I recently had the opportunity to visit Shanghai, China, for the first time. What an experience. It is a city of contrasts and contradictions, as well as excitement and enchantment. Perhaps that is the case with every place worldwide, but it is abundantly clear for Shanghai. A center of European influence, Shanghai in the nineteenth century became one of the largest ports in the world and a giant in trade and industry. It has continue this into the present. With a population of some 24 million in the metropolitan area it is astounding. Traffic problems abound, of course, but so do skyscrapers and expansive thoroughfares. The heart of the city is the Bund, a waterfront lined with colonial-era buildings. One of them had been turned into a “Forever Twenty-One” store, oh my! Great restaurants abound. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong District, taller than the Eiffel Tower, dominates the skyline but it is far from the tallest structure in the city.
I visited the Jing’an Buddhist Temple that for me captured the essence of this remarkable city. Centuries old, of course, it rests in the center of the city with skyscrapers surrounding it. Visitors worshiped or just looked around, but the critical experience was when a monk in his proper robes left a ceremony to answer his mobile phone. How ironic. Visiting this sacred space was a high point for me. I have a Christian background and have visited many different religious sites around the world. This experience was as moving as any I have ever experienced. I watched as a old man and a small girl, I assume it was his granddaughter, both picked up burning incense and bowed, prayed, and signified at the four cardinal points in the center courtyard. Then, they took turns throwing coins into a stand in the middle of the courtyard. It was a great experience.
The reason I went to Shanghai was because a friend on the faculty at New York University-Shanghai, Alexander Geppert, invited me to come engage with his on the history of spaceflight and give a lecture to the public. I had a great time doing this. My public lecture, “Humans vs. Robots in Space” was well-attended and truly invigorating. It was discussed in the Shanghai Daily at this site. I had a grand time, and I hope all others did as well.
I really enjoyed my time in Shanghai and I commend it to all who might want to visit. My thanks to my fine hosts at NYU-Shanghai and my thanks to all I met with and saw during my visit there.