Trip Start Nov 26, 2007
44Trip End Apr 17, 2008
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Where I stayed
Wow is all I can say. The bizarreness of the land that is China strikes again. Shanghai is like no other city I have seen. It is almost impossible to believe that Shanghai is in the same country as some of the places I have visited in China. Rising up from all sides are unbelievably elegant skyscrapers that just exude the wealth of the city. Home to 35 million people yet clean and safe.
I arrived in Shanghai after an overnight train journey that was a little too short to get a really good nights sleep straight into the rush hour. Everything in Shanghai is gleaming and new so the subway journey was easy if sardine like. I arrived at the hostel and they had a single room all ready for me which was just perfect as I thought I was going to be in a dorm room and feeling knackered I really just wanted my own space after sharing a room with Dave for the last 6 weeks.
I really like Shanghai and if I wanted to live in the middle of a massive city there would be worse places to do it. The worst thing about Shanghai is the amount of American tourists and rich business men strutting around like they own the place. The hostel was full of particularly annoying Americans as well going on about how they wanted to go out and party and get wasted - like they bloody know how to go out and party anyway. It seems that Shanghai is a tourist hot spot for these kinds of people and I am rather thankful they don't have the balls to get out into the rest of China to be honest.
On my first day I went for a wander down to the Bund. The Bund is the riverfront area where all the imperial powers built their banks etc leaving the legacy of old colonial architecture framed by modern day skyscrapers. The promenade area is just full of tourists and Chinese people trying to hawk stuff to tourists. It gets quite annoying but my rudimentary Mandarin seemed to do the trick most times. After a bit I was asked by a young girl to take a picture of her and her mates, as this happens all the time all over China I had no reservations. A conversation the started and they said they were tourists themselves and were off to a park that had been recommended to them by their hotel would I like to join them. Why not I thought and off we trotted talking away about their hometowns and what they did for a living etc. After a bit they said was I thirsty and would I like to go for a drink, dying for a coke or something I said yes. They then went into this building and upstairs to this place where we were ushered into a room all nicely done out and they said we were going to have some traditional Chinese tea. I did start to get suspicious at this point as young people in China don't do anything traditional but went along with it anyways. It then all started to go even weirder as one of my new 'friends' translated to me that we were going to have a tea ceremony. I asked how much this was going to cost and they gave me the menu. It was 39 Yuan per tea...I was assured that this was all it would cost but then, as the girl started to pour tea without me even choosing, I saw the scam. The girl was going to cycling through all the teas in the table and I would be expected to pay 39 Yuan for each one. All the time my new 'friends' are trying to talk to me about Thailand and such things but in the end I just upped sticks and left. At first I felt bad thinking that maybe they had just been nice and genuine but then when I got back to the hostel and chatted with the Israeli girls they assured me that this was a well known scam in Shanghai and that they had met someone before who had been taken for 500 Yuan. The old Scottish instincts were correct. A few days later a notice went up on the hostel notice board saying that someone else had been got by this one and they had called the police and the police had gone back round to the tea place and got them most of their money back which is really good. It is a shame that this happens in China where I have been so impressed with the honesty and selfish less of the people throughout my trip. Again the tourist dollar ruins everything.
So the hostel was nice that I was staying in but there seemed to be a bit of a party atmosphere with people being noisy coming in at 4am and such things. There were even some people staying there (English of course) who seemed to do little else than sit in the bar from morning to night getting drunk. As I said the Israeli girls we had met in Chongqing were in the same place so I sort of hung around with them most evenings. It was interesting running around with them and Asia was quite serious about religion and hence didn't want to eat pork. In China they use pork in just about everything so this can be a bit of a problem. However, I had been out wandering and had discovered my haunt for noodle soup, a little Muslim place on a side street. Even in Shanghai I had become a bit of a celeb in this place with every member of staff shaking my hand whenever I went in. By the time I took the Israeli girls in they had been and translated the menu into English for me meaning I must have been one of the 1st western people to venture in here. Anyway, it was weird seeing two Israeli girls over the moon about finding a Muslim café as it meant they didn't have to worry about pork anymore. Maybe that's all that has to be done to make peace in the middle east...the girls could even speak some Arabic but mostly resulting from needing to stay stop or I'll shoot in the army.
In Shanghai itself my favorite daily activity was just wandering around aimlessly looking at the buildings and trying to avoid young students trying to scam me. By the time I went walkabout along The Bund (the riverfront area where all the foreign banks had set themselves up after the Opium Wars) I really wasn't in the mood for any Chinese students anymore when this girl came up to me as said she wanted to practice her English. I told her reasonably bluntly that she could talk to me all night but I wouldn't be buying anything from her or going along to any tea ceremonies. She promised she didn't want anything. In the end she spent 3 hours of her night just walking around talking with me. She even came back to the hostel and watched a movie in the bar when we were tired walking. And her story all seemed to match up about studying English and wanting to be a tour guide as well (it is a bit strange that most females career aim after studying English for 3 years at university is to be a tour guide, a job that wouldn't be regarded very highly back home). So maybe everyone in Shanghai isn't out to scam foreigners after all.
Seeing The Bund all lit up at night inspired me to go up the Jinmao Tower, the highest building in China, for a sundowner the next night. I took the Israeli (I can actually spell Israeli now without a spellchecker now as a result of this blog entry) girls as well and introduced them to Gin and Tonic (and in fact by two nights later Shiba could even tell the difference between Bombay Sapphire and Gordons, might have started a new trend in Israel there...). I was quite expensive but amazing to sit on the 89th floor and get wined and dined in style for a couple of hours. Once again though they even had to lay on magicians and stuff up here as the Chinese people can't just enjoy themselves and soak up the atmosphere. By day I had wandered through the financial district where the Jinmao tower is and had gone to the Science Museum. The museum would have been great for kids as most of it is interactive games but was largely lost on me but worth it just for the building itself. The one thing they did seem to have cracked in with the benefit of modern science was that you could flush toilet paper down the toilet (and I visited a lot of toilets in Shanghai - wouldn't say I exactly had the shits after that boat trip but I did seem to have to go to the toilet 5 times a day for a week after) rather than having to put it into a bin beside the toilet...maybe this is the worlds next super power after all.
Trevor from the boat then turned up in Shanghai as well so I hung out with him for a couple of days. We just wandered around the French Concession and went for noodles to my Muslim place in the evenings. In the French Concession we visited the sight of the first congress of the communist party. This was interesting and largely free of propaganda with the exception of the fact that Mao was shown to be running the show when at that stage I don't think he was quite so influential. Like most of the attractions in Shanghai this was pretty cheap to go to. I do find it a bit odd that Shanghai was cheap for tourists when really poor places like Kaifeng (with just Chinese tourists) charged more for their tourist attractions. We were going to have a beer in the French connection but had to baulk at 5 quid a pint (in the same town where I had been eating 30p noodle and dumpling soups all week)...so went back to the hostel for a 50p pint instead. Later on that night we did try and find a more Chinese place near the hostel to have a quiet pint and ended up in this nice looking place with a Budweiser sigh outside. Trevor went for a piss at one point and came back and said there must be a hostel here as there were lots of bedrooms downstairs. This seemed odd, as did the fact that there two Chinese girls lavishing lots of attention on two Western men at the bar, until we heard a bit of a scream and then it all clicked that below the bar there must be some kind of brothel...we finished up and left...
Anyway, after 4 nights in Shanghai it was time to jump on my last overnight train in China and head up to Beijing to say Bye Bye to Dave who was leaving for Australia.