Me, my Dad, and Fred
A crazy Chinese man just jumped into our photo without asking.
The Dread Pirate Roberts Welcomes You To Shanghai
How often can you say that you are living in a pirate ship? Not often, so when you are you have to make the most of it and living in my hostel in Shanghai was like having "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" every day of the year. The place was called "Captain Hostel" and for somewhat unexplained reasons the place was decorated like a ship: knots on the walls, a helm hung behind the desk, the staff uniform was white and blue with sailor hats, I slept in the "Sailor's Bunks" in a room that could have been below deck, and I had a porthole. As far as interestingly themed hotels go this one was a winner, but unfortunately my parents were living on the opposite side of town due to a misunderstanding on my part (I assumed that their hotel would have cheap dorms but it didn't) which resulted in an hour long commute every morning in order to meet up with them.
Shanghai is an incredible city. Completely unlike Beijing, Shanghai is a highrise city. The place has so many highrise buildings that the view is fairly well
identical wherever you are; as you drive out of town the city doesn't change at all, the buildings are just as tall and just as dense in the outer suburbs as they are in the CBD. The main roads are raised above the ground so that they can easily wind through the gaps between buildings and it seems as though the road was built around the buildings rather than the other way around. At night, when all the buildings are lit up with neon advertising (one building on Pudong turns into a giant television) the city appears like a dreamworld of lights and colours as the taxi winds around and between the giant monoliths. Each building is individual and beautiful; an architect's fantasy. At night, after dropping Dad and Christine back at their hotel I would ride a taxi back to the Bund where my ship was, passing along the Yan'an elevated road, and I would drift off amongst the lights feeling that I was finally part of something beautiful.
The ultimate part of Shanghai, the place where all the lights come into focus, is on the Bund. The Bund (or Wai Tan as the locals all it which
means something like "foreigner strip") is the name of the road which runs along the western bank of the river which bisects Shanghai and it is where the first foreign colonial buildings were constructed. At night the entire Bund is lit in soft yellow lights which show the old buildings in brilliant splendour (I got to see the lights turn out one night, the entire Bund switches off instantaneously) and it is possible to stand on the pedestrian boulevard by the river looking back at the entire strip. Across the river from the Bund is the Pudong New Area, a stretch of land which was opened for development around 1990 and has since become the financial center of China. In only 17 years Pudong has grown from nothing to a collection of massive buildings including the Oriental Pearl Tower (a beautiful 468m tall TV tower), the Jin Mao tower (the 5th tallest building in the world at 420m which was climbed on impulse by a shoe salesman in 2001) and the Shanghai World Finance Center (still under construction but already taller than the Jin Mao Tower). Looking at Pudong from across the river made me feel as though I was
dreaming; the collection of massive towers appears out of nowhere and hardly seems real. What makes it even more wondrous is how quickly it has been built and how much money China has thrown into Shanghai in recent years. The city can only be rivalled by Dubai in terms of rapid development and I can guarantee that Pudong will have changed beyond recognition within a year.
My Dad as a Wingman: The Lee Men Go Out on the Pull
On one night in Shanghai my Dad and I headed out together and found ourselves in a pub somewhere in the French Concession. This sounded like a good idea at the time, but there was one thing that we had not counted on: 30 or 40 something year old expats out looking for western toyboys.
Let me paint the picture. We were sitting by a bar trying to figure out why anyone in their right mind would buy a bottle of Victoria Bitter in Shanghai for 50 kuai ($8.50) when you could just drink dishwater, I decided that at some point in time I could conceivably miss home enough to be tempted by such a drink but
then I saw that they also sold James Boag so there is no sane reason for the VB. The bar was nicely set out, your standard English themed bar from anywhere around the world, the bartender didn't seem to want or be able to speak Chinese so I suspected Russian but that was never confirmed, next to us were two women.
One woman was a "portly" (word chosen carefully) blonde from Texas who had the kind of voice that makes your teeth shift imperceivably leftwards, the other was English and looked like she'd seen a few too many bars in her time. I can't say for sure but I'd guess their ages at 38 and 45 respectively. Obviously my Dad and I were unable to control ourselves and we jumped into pulling mode with vigorous enthusiasm.
