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Published: January 23rd 2014
Having spent the last 4 months in Shanghai, it seems an appropriate time to write a general blog on the city and how we found it. This isn't a chronological 'and then we went here and did this' blog. It's just a look at some characteristics of the city of Shanghai, both positive and negative, from the perspective of 2 English people who like wandering around cities in various countries. Look below and marvel at some of Shanghai's standout features. According to us....
1. There are lots of people (and models of people)
Shanghai is a big city. Like, really
big. See the title of this blog for one estimate of the population - though these numbers vary depending on how you measure it, it gives you some idea as to the sheer numbers of people who live there. I didn't verify this figure by going around and counting everyone when I arrived, but I reckon it's not too much of an over-estimate. This size no doubt contributes to many of the other features of the city described below from transport to pollution and it certainly leads to some peculiar first time experiences - like
queuing on a pavement waiting for your turn to cross a road, or being squashed against an escalator handrail on the underground. So anyway, given the problems such overpopulation can cause, I was constantly amazed at how many full size statues of people there are scattered around the city. There you are on the crammed pedestrian areas of East Nanjing Road...and there, just adding to the crowding issues, are some statues of shoppers. Seriously, there's enough people already, stop making fake people - it's making matters worse. But then I guess those terracotta warriors kicked the whole 'crowding-caused-by-statues' trend off in China years ago.
2. The architecture's amazing
Shanghai has a stunning mix of the old and the new that you can experience in many parts of the city by just turning around and taking in the panorama (if you have a clear view unbroken by statues). In several parts of the city you can find yourself within sight of the glittering skyscrapers of Pudong, an old temple and some narrow alleyways where clothes still hang drying from windows.
3. Getting around
Despite its size, Shanghai is usually pretty easy
East Nanjing Road
One of the main shopping streets in the city. Always packed with people.
to get around. It's possible to walk to a lot of places, plus the subway is extensive and really cheap. Not only that but we found that taxis were generally really reliable and also very cheap. The only problems come, again, from the numbers of people. Try getting a taxi at rush hour. Better still, try travelling on the underground at rush hour. If you want to really experience it to the max, make sure your train passes through People's Square at a particularly busy time. It becomes quite shocking. People are not afraid of pushing each other to make space and, if you want to get off the train and not continue round and round the line indefinitely, you have to be prepared to push too. We once watched from the platform as a woman fought her way off a train through the crowd that was trying to get on. She ended up crouched on the floor of the platform with her left leg trapped in the crowd, dragging herself free and looking quite disheveled . Then she stood up, straightened her clothes, composed herself from the scrum and tottered off on her designer stilettos as if nothing had
Taste a bit like a meat pie!
happened. Just another rush hour on the Shanghai metro.
4. Filling your belly
Before we came to Shanghai we heard a range of opinions on Chinese food. Some hate it. Some love it. Few people were indifferent. So, never liking to take another person's opinion as our own, we set out to see what we could make of it ourselves. And the verdict...? Well, some of it was really nice....and some of it wasn't so nice. Kinda how you'd expect it to be really. If I'm honest, the 'not-so-nice' bit mainly comes from ordering chicken and repeatedly receiving chicken's feet or some other part of a chicken that was mainly bones, skin and gristle. The nice experiences came from the rest. Shanghai is famed for its dumplings - basically little pastry packets of various fillings and gravy. They're great - once you work out how to eat them with chopsticks, but, and I'm going to say something a little controversial here...I think they're a lot like pies. Seriously. The ones I tried bore more than a passing resemblance in flavour to a little English meat and vegetable pie. I liked them! But I didn't think I'd
I'm not putting a photo on of people spitting
So here's a nice picture of the skyscrapers. We went to the bar in the top of this one for Kate's birthday.
come away from Shanghai saying that some of the main local cuisine reminded me of a pie or pasty.
