A December adventure in Shanghai

A December adventure in Shanghai
November 30
10:36 2020

By Susan Surman

It was at the Huangpu Restaurant at the top of the Park Hotel in Shanghai, China, where I was the center of an unintended international incident! 

It was December 1984 when I was fortunate enough to be part of a tour group to Beijing (then Peking), Suzhou, and Shanghai. Extraordinary as it all was – and all of it was – none of it touched me the way Shanghai did. Peking was gray, but Shanghai was sepia, a stunning reddish-brown color. 

A part of the package included a nice lunch for our group of about fifty with ten at each round table. When I stood up to go to the ladies room, I was unaware that the doily on the back of the chair had clung to the back of my sweater. When I realized it, I placed it on the narrow wooden table against the wall outside of the ladies room. After admiring the sepia colored view from the lounge in the ladies room, I headed back to my table. Four men in military uniform were surrounding the table and pointing guns at the group. My husband looked at me and through clenched teeth spat out, “Don’t say a word. They think you stole the lace doily.” 

A talented linguist, my husband relayed in Chinese to the soldiers that the doily was on the table outside the ladies room. With guns pointed at my back, two of them marched me toward the ladies room while two men remained on guard at the table. And there it was! In the same place I had set it down. The two policemen went back to the table and all four of them exited. A staff member retrieved the lace doily and returned it to the back of my chair. 

I sat straight up for the rest of the meal, not wanting a repeat of that episode.

After lunch, our group was taken to the Children’s Palace. As a reward for doing well at school, a child is given the opportunity to develop his or her special skills in the arts. One child was assigned to one tourist to observe the activities. My personal guide was a ten-year old who took my hand and never let go. 

The tour also included a music and dance recital in the main auditorium. Then we were led through the halls, up the stairs, into classrooms to observe the children at their activities. In the music class, a six-year-old played a piano concerto, never making a mistake, her tiny fingers flying over the keys.

In the art class, a five-year-old posed on a little stool looking soulfully down at the bowl she held in one hand on her lap, the other hand resting beside it. The drama class, made up of seven to nine-year-olds, used an ancient looking tape recorder for sound effects, and emoted in rapid high shrilled voices their version of “Lady Macbeth. “

There was more: The accordionists, the violinists, the shadow puppeteers, the ballet dancers, the artists, and the model ship and plane builders. 

I’ve heard that today Shanghai is like New York City. How fortunate for me to have been there when I was – and lucky that I didn’t get arrested in an international incident!

Susan Surman is an actress, playwright, and author who lives in Winston-Salem.

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