26.07.2013 - 29.07.2013 26 °C
Setting three alarms prevented me from going back into unconsciousness so at 7.45am was out the door and on my way to the South Beijing Metro Station which is built exclusively for the bullet trains and is vast, clean and very modern. Being very navigable it was easy to find gate 11 and just one escalator away I was by the G1 so took some photos and sat in my middle seat (if known would of changed as booked well enough in advance) with the train smoothly pulling away at 8.57am effortlessly increasing in speed through the capital’s suburbs south to reach the 300kmh mark in no time, which it stayed at almost the entire way except for the one stop in Nanjing (topped out at 306). With the weather staying fine I looked out at all the construction sites, unfinished towns, agriculture and some nice landscapes as managed to go through 250 photos in the 4 hours before my battery died (considering such an important part of the growth of this country you would think power points and wifi would be on board- I mean they are on the Filipino ferries for god sake). Time passed so quickly and was hard to imagine the speed we were going considering how few bumps or vibrations there were. At 1.45pm we were at Shanghai Hongquiao Station (even bigger than Beijing’s believe it or not) where couldn’t resist a packed Subway sandwich on the way to the frankly perfect metro (4 Yuan a ride) as carriages are bright, well lit, informative, air cooled, fast and not a blemish in sight.
Only 6 stops east on Line 2 was Zhongshan Park and a mere 10 minutes walk away just off Wuyi Road I entered Rock & Wood International Youth Hostel; tall skyscrapers already apparent when exited the station. As Mr Palen not here yet I paid a key deposit and settled into the ensuite twin room by taking out things I will need, shaving, reading emails and looking up cheap spots to eat and drink as worry I could break the bank here more than anywhere else. At 3.45 I heard a knock on the door and my good friend from Quebec was here making it the third continent we had seen each other in. We were soon out and about in search of the Train Booking office for him on what was a cheap road a few metres away so able to buy a pen, bananas, Bao’s and water then wasted 15 Yuan on a near useless big scale map of the city that was of little use; still used it to pinpoint specific places whilst having a cold beer by the mosquito filled pond near reception. We caught up over some supermarket Tsing Tao’s (Buddies) in the room then at 8.30pm went on the metro to the neon lights and international fashion shops of East Nanjing Road and a short walk to the Bund where the view across the Huangpu River to some of the tallest buildings in Asia was readily available so no fighting for a spot like in Kowloon. Exactly how I pictured it the Oriental Pearl and surrounding office towers reflected off the water as both tourist boats and normal black freighters went past so took many photos using manual mode resting on the metal barrier. After some shots with Chinese we looked at the early 20th century stone buildings behind (such a contrast), a bull resonant of the one from Wall Street and a wall covered in flower patterns giving me a fantastic first impression of this city- bits reminded me of New York, Chicago, Hong Kong and cities in Australia. We ate a mini feast of tomato & egg, thick noodles and fried potatoes with chilli at a cafe near the hostel, smoked a pipe made out of a Pringles tube (trust John to bring some stuff with him!) mellowing out and about midnight went out to look for a bar using my hard to read map. Eventually we came across Perry’s Cafe which from the outside looked dead but on the third floor was essentially a backpacker/English teacher budget, lively bar that was by far the best one come across in China and right up our alleys. The problem was not knowing anyone (all in groups), being sober, the place closing in an hour and not in the right frame of mind to start socialising which really frustrated us as many good looking people about; prices must be cheapest in Shanghai at 10 for a beer and 25 for a bucket! Fortunately being close to where we are staying means there is no reason why can’t go again.
With the school open over the road and many noises occurring once awake at 8.30am I couldn’t continue staying in bed. Later that morning I went to a barber’s and being half awake watched the guy use a number 2 all over making my hair the shortest it’s been in about 6 years which was hard to get used to at first but looked much neater as would be a while before have to do it again somewhere in Malaysia. I was surprised and glad to see an early Kristina downstairs (she didn’t want to knock as thought we were sleeping) meaning could work out a route of the French Concession using her easy to read free map and having Canadian Tessie come over as she was intending on seeing that area today also. In a group of 4 we perhaps unwisely walked over 40 minutes following the Yanan Road highway that slices through the centre on another hot day with the Lamborghini Garage (one colour for each of us- orange Gallardo my pick) the most exciting thing we saw till reached Fumin Road. John was determined to find the Pancake House which was incorrectly labelled on both Google and Nokia maps making it take far longer than any of us wanted, especially me as was never going to buy anything, although being with two girls meant eating half their food including apple and cinnamon pancakes and a club sandwich with real bacon and cheese. At long last the sightseeing of the famous 1930’s era area could begin at Xiangyang Park and Huahai premium shopping boulevard which lead to the only French style garden left in China- Fuxing Park. The hedges were cut to perfection, statues clean and white, flower beds all uniform and colourful and a fountain in the centre (grass off limits as still spring) with many people relaxing with partners/friends, dancing and taking a stroll just like us but with less intention of going anywhere. Having gone quite a way already we weren’t overly fussed about specifics making what we were doing more of a neighbourhood wonder than anything, noticing 3 Russian Orthodox churches (Kristina going there for service the next day- Sunday), some nice hotels, cafes, antique/art’s shops, quiet roads and the odd residence of a famous person.
