Steve Hayden and Richard Lashbrook have traveled extensively in the United States because they are both American Kennel Club dog show judges, and they judge regularly at shows around the country.
They have also done some limited traveling out of the states. In September, they went to Shanghai to judge a dog show there. They found the country intriguing and complex - a mixture of glitz and glamour as well as centuries-old traditions.
AKC shows have set procedures that are very different from the way the dog shows are run in Shanghai, Hayden said, and after the shows were done, the show sponsors treated Hayden and Lashbrook to a number of cultural tours around the city.
Hayden said they were prepared for a rigid, regulated area but instead found that residents move freely around Shanghai but not out of the country.
The number of people in the country is a bit daunting, said Lashbrook. There are 12 million registered residents in Shanghai and an estimated 5 million more that are not registered.
"When you are in Shanghai, you never hear anything bad about China on the TV or radio and you never read anything bad about China in the newspaper," Hayden said.
The food was interesting.
"When someone takes you to dinner, you are expected to try everything," Lashbrook explained.
"I was eating away on these crunchy things I thought were green beans, and they were actually shredded eel," Hayden said.
One restaurant they went to looked like what most Americans would assume was a pet shop. But the fish swimming around in the tanks, as well as the quail and snakes in cages, were entrees; and restaurant patrons were expected to pick their dinner. But for those Americans who can't bear to leave their fast food, Lashbrook said there are McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.
Bread and potatoes are not served with meals. Bean curd and vegetables are used in most dishes.
"And they observe the tradition of rice at each meal," Lashbrook said. "It may be a very small bowl, but no one is finished at a meal unless there is some rice that is eaten."
Shanghai is split in two by the Huangpu River. The older area on the west side of the river is called Puxi, and the newer developed areas clustered on the east side of the river are called the Pudong.
Lashbrook and Hayden stayed in the newer area, and they were able to tour the Shanghai Zoo, go to the Shanghai Museum, do some sightseeing and shopping at the Bund.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower was a large shopping center in the Bund. Each of the tiered steps had lights which pulsated in time to the music.
"It was very Vegas," Lashbrook said with a laugh. "They do like their glitz and glamour."
He said although they were aware that there were pockets of residents that existed on a very meager income, the image of Shanghai was that of high-class and high income. Billboards effectively wall off areas that would be considered impoverished, and guides discourage visitors from venturing from well-traveled areas.
Hayden said people would be surprised at the waterways that run through the city, and tourists can take boat rides, similar to gondola rides in Venice. But, he cautioned, that's not for the faint of heart.
"The stench is overwhelming. Everything is dumped into the waterways. You can see someone dumping cooking refuse in and someone else might be rinsing off a dish in the same water."
A temple visit involved a day's worth of travel. Both said that traffic laws appear to be more suggestions than enforceable rules, and they advised using local drivers to get from place to place.
"The architecture of the temples and in the city was amazing," Hayden said. At the temple, there are booths set up for tourists to buy replicas of various gods as well as food and trinkets.
Both men were impressed by the museum. There were old sculptures and masks as well as intricate antique furniture, but they said they were disappointed by the fact that most explanations of the exhibits were in Chinese.
"I've traveled outside the country," Hayden said, "and there are parts of any language that sound familiar to English and you can get your point across. In Shanghai, that's not true and there is a sort of isolation because there is no way you can understand or pick something up when someone is talking to you." He and Lashbrook said their guides were provided by the company that hired them to judge at the dog show.
There are shopping areas similar to malls, and Hayden said the beggars are quite persistent and that was a bit unnerving. There are large electronic stores, but Lashbrook said those who buy electronics need to make sure the warranty that comes with the equipment is valid in the United States.
"Many are not," he cautioned.
Main streets and the areas around them were well taken care of - including the zoo where much of the greenery was manicured and well-kept.
"The animals," Hayden added, "not so well kept."
Both men said they would go back.
"In a heartbeat," Hayden said. "The architecture, the temples and the museum were just amazing."
Lashbrook said the people of Shanghai were very friendly, and he enjoyed the trip.
Story published Friday, January 9, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 1 )