As the sunset we left Pudong and drove back over the river to catch our evening river boat cruise. This lasted about an hour as we sailed up and back down the river this time admiring the city skyline and light show from the water. I have never seen anything like it. I ❤️ Shanghai, as the lights on the side of one of the big tall buildings kept telling us. It is a vibrant, young, modern, clean and friendly place and a great city to end our trip.
So what of China overall then? I think you will have noticed that I struggled a bit to start with. I think it was the jet lag and perhaps also the slightly cold weather in Beijing but also just the sheer volume of people everywhere, which takes some getting used to.
Once I relaxed a bit then so did the Chinese people we met and once again, like India, I found the people to be friendly but perhaps a little more shy. The other thing we have noticed is what a calm people the Chinese are. Despite their numbers, we never once saw anything verging on aggressiveness or road rage, for example. It was very clear that family is the cornerstone of Chinese society and they were especially lovely with children.
One thing I did find very different here in China compared to India, was the apparent lack of spirituality here. Yes, there is Buddhism and lots of history but I get the feeling that the young population pay more regard to science, business and facts, rather than religion etc. That was certainly the view of more than one of our guides.
The other thing I think you’ll have noticed is how little I knew about China before we arrived. My Mindmap of China was pretty non-existent and whilst I knew about the pace of development, until you see it in city after city I don’t think it hits home. I read an interesting quote about this urbanisation in The Guardian
“Whilst most people in China were farmers 30 years ago, 50% of people lived in cities by 2011 and by 2030 it’s estimated one billion people, or 70% of the population, will be urbanites.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised that at times it seemed a bit busy!
It has certainly been an amazing adventure and I’ve really enjoyed all the different experiences we’ve had a long the way. I don’t think China is for everyone but who knows what the future holds. Shanghai gave us a flavour of what China could become and once they develop the biggest Universal Studios in Beijing and a new Walt Disney World in Shanghai, maybe it will replace Florida as the destination of choice.
As I’ve said previously, others had told me that a visit to Shanghai was a visit to the future or perhaps more specifically, that Shanghai IS the future of China.
This it turns out is all SO true and it manifests all around but particularly in Pudong, on the opposite side of the river to The Bund. Here the city skyline is stunningly beautiful with the most amazing, shining tower blocks I think I have ever seen. Thirty years ago none of this existed..it was all just fields (according to Annie so it must be true..?).
On our last day in Shanghai our trip took us over here to look at the fabulous office blocks close up. It seems an odd thing to spend the day doing on your holiday. I mean, you wouldn’t visit Croydon to look at the office blocks would you- but this is different and some of the designs definitely compete with London’s best buildings in the beauty stakes. In fact, the whole thing seems to be some sort of competition for architects as they race to build the tallest buildings in the world.
Jane and I opted to go up one of these to admire the views. It is a building with the nickname ‘The Bottle Opener’ because that’s exactly what it looks like and it’s actually the Shanghai World Financial Centre. At 473 metres tall, it is the tallest building in China and the third tallest in the world. It has the highest viewing deck in the world currently and was completed in 2009. It has a tidy 100 floors and we zoomed up there in a lift (not glass thank goodness) in seconds. On the 97th floor we walked across the SkyWalk which has glass floor panels you walk across and through which you can see to the ground below. This was exciting to do although I found myself moving nervously and holding onto window frames when admiring the view!! From up here you could also see another building still under construction. This is the Shanghai Tower and at 632 metres will become the 2nd tallest building in the world. You can also see the really spangly jewel that is the Oriental Pearl TV tower.
Joyce and Enid decided not to bother with this trip up the tower but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was a lovely sunny day with clear blue skies and we could see for absolutely miles. Looking down on the river and the other tiny little tower blocks was incredible.
After returning to Earth, we wandered around the tall, glass buildings open mouthed and crick necked from looking upwards. It was an incredibly colourful area with smart hotels and landscaped flower beds. The town planners here are doing a great job and you have to keep pinching yourself as a reminder that you are in China and that this is a Communist country.
So, of course all this marks Shanghai out as a city of the future but what other signs were there of this? Well, I was on the look out wasn’t I and in fact became a bit of a bore as I saw something and shouted out excitedly ‘You see, there, that’s the future!’ at whatever it was that I had noticed.
Here are a few things that’ll be coming to a city near you soon:
1) Pedestrian crossings where the traffic lights talk to you politely and tell you when to cross and wait. They also employ someone to guard pedestrian crossings and to blow a whistle at you if you start to cross too late as there is a countdown mechanism telling you how long you have left. People who do this job take it very seriously. A similar job is the person on The Bund walkway who blows his whistle at anyone getting too smoochy…. that did feel more like what I’d expect in a Communist country!
2) Electric scooters that are so quiet you are constantly at risk of being knocked down by them. Mainly because at night the riders ride them without lights (and noise) so as to preserve the battery power. Oh and also traffic lights don’t seem to apply to scooters or bikes so they come at you from all angles.
