On The Top Of Shanghai

September 23rd 2019
Published: September 23rd 2019
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Day 55 to 58 (part) of 80

Thursday into Friday was about transferring from the calm of the open countryside to the bright, brash Shanghai.

The overnight sleeper train wasn't due to depart until around 4 that afternoon, though we had a bus journey to get from Yangshuo to Guilin, where the train was due.

That gave us a short morning in Yangshuo. Opportunity to get a decent breakfast - Alpen muesli and milk for Paul - somewhat light on the muesli though - and a big bowl of yoghurt with 6 fresh fruits for Pip. And succumbed to buying a small 'pot noodle' each for an evening meal, but with several tasty snacks too.

It was a crap journey though. Unlike the longer distance trains Moscow to Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, where smoking was only allowed by passengers getting onto platforms when the train stopped at a station, on this sleeper train smoking was allowed at the carriage joins. But, the carriage doors were kept open so smoke drifted through constantly. Pip, who had a rattley cough the day before, really struggled with it for the 17 hours. There are no opening windows, and only occasionally cooler, fresher air passing through.

That 'pot noodle' that we referred to - Paul used his titanium spork to open, but was too enthusiastic in piercing the enclosing plastic wrapping, and put several holes in the bottom of the supposed waterproof pot. But then isn't that what we carry gaffer tape with us for?

After arriving in Shanghai late Friday morning, and freshening up, Frank led the group out towards The Bund. Stopping by a steamed bun stall on the way - Paul, a chicken and a pork, Pip a mushroom - we would have preferred somewhat more filling, less dough, but they were only 25p each.

Arriving on The Bund, the extensive pedestrianised walkway along the western (and northern) side of the Huang Po River, we had our first look across the river to the skyscraper skyline of modern Shanghai.

And quite a sight it is too, even in daylight without the bright, nightime lights it is also famed for. Hard to believe that 'over there' was farmland until the mid 1980s - see photo of 'before and after' taken at museum on Monday.

Shanghai began life as a fishing village in the 11th C but by the end of the Opium War, mid 19th C, it had become one of five newly opened treaty ports, which saw it grow into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the region.

In that period, 19th into the 20th C, it was a city filled with cabarets and ballrooms, fine shopping, satirical newspapers, western deco architecture. With an ethnic mix of Chinese, Asians, Jews, Russians, and Europeans, it was dubbed at the time 'the Paris of the Orient'.

As a city it now is
-the world's biggest container port.
- most populous urban area in China.
- 2nd most populous city in the world, population 24m.

After time on The Bund, Frank walked us to Nanjing Road, centre for high (and medium) class shopping in Shanghai. At least, that's what we thought, but time since then has shown us that Shanghai has high class malls all over the place. Whilst others dashed about we relaxed over a pot of Oolong tea, people watching.

In the evening our group, plus another Explore party of 18, went to the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe show. A fabulous collection of acts putting their bodies into shapes and routines some of which you wouldn't think physically possible. Have to say, though, jeez, there looked liked some right miserable buggers amongst the other group. Much prefer our group.

Saturday, although nominally the last day of the Explore trip, it was a 'free day' for people to do with as they liked before evening meal and boat trip.

After a lazy get up, we headed, in persistent drizzle, for the Shanghai Museum. However, with detours it was getting on for late morning by the time we arrived in the vicinity. Concerned that we would have insufficient time to do it justice we reverted instead to the Shanghai Urban Planning Centre.

Sounds wonderful doesn't it?....

And it was too! Full of the history of Shanghai's development over the last century in particular. Some fabulous exhibits, including a very large, to scale, city model - 1:500, displaying a core area of 110 sq km - lots of interactive displays and quizzes - in English - loads and loads of facts and figures (which we haven't noted, and so won't bore you with), and amongst the photos section a fascinating set of before - 1980s into 1990s - and after - 2004 ish - photos from around the city. Look at the one across the river in particular, showing no buildings of note across to where the skyscrapers now are.

Whilst there we heard air raid sirens go off three times, for 3 minutes a pop. Had Donald T found a new way to discourage Chinese imports? We later found out it was to mark National Defence Education Day and familiarise residents with air attack precautions. Not that we saw anyone taking any actions at all though. And anyway, the 'enemy' in these parts is Japan. After all, they have 'form' as far as China are concerned.

