Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Nights

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
Trip End Aug 19, 2011

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Flag of China  , Shanghai Shi,
Saturday, July 9, 2011

The train ride from Hong Kong was a hefty 19 hours, probably the longest train journey I have done. It didn't take long for me to be driven mad in my 6 berth hard sleeper by the family I was sharing it with.  Although there were two kids, and they were quite loud, it was the grown ups who were the real problem shouting at each other in spite of being less than a meter apart.  The people in China are not at all considerate; actually they seem oblivious that anybody exists other than themselves.  Chinese is not a beautiful language to listen to; in fact the tones can cut right through your skull.  After about two hours I was beginning to lose it and I leaned over my top bunk and shouted 'excuse me, can you keep it down a little’.  I’m sure they didn’t know what I said but it was pretty clear and credit to them they did keep it down from then on.  I explored the train, through the super comfy looking and much less crowded soft sleeper berths to find the restaurant car.  The food was pretty palatable and along with a Budweiser beer cost no more than it would in a standard restaurant.  As I was eating the sun was setting into the pollution to my left and the scenery looked quite pretty actually.  I wished I had my new camera to hand, but since it was about 15 carriages away I left it be and just enjoyed the sunset and the meal.  I returned to my berth where I blogged a little and watched a bit of TV on the laptop before nodding off around midnight and sleeping a solid 8 hours.  I was awoken by the family of course who seemed to have forgotten I existed.  Instead of causing another scene I wandered away from the berth, out of earshot for the last hour or so of the journey.  In Shanghai station we arrived at what could have been airport security.  It was pretty tight actually with sniffer dogs, passport control, quarantine and customs… all of which I glided through without incident.  I was expecting somewhat more pleasant weather after moving almost 2000km north but I had no such luck it was as hot and humid as ever.  I navigated my way to the metro stop near the hostel I had booked with relative ease although it was certainly not as western friendly as Hong Kong.  Metro security was also tight with sniffer dogs everywhere and x-ray scans of all luggage at the entrance.  I guessed such a huge repressive regime must have plenty enemies and Shanghai must be a prime target.  Finding the hostel from the metro was not as simple as the directions I was given lacked specific words like left, right, straight etc.  I did find it eventually with the help of a park attendant with some very basic English.

After spending an hour chilling in the hostel, having breakfast and chatting with the few people I met in the dorm I was ready to head out and sink my teeth into the city.  I started with a browse through the people’s park and then the Shanghai Museum, what my guide book referred to as unmissable.  It was a nice museum but I was extremely skeptical about most of the ‘artifacts’ I saw.  In particular 7000 year old pottery which had not so much as a chip on it gave me the feeling there were more artifaulses than artifacts in there.  There was so much art, sculpture, calligraphy etc with no context… who used them, what wars were fought… all the interesting stuff was left out.  After the museum I took the metro to the newest part of the city, a concrete jungle which boasts some of the tallest buildings in the world (3rd).  I took the tourist sightseeing tunnel under the river to the famous Bund on the other side.  The tunnel was totally bizarre, with flashing neon lights and music and nothing much to see. The Bund itself offered a stunning view of the skyscrapers on the other side of the river contrasted to the oldest part of the city on that side build in an old London style.  The Bund was super touristic with masses of Chinese SLR wielding tourists which made it much less romantic and thus much less depressing than the equivalent area in Hong Kong.   After only a short time exploring l was getting the feeling that Shanghai was not really China, but rather a big western city full of Chinese people.  That said it was a fairly enjoyable city to explore, the numerous skyscrapers were far enough apart to see some of the horizon and there was plenty of green spaces between them.  Of course it was a walker’s nightmare with uncrossable roads and steps to pedestrian overpasses which might involve a whole km detour in order to get to the other side.  I was amazed to find the people there friendlier that anywhere else I had been in China.  The still look at you, but not in such an invasive way.  Some even smiled said hello and chatted a little bit.  Grant it most of them had an objective be it harmless like practicing a bit of English or seeking out foreign coins to add to a collection or more sinister like the infamous tea scam.  The tea scam is one I heard about all too many times.  People approach you and seemingly innocently invite you to join them for tea.  After you have had your fill you are presented with a bill that my be in the region of $100, often presented by two large men who demand you pay up and even accompany you to the atm if necessary.  I had three attempts made on me and by the third I saw through it so well that I just nipped it in the bud and told the girls I don’t like tea before they even had a chance to ask.  In the evening I returned to the hostel and while in the bar on the net ended up chatting to loads of people.  The hostel is such an awesome place (one of the best I’ve seen) you just can’t help being friendly.  I had a few beers with a Scottish lad and playing pool with an Indian Yoga master until about 1am.

