the CEO and that I would live in a place we Americans often called “West Lake,”

(because we just can’t get the Chinese words out of our mouths) a gorgeous “resort” with fairy tale lakes and aromatic flowers and fallen  leaves that were constantly being picked up by those whose job it was. In China everybody worked, including picking up the leaves of flowers and trees.



[Image: That’s me in the black wool coat at “West Lake;” I’ll get the correct name for you. I have a few other shots that are a bit better. When I stayed here the president of Malaysia was there, too. I remember the Malaysian flag hanging outside the hotel. I also took the train and a very small Chinese plane to get around. At that time there were zillions of rumors about the dangers little Chinese planes, but everything was fine. 

I saw rural areas where I used the communal bathroom, the “poop” was recycled as fertilizer and buffalos were everywhere, doing the hard work. I was lucky to be in Shanghai before it turned into McDonald Ville.]

Now, I wish I had taken the crazy risk and gone to live at West Lake. I really do. But I was scared and that was not my mission anyway. Remember, I was there to find something out about my Mom and Dad. I didn’t find out much but I saw Shanghai and that told me enough of a story.

One very unusual experience I had was to dine with the men below. Notice that I am the only woman. That’s me third from the right. I have another pix of me with toasting. I’ll post that, too. Later.


I have also included the menu.