Published: April 19th 2012April 19th 2012
I quite like Shanghai. I've only been here a half day but I think I like the 'feel' of this city more than others on my trip. Cars actually stop at traffic lights (except for those turning right, which ignore both lights and pedestrians); it has a nice-looking harbour featuring interesting buildings, with enough bright lights to rival Hong Kong; it has an extensive subway system (but some really mis-aligned changeover points); and there's more foreigners here than any city I've visited. But most of all, it's probably the fact that I now have the freedom to do what I want rather than being on an organised tour.
Just yesterday I was contemplating cutting my holiday early and heading home. It had become too much of a slog rather than a holiday. It reminded me of when I used to work for a dot-com and I spent several weeks in Hong Kong. To come home, I had the choice of staying one additional night and taking a comfortable daytime flight home; or I could leave earlier via an overnight flight but require several days to recover from the poor sleep. On that occasion, I so wished to come home that
I took the overnight option. This was feeling much the same.
Today, however, I feel refreshed and happy to be in Shanghai, planning how I can make the most of my mere two days here.
First, a quick recap... I had an 11.30am flight out of Beijing, so I left my hotel at 8am to catch a taxi to the Airport Express. The taxi ride was only ¥13 ($2), so I was generous and paid the driver a whole ¥20 ($3)! The Airport Express was built for the 2008 Beijing Games and goes straight out to the airport, making an easy trip. The airport itself is very modern (or at least it is at Terminal 3 where I went). Large unobtrusive car park, cavernous spaces, food courts, enormous viewing windows and the train stops right outside.
There is also free wi-fi, but not totally "free". To obtain access, people need to provide identification, either via a local telephone number (where a code is sent via SMS), a Chinese ID cad or a passport. Several automated terminals were located throughout the airport to assist. I guess there's limitations on being anonymous in this society.
While flying, I
noticed that both Beijing was covered in a single, large cloud mass. On route, the clouds looked like normal, small clouds. Then, over Shanghai, it had returned to a single, large cloud again. Pollution again?
I'm staying at the Oriental Bund Hotel, which I found fairly cheaply online. It is on the same subway line that services Hongqiao airport, where I arrived, and is only a block from The Bund, a popular strip along the harbour. Having arrived in the afternoon, I sorted out my plans and decided to do the three most important things - visit the Bund, visit the Apple Store and see the circus.
The Bund follows Huangpu River, which no doubt helped Shanghai become a historical trading centre. The impressive skyline of buildings on the Pudong side include a "ball on stick" TV tower, an extremely tall building that looks like a bottle opener and several buildings that feature full-length electronic billboards (or, as Neal Stephenson would term it, media glyphics). The only way for pedestrians to get across to the other side is via the subway or via the Bund Tourist Tunnel. The tunnel has small box-like cars that traverse the tunnel, similar
to airport tram carriages. I had read that the tunnel features some really bad 'special effects', making it more of an amusement ride than a transportation system. I couldn't resist the appeal of bad special effects, so I paid my ¥50 ($7) and hopped aboard. Oh my god, it was bad. It was like an early Disneyland ride from the 70s, consisting of neon lights and slide projections. Anyway, at least it got me to the other side. (It also reminded me of the Beijing subway that actually projects advertisements on the tunnel wall while the subway is between stations, except that was interesting to watch!)
I made a bee-line for the Apple Store, which has a very well-known entrance cylinder. It is made of 12 extremely tall, curved glass panels and there is a curved staircase that descends to the store below. (See http://www.apple.com.cn/retail/pudong/.) I again took advantage of the great wifi to plot my next destination - the circus! I didn't have much time to get there and Google Maps said that I had a difficult subway change, so I descended to the subway for a bit of underground navigating.
I arrived at "Shanghai Circus World
Station" (yes, the subway station is named after it!) just before the show was due to start. I bought a discounted ticket from a guy outside (who I think had some spare tickets left over from a tour group) and had a great time watching the show. It was the third circus of my trip and in severals ways this one was better than the rest. It had a guy who could toss and balance heavy, porcelain containers on his arms, back and head; a couple doing aerial silks, holding onto each other only via handgrip, neck or foot; some fast-paced tumbling; and the standard "motorcycles in a spherical cage" act, but with 8 motorcycles, thereby out-ranking the other circuses.
I returned to the Bund to write these trip notes on the iPad, watching the lights on office buildings until they turned off at 11pm. Tomorrow I join a bicycle tour to learn more about the city.