A final group meal that evening, but no boat trip as the weather was far too rough, then most of us took a short stroll to the Bund to see the night lights. We all got the requisite photos before the weather turned again. We all headed back, said farewells and the Explore trip was over. Most of our colleagues would be on their way back to blighty before we got up.

Sunday, weather still cool and showery, excellent for getting around various far flung sights in the city. First stop - Propaganda Poster Art Centre. Bit of a strange one this. A private collection and display of what it says on the tin - Chinese governmental and official posters from all periods of the Chinese Communists regime. It is a private, though licensed, museum with no official money, and is tucked away in two grotty basement rooms - flaking paint, rusty overhead pipework - at the bottom of an anonymous suburb, residential tower block.

It really should be somewhere more worthy and accessible. But it is well worth the effort, opening a window on China in the 20th C through posters, pictures and caricatures. Most on display would fall into the 'Hail China' category. But there were several of a 'support our oppressed brothers and sisters overseas' type eg support for anti-discrimination campaigns in early 60s USA, support for Paris Student Riots. And, unsurprisingly, several of the 'bash the Imperialist forces' type.

One amusing set showed 'Red Detachment of Women' (1971), female soldiers, in ballet shoes, en pointe, complete with rifles and grenades, performing one of the 8 model operas during the cultural revolution.

On to the Jingan Temple, first built in 247AD. The Chinese National Buddhist Association was established here in 1903, making it one of the most significant Buddhist centres in China. But, during the Cultural Revolution it was a plastics factory! It reopened as a temple in 1983.

Massive refurbishment since 1998, culminating in The Pagoda finished in 2010 makes the place look almost brand new. Donations by and to Buddhists have funded a 8.8m, 15 ton silver Buddha, set in a hall supported by 46 columns of Myanmar teak. They also have a Burmese white jade Buddha at 11 tons.

They are currently seeking funding for a 2 ton Buddha statue. They don't come over as being a very charitable bunch!

Since 2017 Shanghai has been home to the world's largest Starbucks, though a new one opening in Chicago in November will be bigger. It may be big but it was still difficult to find an empty pair of seats. Some wonderful kit. Check out the cold brew drip station. But don't ask how much 2 lattes, 1 sandwich and 2 cakes cost (more than any meal we have had in China so far).

We ambled along to the Jade Buddha temple. On the way we passed the Lei Yun Shang Pharmacy, operating since 1662. Inside, one end was, mostly, modern pharmaceuticals. The other, however, was a large rack of mysterious drawers and cupboards. There appeared to be lots of ginseng for sale, and lots we couldn't recognise, along with dessicated seahorses.

We passed several blocks of old, narrow alley, back-to-back houses being demolished, but with residents still in place at the edges. Progress, in that it's modern housing in its place, but also sad in a way to see the heritage disappear.

The Jade Buddha temple was OK, but very pristine. Couldn't photo the Jade Buddha though.

Tea on Sunday was 2 year old, mature Irish cheddar, from an international shop, and crusty cibbatta bread from Starbucks. Yummy.

Today, Monday, we have so far
- travelled towards the international airport using the Shanghai Maglev - magnetically supported and driven train. This is the world's fastest operating train line, reaching 431 kph, though quite briefly. Another vanity project, it whisks passengers 30 km in 8 minutes from the edge of town to the airport, for 40 Yuan. Parallel to that is a standard metro line that, albeit slower, will take you there for 4 Yuan. You still have to use the Metro to get into town centre from the town end of the line. So, as a transport system it seemed a bit pointless.

We are now sat atop the Shanghai Tower, the world's 2nd highest tower, having a drink and ice cream on the world's highest observation deck .... possibly.

Facts here are varied. Some sources have floor 118 as nearly the highest at 552 metres, but another tower in China has a deck that is 10 cm higher. BUT, we are sat on deck 119, which should be higher still, but on its window it says 552m. Who knows?

Don't usually post from middle of the day but couldn't resist the opportunity to post from 'up here'.

Moving on to the Fosun Wolves shop and the old city next.

Mandarin has around 10000 characters! ! He knows ~5000 but has to use a dictionary when reading sometimes!

Additional photos below
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