Our Beloved Shanghai Again

Trip Start May 14, 2009
Trip End Jun 15, 2009

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

We arrived on time in Shanghai from our flight from Sydney. We were tired but delighted to be back "home" in our beloved city - the wonderful Shanghai.

On our arrival however it was a bit disconcerting to see how seriously airport officials were taking the Swine Flu Fever outbreak. Everyone was wearing face masks and there were medical staff everywhere. We were told that we had to have our temperatures taken by airport medical staff but for some reason they didn't bother. Perhaps there were not too many Mexican looking people around (Mexico had well and truly the most infections of any country and at that time Australia did not have any instances of Swine Flu). From here on though, we had our temperatures taken at every airport, on some occasions three or four times before we could proceed.

I know it's been said many times and to quote an old cliche, Shanghai is such an interesting mixture of old and new, east and west. The sounds, smells (yes the sewerage ones too), sights and the bustle are so familiar to us now. "An enchanting city" is the description given to this city by a friend who has lived in Shanghai for over 25 years. And it is.

The city had changed markedly even since we were there on our last trip in 2007. Major construction works were everywhere, demolition was everywhere, cement dust was everywhere, a lot of the old part of the city was just gone and there were more enormous high rise buildings than ever. I must add at this point that in our view, the majority of these skyscrapers are simply magnificent. No glass boxes that are the norm in Sydney. Each new high rise building has it's own beauty. Many are breathtakingly majestic. The city was looking magnificent.

A concern to us however was that the city is like many Asian cities becoming progressively sanitised with fewer outside markets and bazaars, more tacky tourist facilities, heaps more touts and more western chain restaurants such as KFC and McDonalds.

But scratch the surface of this modern and prosperous facade and it was still very possible to see the other real side of Shanghai. But not necessarily the most desirable side.

A ravaged faced young man in the centre of the old city told us he had many antiques for sale. He said he was from Xian. Being somewhat tired of the tacky tourist side of the Old City and wanting to find some genuine antique shops - and probably against our better judgment - we followed him down a grotty series of back lanes through dusty poverty stricken housing to his house - as he called it. His house was hard to describe because there was nothing to describe. This derelict hovel was a pathetic place of shelter even for the most desperate. Being no more than ten feet by six feet, it contained only a wooden plank for a bed, two cupboards and an old television and a calculator. There were no windows, no running water and no flooring - just dusty earth. He pulled out a number of his antiques from under the wooden platform. A small white porcelain bowl was undeniably beautiful and - and if authentic - undeniably illegal for selling. And it was most probably stolen. He said it was made in Ming Dynasty era. He showed us a couple more of his his few possessions which - because of Chinese law - we knew we couldn't buy even if we had wanted to. We left this desperate young man sadly wondering how on earth he was able to survive and how many more were in the same plight.. It was a truly sobering experience.

Later that day while having a beer at a local outdoor cafe, we gave a small amount of money to a badly disabled young man whose hands had been completely severed from shockingly scarred arm stumps. He was thankful and went away. But an elderly woman soon arrived in his place again begging. No sooner than she approached us a police car drove up nearly knocking her into Alan's chair. A furious police officer screamed at her to go, obviously threatening to arrest her if she didn't. She stumbled off muttering to herself whilst being watched all the way along the lane by the stern faced policeman who stayed threateningly on his mobile phone until she had disappeared from sight. We gathered the cafe had reported these people to the police.

The other side of life in Shanghai.

On the glossy side, young people who frequented areas such as the famous shopping district of Nanjing Dong Lu looked prosperous and well dressed. We met a number of young people who were amazingly friendly and obviously wanted to practise their English on us. They were intrigued that this was our fourth visit to Shanghai and even more amazed that we were travelling to Urumqi in the  far north western province of Xinjiang. "People in Xinjiang are not real Chinese like us" they told us. "They have big noses just like you". Yes, well we knew this. We had been there before. Another question that all of them asked was about our kangaroos. "Did we eat them?" "Well no", Alan and I didn't and we got off that topic quickly. Another frequent comment was about our Prime Minister.  They were all very impressed that our PM Kevin Rudd speaks fluent Mandarin and that he has a Chinese son-in-law. We were impressed too. Most of these young people were students and we had great fun chatting with them. They were so lively, so positive and it was wonderful to think that these young people will be the future of this amazing country.  

The next day we visited the "must see" Shanghai Museum that we had missed seeing on our last visit. We were interested to see a lot of tourists with their Wendy Wu tour company identification necklets sitting numb and bored on the steps of the museum. Eager to find out their views we asked a few people what they thought of the museum. "Well, it's OK if you like looking at old Chinese coins" replied one young woman. We shrugged our shoulders at her apparent disinterest and enthusiastically marched on to the entrance. Three hours later, although impressed by the vast and beautifully presented displays, we were inclined to agree with the Wendy Wu tourist.

No trip for us is complete without a full appraisal of the supermarkets and restaurants. We were disappointed with the very ordinary hotel buffet dinner the night before and were keen to try a small local place. We looked at many different places and once again we mused at the various menus that included such delicacies as "Stewed Old Hen with Marmite" (now that's a turn on), "Coagulated Blood" (a convenient choice of pig or duck), "Snakes Head - Alive" (god knows how you ate that), Donkey with Lump (an old favourite), "Stewed Bull Frog" (or tortoise) and "Croaker" (perhaps how you may feel after the meal).

We ended up at a restaurant that was neither small nor intimate. In fact it was a bit like the worst Chinese restaurants we had experienced in Australia. Large round red clothed tables were homes to unbelievably loud, smoking and rapidly ingesting restaurant clients. The noise level was such that you could neither hear nor talk. Our first course of a beef dish came about an hour before the Peking Duck and we were so hungry that we ate all the first course and of course could not finish what we really wanted - the duck.

Oh well, perhaps we should have asked a local...

Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Central Hotel Shanghai
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