The Texan started the conversation, I don't know how, I wasn't really listening. Conversation continued as to be expected, just small talk and the like, but then I made a horrendously sarcastic joke. Being Texan she missed every iota of sarcasm and didn't understand. I thought I could have a bit of fun by continuing with the best of low brow humour
which she continued to pick up on in any way.
After half and hour or so of this the two girls started directing the conversation, dropping hints about where they were going for dinner, telling us about a great Chinese restaurant which no doubt served the same food as a street-side place but with a significantly different price tag, giving us the address and all. One could have thought that they were inviting us out to dinner. One did think as much. This is when I started to get worried, what had I got my dad into? More importantly, what had I gotten myself into? We had to leave.
We bid our farewells and ran off to the other side of town for some real food served by attractive young Chinese women, feeling happy in the knowledge that if worse comes to worst the two of us can pick up girls in Shanghai.
When Yellow Submarine Meets Fear and Loathing in Shanghai
To get from the Bund to Pudong there are several transportation choices, some are quite regular and normal such as the bridge or the road tunnel. Others are romantic, an example being the
ferry. One can only be described as quirky, strange and inspired by LSD. I present to you the Bund sightseeing tunnel.
The tunnel is a cable car which runs underneath the river from the north of the Bund. The space-age inspired entrance gives way to a bubble like car which as pulled through the tunnel by a cable, and then you get to see the tunnel. Imagine what you would get if you went to the Arts department of your local university, collected 10 dropouts, gave each of them a collection of random mind-altering substances and told each of them to design a section of the tunnel. That is how the tunnel was designed.
Lights, televisions, smoke machines, neon, flashing strobes and lasers adorn the walls of the tunnel. Badly made warp-speed effects from a 1980 B-grade space movie are recreated in substandard ways, bad music is played everywhere, and each section is given a title such as "neon magma" which is read out by a bored voice. They went so far as to have inflatable men appear in front of the vehicle which then get taken out in faux-horrorshow fashion.
When the wonderful journey ends you
are left with the feeling that you are missing out on something, that perhaps the ride would have been worth the entry fee if you had been high. Then you realise that you bought a return ticket.
High Society: Revoking My Backpacker Status
After backpacking for six months I've started moulding into the dirty hippie stereotype. Travelling doesn't often allow for a high class lifestyle, we have to settle for eating on the streets more often than not, so when I do get a chance to clean up and do the classy things again it all feels rather alien. This is the way I was feeling when I arrived in the lobby of the Jin Mao Tower for a dinner appointment.
Our restaurant was on the 54th floor of the tower, in the bottom floors of the Grand Hyatt hotel which occupies the upper 33 stories of the tower. Thus it was necessary for me to look my best, that is, I combed my hair and tucked in my shirt. Ok, I put on clean underwear too.
The restaurant was fantastic, unbelievable actually. From our window we could see the Oriental Pearl (which we had
been to the top of the day before) and the Bund, plus most of Shanghai besides, which made for the best restaurant view I have ever seen. Furthermore, the food was some of the best I've enjoyed in China which is saying a lot. Sitting down to a formal dinner, keeping my manners, enjoying polite conversation (some of the time), revelling in spending time with my family, and using the cleanest toilet in all of China was a really welcome change. Plus the cost wasn't even close to being as high as the restaurant was.
After dinner we "accidentally" got on the wrong elevator and went up to the 84th floor which happens to be the top of the Grand Hyatt hotel. Now, my idea of a building is something solid, something which has structural integrity to hold itself up. I'm not particularly fond of heights and buildings that seem even remotely flimsy make me feel rather queasy. Imagine the horror when I saw that the top 33 floors were actually hollow and that you could look over the balcony down into the abyss below. The amazing vacancy just sat there and did nothing (as vacant space
does by necessity), being a total waste of space high above the Earth; it was actually quite striking and beautiful. We were cursing the fact that we'd left our cameras at home.
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