Published: March 22nd 2012March 22nd 2012
If I had any preconceived ideas about what Shanghai would be like, I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of this city. It is home to 23 million people and that is one heck of a lot. And it means that nearly everyone – apart from the very wealthy – lives in a high-rise block of apartments and these blocks go on for miles and miles and miles. And they are seriously ugly! If they’re not grey or brown they are pink. And lots of them are pink. Only they are pink concrete and, with the huge amount of roads and traffic, there is lots of pollution so the pink is badly stained with grime. So it isn’t a nice pink; it’s a really dreary pink often with brownish red roofs. And if you’re not looking at miles of flats, you’re looking at miles of industry. And I mean heavy industry. Lots of steel works and car plants and huge factories all with smoke billowing out of them. It is a city where manufacturing is king and the millions of people are here to feed the factories and then move the goods to the massive port. The Captain tells us the waters near Shanghai are some of the busiest shipping lanes on the planet and having been here now, I can totally believe him.
But fortunately today we drove out of Shanghai to one of the old provinces on the edge of the city and it’s called the water town of Zhujiajiao. Where Venice makes you think of palaces and mansions, Zhujiajiao is about working people so it isn’t at all grand but it is very much alive. Yes, it’s half full of tourists but the other half are local Chinese. It teems with life in its throng of narrow alleys and little canals where the buildings don’t waste an inch of space and lovely little bridges cross from one side to the other with all sorts of boats trundling up and down. Some are just to move people about but others are used as mobile shops. The town’s temples fill the streets with the smell of incense which is a jolly good thing ‘cos some of the food is not exactly appealing to either the eye or the nose!
And speaking of food, we had our worst meal of the trip at lunch today. We went to a silk factory for lunch and they really should stick to making silk! Which actually they do very well. We watched them spin the yarn directly from the silk worm pupae and then turn it into the most gorgeous pillows and quilts. We treated ourselves to 4 silk pillows to bring home and you just want to sink your head onto them the moment you feel them. Our guide was keen to impress upon us that the factory is a government run factory so they guarantee the quality and the pricing. I just wish they could guarantee some quality of lunch. Cold cock’s combs are not going to find their way to any of the menus served in the Tilson family. Ever!!