Published: June 2nd 2010May 27th 2010
Shanghai is MASSIVE. With a population of over seventeen million, this city alone has more people than most countries. Of course skyscrapers are everywhere, and like seemingly every other city in China, construction is rampant. But this is truly an international city, it still is China but not in the way some might imagine. Shanghai was just a small fishing village until the mid 19th century when foreign concessions were given. It then went on to outdo Hangzhou and become a huge port, and eventually became China's economic hub.
I took a bullet train from Hangzhou to Shanghai and damn was it fast! Only took a little more than an hour to reach. Frustrations mounted when I left the station however, my favourite part of the China experience. Luckily some passerby who spoke quite decent English was able to guide me to the proper bus and I arrived at Zhongtan road. I was to stay with some buddies I'd met in Laos who are studying in at a University here. Fabian is from Germany and Marcus is from Sweden. Both speak fluent Chinese. I don't know if it was because Fabian's Chinese translation was off, and actually later I did
find out it was, but I must have asked about forty locals for directions and everyone kept telling me different things. One person would tell me to go down the road and then when I reached the end and asked someone else they would tell me to go back the way I came, and then back the way I came, and back...it got quite tedious and times like this make me happy I'm only traveling with twelve kgs on my back, I'm upper back already complaining loudly to me. A few hours later I was fed up and began looking for a hostel, took me another long while. It was already dark and I was roaming the streets of Shanghai but eventually I found something that suited my budget. I night at this place was 90 yuan, which is actually cheap for Shanghai, but in comparison I was only paying 20 when I was in Yunnan province. Quite a contrast and shows how much more expensive the east coast of China is.
That night I was able to contact Fabian and get the correct address and the next day I met him near Zhongtan Lu station. We went to
a restaurant and conversed for a while and then he brought me to his place, and apartment in a high rise building compound called Brilliant City. Over two hundred thousand people alone live in this compound. Their apartment was stylishly decorated, big Bob Marley pictures on the walls, pictures of Buddha, movie posters. They also had proxy programs on their computers to bypass Chinese censored websites like facebook and youtube, which was nice. Marcus was still in Japan visiting his girlfriend when I arrived, and returned the day after. Fabian and I took the metro to the French Concession in the evening, an area with it's own character, lots of shops and a nice place to walk around. We bought some pirated DVD's, which are found everywhere, and then went back to the apartment and met up with his other friend Jerome and watched some of them.
The Shanghai metro system is set to become the largest in the world in a few years. There's already 13 lines in service with many more under construction. It makes it really convenient to get all over the place, in fact many of the elements of this metro seem to be modeled
after the Singapore metro. Fortunately the train has English information throughout, making it very convenient for tourists to get around, and by and large the more affordable transport option.
I went over to the People's Park on one of my days here, nice green space in the middle of the city, albeit surrounded by buildings and no refuge from the abundant pollution. Like many Asian cities, there was an exercise area which I took advantage of on several occasions. In the same area was the Urban Planning Exhibition, showcasing the development of Shanghai from small fishing village to mighty metropolis city. There was a huge model of the entire Shanghai area, complete with impressive small scale buildings and amazing attention to detail. There are actually stories of Shanghainese visiting the place and seeing their current homes replaced by a high rise for example. Upon asking staff about the discrepancies of the model they'd be informed that their homes were set to be demolished to make room for larger or more modern buildings. Crappy way to discover the news, but the Chinese government seems to be able to do whatever it wants and there are no forums for complaints.
The Shanghai museum was next, said to be one of the more impressive ones in China. It seemed quite standard to me however. The exhibitions covered historical era's and there were foreign ones as well, like art from Europe. The best part was a coin exhibition which showed past currencies of former dynasties, we're talking old coins here. China was actually one of the first places to create a monetary system.
I walked around West Nanjing Road, a pedestrian road crammed with people and stores, and headed to the famous Bund area along the Huangpu river. It all started when Shanghai became an international trading post. Numerous colonial style buildings were built up and used by the foreign concessions and transformed Shanghai into an eventual international city. From here you can get an amazing view across the river to Pudong, where the majority of Shanghai's skyline is located. Another skyscraper is currently being built and was originally designed to be the tallest at somewhere over 600m, but that was until the building in Dubai was completed. I walked there by day, which was disappointing because of the industrial haze blanketing the area, but by night the whole place was
lit up and very animated.
I got my visa extended yet again in Shanghai and this time was used to the bullshit to come. Marcus was with me though so he handled the language issues which made things move along a lot smoother even if they weren't. The problem this time was that because I was staying at a residence I needed to go to the police station to get a residence slip. Upon getting there the officer said he needed a receipt for a ticket I used to enter Shanghai. I didn't keep the ticket of course. The officer didn't really know why he needed it, just kept saying those were the rules and he had to follow them. This is the problem with China in general, no one is really taught to think for themselves, they're just taught to follow orders, regardless of how stupid they may be. As a result when problems arise, as they often do, these guys don't know how to think for themselves and try to be flexible enough to help us out. Instead they only keep repeating in Chinese "There is no possible solution", like a damn robot.
We had a
running joke going about how emotionally uninhibited so many of the Chinese can be, exactly like robots. We would often talk in robot voices, impersonating funny situations we face with the Chinese from day to day. Marcus has been here for two years and has some really funny and retarded stories regarding this. In the end we went down to the train station and tried to buy a fake receipt from some touts that hang around there, but because of the expo the police removed them all, but luckily we bumped into one of Marcus' friends who was with his cousin from overseas. She ended up giving me her used train ticket, so it all worked out in the end.
I must say, staying with Fabian and Marcus for almost two weeks, I got quite comfortable and really felt I was getting to know Shanghai. We ate out constantly or ordered food, everything including McDonald's (Mai Dong Lau!) has delivery here. It was a total student flat. I got to know a lot of their friends too like Ivano, Carlos, Jerome, some Korean girls who were so easily amused and liked playing with my goatee. They threw a house
party on a Friday night and over thirty people showed up for it, both foreigners and locals. We drank a lot and the music was loud. Being on the twenty-first floor, and this always happens they told me, the neighbors complain and call the cops and the cops just end up banging on the door, along with the disgruntled neighbor. The cops can't do much though and eventual we stopped opening the door to them and were left standing out there. Fabian drank too much and was throwing up in the toilet.
We went out a lot, played ping pong (China's national sport), hung out in park's on sunny days, and when they were in class or had to study I'd often just throw on a movie from they're vast pirated collection. I've been in China for about two months now and I must say my mandarin is slowly improving, but got a huge boost thanks to Marcus and Fabian, who speak fluently and engage in conversation with everyone around them. They taught me many words and I often asked them what many words were. I think if I had a few months living here I'd pick it up
quickly. In any case having them around made Shanghai a breeze for me and for a short time gave me some semblance of stability.
There are more photos below