3) Supermarket doors that play a jolly little song when you enter the supermarket because they are so pleased to see you. It plays over and over again each time someone enters and you start to feel like you are in some sort of sci-fi film or going slightly barmy.
4) Taxi drivers that are protected from their passengers by some sort of wrap around plastic shield. Think Robocop and you’ve got it.
5) Cops on scooters (2 on one bike) with silly little helmets that make them look like Diddymen. Or even better cops on segways…now that is cool!
6) A new range of cute toys that look like a cross between a hedgehog and a baby and are crazily expensive. You watch this’ll be the next big thing in Xmas 2015!
However, my two particular favourite ‘future sightings’ need a bit more explanation. Firstly one day we were having a quick coffee break in a Pacific Coast coffee bar on the Huaihai Street, when in walked a young man with his girlfriend to order a cappuccino. Nothing too unusual there….but this guy was wearing his pyjamas and slippers and I do mean literally his pyjamas not clothes that looked like pyjamas. Where had he come from- presumably one of the apartments nearby but really….is this the future? Luckily, Joyce was clever enough to take a sly photo so you can see this for yourself below.
The second incident actually occurred on our first night in Shanghai. We were a little over-whelmed after our journey arriving in this busy city and just needed to find somewhere familiar to eat. We walked the short distance to the ‘number one shopping street in Shanghai’ otherwise known as the Nanjing Road. We went into a Chinese restaurant in desperation to find that they seemed to serve only things dredged up out of the river (it was after all called The Yangstse) such as bullfrogs, sea cucumbers and other such dirty dishes. The chairs were also very grubby so we walked straight back out again. Next stop, with much relief, was Pizza Hut. It was very busy mainly with Chinese diners. The meal was great and just what we wanted. However, the ‘ future incident’ occurred as a table of young Chinese students got up to leave. I noticed that one of the girls was holding a small plastic box in her fingers and it seemed to have something moving in it. I couldn’t resist asking what it was and she showed me. The little blue box contained two tiny mice. Clearly then this is the new fashion- taking your mice out for a walk. Forget your Chihuahua in a handbag girls, what you need is mice in a box. That is the future!
The next day it was another relaxed start as we took a journey back in time to visit Wuzhen. This was a bit of a mystery tour as our guidebook made no mention of this place at all. We looked it up on the Internet (this maybe the future but there’s still no Google) and knew that it was a water village which appeared to be almost in Hangzhou..another city. Of course it took two hours to get there as we sped along the motorway at breakneck speed. Not only was the guide here the worst we’d experienced but so was the driver. There were a couple of near misses as he weaved in and out of different lanes if something got in his way. We’ve decided that the driving rules here are that you can do whatever you want, just as long as you don’t hit anyone else. There’s very little use of indicators to tell other drivers what you’re upto, just a heavy reliance on horn bipping to tell people you’re there. How do we like that idea of the future?
Anyway eventually, after passing miles of high rise apartments, followed by vast areas of factories and then acres of rural land with fields of golden rice, we pulled off the motorway. We drove along roads that were clearly being tarted up to look like the landscaped roads we’d had in Guillin. As we pulled into the car park it became obvious that what we were actually visiting was the Wuzhen Water Theme park. It was rammed with hundreds of coaches…oh this would be nice!
Luckily Annie would be here to guide us through it’s various highlights. So what was there to see in this Chinese version of Alton Towers? Well, we wandered along these rather grey alleys running alongside the rather grey canal. We poked our heads into various buildings and courtyards housing wonderous things.
First stop, and a real highlight, was the bed museum. This housed numerous wooden beds from some dynasty or other. They didn’t even belong to emperors, just rich people and Annie said they weren’t even that old!!
Then we saw where they made rice wine and where they dyed fabrics with indigo. Another highlight was the Madame Tussaud’s waxwork display of a Chinese wedding ceremony. It was very poor and what we needed to know was why Michael Jackson was in attendance (see photo below). Especially poor was the room with the glass cases with plasticine models of about Action Man size depicting different Chinese holidays. They all looked rather similar.
Really they need to work on making this place a little more interactive. Perhaps offering ‘make your own tie dye dragon’ sessions, rice wine tasting (actually they did already do this but we declined as even the smell was over-powering) and even Las Vegas style weddings ceremonies with an Emperor to help you tie the knot?
As we progressed it got busier and busier and once again it became apparent that we were the only Westerners, possibly to have ever visited. It was in amongst the hanging drapes of indigo material that we fully realised our celebrity status and had our photos taken with all sorts of Chinese families. From here on in we had an entourage who wanted to have their photo taken with us or just to shout ‘Halloooo!’ and then giggle when we responded back. We thoroughly enjoyed the attention as we really like making this contact with people even if we don’t speak each other’s language.
The most interesting thing about this village is that people do actually still live here, so in amongst the throngs there are people going about their daily lives. There was no Starbucks here for a coffee so we grabbed a couple of bags of crisps from the supermarket and then sat down in the nearest restaurant for a drink. The chef here came out in his vest to see his strange visitors and we stared at the fish tanks full of today’s lunch swimming and crawling about. It was like being in Pets at Home in Evesham.