Sorry, this unsavory topic has to be covered. I'm not going to rant about it or complain about it here, but just confirm that spitting happens a lot in Shanghai. The legends are true. At any time of the day or night, anywhere in the city you are likely to be in earshot of the familiar sound of someone noisily gathering the mucous from their sinuses and throat...and then ejecting it forcefully onto the pavement with a short sharp 'whoosh'. No one seems to mind. And after a while you develop a reflex to look away during the auditory experience of the 'gathering' stage so you miss the visual experience of the 'ejecting' phase. When I first arrived in the city I seemed to constantly catch sight of people's mucous, which I found particularly unpleasant.
Anyway, it happens and it seems normal and it's China. My main interest in this practice is - where does it come from?? I seem unable to produce such impressive spitting, no matter how much I practice.
worry, I've since given up trying.
6. The BIG smoke
Shanghai is polluted. There's no sweetening the pill here. The air is often really, really dirty. Particularly when we were there when it apparently broke records. Certain authorities, including the American Consulate, measure pollution levels and allow you to check them on their website. One aspect they measure is something called PM2.5. This refers to teeny-tiny pollution particles that get into your lungs and clog you up with predicted long term health and life shortening effects. The level of PM2.5 in the air also comes with a verbal description and during most of our time in Shanghai the air was officially in the 'Unhealthy' category. Then, every now and then it crept up to 'Hazardous'. Yes, hazardous to breathe. Given that it seemed even more hazardous NOT to breathe we unfortunately had to soldier on.
Anyway, this pollution came to a spectacular climax just before Christmas when a great thick white smog enveloped the city. Not only could you not breathe, you couldn't see either. Nice. Yet despite all this, I can honestly say I didn't notice any physical effects. I didn't feel short of
breath or anything - though Kate says she did, she does suffer from asthma too. All I can assume is that the white hazardous haze was just slowly killing me without me knowing. Cheerful.
Well we couldn't leave an overview of Shanghai without talk about the pubs, could we? This again offers both positives and negatives. On the positive side - there are loads, they're all different and interesting, some serve their own special beer and good food.....on the negative side - they're expensive!!!
Bearing in mind that Kate and I have been living in Vietnam - home to the cheapest beer in the world - Shanghai was quite a shock to the system. In Saigon, a beer for £2 would be going 'posh'. In Shanghai, a beer for £2 would be a fantasy. Most come for £4. And a lot of places are more expensive. My advice is - look before you leap. We wandered into one bar where I bought a tiny 275ml bottle of local Tsing Tao and it cost me £5.50. I kid you not. We also went to a craft beer brewhouse (okay, we were asking for it)
and thought we'd have a couple of quiet pints one afternoon...but we curtailed our plans to one pint each when we realised each pint cost £8. Presumably part of this went on the 'customer services manager' who came out to ask us if we were 'ok'. Maybe she'd seen the shock on my face when I saw the price and was used to customers keeling over.
All is not lost though. Thanks to happy hour! Happy hours are massively popular in Shanghai and every bar has some kind of special offer on from mid-late afternoon to early evening and Kate and I became masters of surfing the happy hour wave. Sometimes offers are 2-for-1 and other times they're just reduced prices, but they're always worthwhile.
Then there's the one off special offers. Shanghai often has 'free' booze nights to promote new bars. Yeah, by free, I mean free
. You turn up - they fill your glass. You look at the menu, faking an intention to visit again in the future. They keep filling your glass up to a given time.....then everyone leaves because the next drink will cost them. It's bizarre but seems quite common practice. There's also
The 'old' - YuYuan Gardens
Go early in the morning, before it gets busy.
the 'all-you-can-eat-and-drink' nights that are surprisingly cheap considering the price of an individual drink. We spent Christmas Eve at the Boxing Cat Brewery having an all you can eat buffet and all you can drink open bar on their homemade ales...for £25. Ridiculous considering a pint there is usually about £5....
So there you have it...
Shanghai. Gateway to China. 'Pearl of the Orient'. 'Paris of the East'. Financial and transport hub (with the world's busiest container port - thanks Wikipedia.
.). Now summarised into 7 bite-sized characteristics according to me.
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