The second day in Shanghai I could easily have linked up with a few from the hostel for a day of sightseeing.  However I knew my time in Shanghai was extremely short and there was much to see so I slipped out on my own knowing I would probably get twice as much done.  I started with a temple which was on the metro line on my way into town.  Although it had some historic origin the place was brand new mass of concrete where construction was still ongoing.  The Chinese don’t seem to bother too much with the meticulous chore of restoration, but instead level an old site and rebuild it.  Something which I thing is absolutely tragic.  Next it was onto the French Concession, a section of the city owner by the French back in the day.  Shanghai had lots of these places where foreign traders could come and operate under the law of their home country.  It was nice and genuine felt like Paris in parts, in particular from the wide streets lined with trees and the mere 5 or 6 story buildings.  After walking as much as I could manage I stopped to check out the location of the first session of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).  It was exactly what you would expect… a grand exhibition emphasizing the ‘common man’ foundation and glorifying the party and in particular Mao.  It was another of those places where I wouldn’t be so quick to believe everything I see.  After a spot of lunch I headed for a Confucian temple near to the old town.  This was the highlight of the day by far.  The 500 year old temple structure was totally deserted and provided a wonderful tranquility inside the monstrous city.  The ying to that yang was the old town itself which was incredibly touristy.  I stupidly bought some souvenirs there and I'm sure I paid at least twice as much as I should have for them.  I did that because I like what I saw and the price was a bargain compared to what I was offered to in Hong Kong.  I was rushing to make it the Yi gardens.  They were nice; a mixture of Ming dynasty buildings, rock formations, ponds and Chinese trees and shrubbery.  I was late in the day so I had to rush through it and in spite of the time it was still fairly busy with tourists.  I wanted to see the Bund by day, perhaps even catch a sunset so I made a beeline for the river from there.  With the pollution in Shanghai there was no way of seeing a sunset but I did catch a daylight stroll along the Bund which I was pretty happy with.  There was other stuff to see in the city but I headed back pretty satisfied that I had seen and done plenty in the 1.5 days.  Back at the hostel the night started off slowly, there was nobody around who I had been chatting with the previous night and the few people I did meet were just plain boring.  Thankfully it took off later on and by playing beer pong I ended up rolling into a group of about 15 people and heading out.  With the guidance of once Chinese guy we loaded up a few taxis and headed for the first club.  It was packed to the rafters and the mix of young girls and middle aged men it was clearly a hooker place, not something I would have expected in China.  After one drink we agreed to make our escape to head to a place called Bashu-Ba (88).  It was one of the most awesome clubs I have ever been in.  Not so massive but it had a real touch of class to it and the music was taking me right back to the beach parties in Thailand.  We partied there well into the wee hours but managed to keep most of the group intact all the way back to a small street food place near the hostel. The sun was rising and the birds chirping by the time we made it home after an awesome night. 

The following morning I dragged my heavy head out of the hostel as I was heading onward to my teaching job in Yangzhou. The journey to my pick up at the airport was on taken on the fastest public land transport in the world; the Pudong airport maglev.  It is in fact not a locomotive but a magnetic levitating train, the kind of stuff I used to gaze at in awe on ‘Beyond 2000’ as a kid.  The machine glided into the station with hardly a sound.  It can travel at 420 kph but unfortunately as I as travelling in the middle of the day it would only be hitting 300 kph, a speed which it accelerated to in just over a minute.  It covered the 32km distance in a few seconds under 8 minutes (it takes the metro about 45 minutes). 
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Mam on

Its great to see how discerning you have become and finding out for yourself that "all that glitters is not gold"

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