To finish off the day we had a ride back up the canal on a little wooden boat that the nice man punted along. It was now that we realised that the place was actually quite pretty with little bridges and windows and perhaps it did start to live upto it’s name of the ‘Venice of the East’. However, we’d spent a little bit too much time in the bed museum and it was now time for the thrill seeking ride…otherwise known as the two hour drive back in the van.
That night we ate out at a restaurant that had been recommended to me by James at work. This was called ‘Lost Heaven on the Bund’ and we actually had to book in to get a table here the day before. This is despite the fact that they can serve 500 people here at one time. It’s a really dark, restaurant so we took torches to read the menu. How old are we??! The food, however, was absolutely delicious (and reasonable) as they serve specialities of the Yunnan region down near the Laos, Cambodia border. It was all really tasty and I found a new favourite in the fried pumpkin cakes which were wonderfully stodgy and tasted and smelled like popcorn. Yum.
After dinner, we had another walk along the Bund admiring the lightshow over in Pudong. But that’s the future…..
I was very excited about the time we would spend in Shanghai for two reasons. First of all, two people from work had visited and promised me that a visit to Shanghai would be a visit to the future. This sounded interesting and I was intrigued by exactly what they meant. Secondly, I think the name ‘Shanghai’ just sounds very evocative. It rings of mahjong and opium dens but also french influence and opulence. For some reason it also meant Nicole Kidman to me although on the latter point -I have no idea why.
We had three days and nights here to explore and find out the truth behind these myths. We met out new guide ‘Annie’ at the airport and she took us to our last hotel- The Central Hotel – in downtown Shanghai. It really was 5* and very opulent. We had a massive room with lovely air conditioning which would be a very good base for our stay.
Interestingly our days in Shanghai were split more or less into the old and the new and so my first post here will describe what we saw in terms of ‘the old’.
So first stop in terms of seeing the past was a visit to the Xianting area. This I believe is in the old French concession area so low level old buildings and alleyways now converted into lots of smart bars and restaurants. It was also the site, Annie told us, of some sort of tennis party. I assumed she meant after the recent Shanghai Masters tennis tournament. Unfortunately this would be the first of many misleading pieces of information Annie would give us, although perhaps not deliberately, it’s just that her English was very poor. It turned out later, when I read the guide book, that it was in fact the site of the first Chinese Communist party congress meeting in 1921. The French concession was an area opened up in 1842 where Europeans lived by their own laws until the 1940s, when the Japanese invaded and occupied Shanghai.
Also round here is one of the most expensive shopping streets in Shanghai -Huaihai Street- although we chose to pop into Marks and Spencer’s not Louis Vuitton. We are, after all, women of a certain age and cannot resist a trip to Per Una!!
Next stop was The Bund. This area has been transformed since the 2010 World Expo and developed really nicely. There is a raised walkway all along the river Huangpu where you get great views over to the ‘future’ (Pudong Business District) but today it was a little overcast. On our side of the river the street is lined with beautiful colonial type buildings housing lots of banks and insurance companies even today. One famous building is The Peace Hotel although when we asked Annie why it was famous she was only able to tell us that it was famous for being famous all over the world. How very informative. Again, later on, I would find out that famous people who have stayed here include Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward and I’m almost certain Nicole Kidman.
Next stop for us was the Yu Gardens which were designed in the Ming Dynasty. The entrance to this place is via a sort of tourist tut bazaar. It was ridiculously busy and horrible as we found our way to the gardens via the zigzag bridge over the ponds around the tea house. Once inside, however, although busy, the gardens were quite a peaceful oasis from the madness outside. The gardens are famous for having various areas typifying the classic Chinese style of garden from this period with round gateways, pavilions, dragon walls, pretty water areas and lovely trees.
After the gardens we were then allowed to go shopping around the bazaar for one hour. Honestly, it was like something out of the Apprentice as we split into two teams to go and find the best gifts and souvenirs we could within the allotted time and budgets! Jane and I won with purchases of chopsticks, plastic bird fruit sticks and wind up Minions as well as a plastic pink pig with pop out eyes. A suitable summary of China there, in that one shopping bag!
Unfortunately Annie then kept us waiting for 15 mins and caused an international tour guide incident from which she would never recover. Oh well poor thing ..the problem really was that she didn’t want to be a tour guide, she wanted to be Nicole Kidman as featured in the massive, billboard advertisements for J’Adore perfume. She certainly spent enough time juzzhing her hair in all the shop windows….
That night we ate in a Supersteak house just around the corner from the hotel. This was an odd experience as it looked like a fast food place but was extremely opulently decorated inside with lots of gold paint. We were a bit dubious but actually they served up a decent steak although they seemed to think we wanted to eat Fries as a starter! It was interesting to see the tables turned in here, as we watched the young Chinese kids struggle to use their knives and forks to very slowly cut their steaks!