Stumbling on the Tianzfang district was the best thing we did as a rabbit warren of lanes playing host to many small bars, quirky shops, photographs, paintings, pricey restaurants and unique things such as a toilet based cafe (so odd- turd shaped toys available). We chose a bar to sit outside at for a drink (Chinese gentleman taking photos of us on the next table so we did the same back and asked him for a group one using my camera) and as planned the route to be by the Dapuqiao Station could easily take the metro one change to our stop. Requiring some sort of substance I picked a 3 Yuen dried naan bread, covered in chilli and oil for no extra cost (started a trend as the rest did the same), bought a couple of beers and lay in the room looking at where the clubs are; M2, Mint, Muse and Shelter.
At 9.30pm we were on the way to Perry’s to meet Molly (here for the weekend with friends) where got the staff to find us a table as a 3 litre beer tower was purchased between just myself and John (forgot the ice initially- quite reluctant to put it in) taking up the bar top which gave them extra incentive to make sure we were seated asap- it worked. He was on form using his flowery shirt to his advantage but as Tessie dissuaded me from wearing mine I wasn’t quite as obvious (trust your own instincts!) and so got drunk with the American then moved up to an unweak bucket when she had to go clubbing. Liking where we were at we resisted the temptation to go anywhere else as good music and could be countless other places in Asia. On the way home I somewhat cheekily nipped into a semi open but unlit bakery and grabbed a football sized pastry when the chef loading the oven wasn’t looking; didn’t feel guilty as shouldn’t have had the door open and no security! As fresh as ever going to get it I sped past John to be outside Rock & Wood by 3am where both ate the still hot sweet delight.
I didn’t need to change to a dorm room until 12pm so relaxed and used the lovely shower till the time came (used passport as deposit as not enough money to leave a deposit) then by the Bao lady John used his language skills to order us veggie egg fried noodles which added lots of spice to and still cleared the bowl being glad there was a slight breeze. Under the river at Lujiazui we exited the escalator and instantly looked up as above us were the Jinmao Building, Shanghai World Financial Centre (currently third highest in world) and under construction Shanghai Tower which, when completed, will be second to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (first place on my trip). When waiting for Kristina we watched the cranes some 400 metres up reaching to ground level to pick up several tonnes of steel bars (if hint of wind they must stop) and once with us we could go on the elevated walkway for unobstructed views of the what I think is the city that will define the 21st century. The Greenland Park was neatly situated in the middle of it all and even though was a Sunday so few people were about (if lived here this is where would come to relax). We walked barefoot on the grass, made some abstract shots and did a 360 seeing structures all around, in particular the Financial Centre, which is in shape of a bottle opener; how was that overlooked in the planning stage?! Over the circular walkway and down open air escalators to Binjiang Avenue we were by the river with the distinctive landmark Oriental Pearl and its two shiny purple balls ever present; so lucky with the weather. With our McDonald’s ice creams we stared at the mostly unimpressive other side and back on the metro left John to catch his train home 2 hours away.
We went to Yuyuan Gardens which was the ultra tourist Lijiang esque area I hoped to avoid (confinement is fine) although Kristina amazingly bought me a souvenir chopstick set making my day and nearby we stepped away from the groups to be where the real locals lived a genuine way of life; much more interesting yet only us there. On the Bund Riverside Walkway the sun was close to setting so the light from the thousands of windows made the skyscrapers seem alive making me just lean on the railing and watch the transformation. I stood atop a pillar, and did a long arm so both of us could be in a photo (better than entrusting someone else to do a shite one) then continued on to Nanjing Road where walked the whole way to People’s Square talking away, seeing a Samsung S4 tent and feeding off the buzz.
The thing that caught my eye the most wasn’t the long relief depicting some communism events or the big monuments or even the trees but the obscene 20 exits for the below metro station! Over in People’s Park (much different to the one in Jersey) the green lighting didn’t quite work but the Shanghai Museum and fountain both looked great. Sat on one of the three coloured bands we watched the water in a trance (been a long day) and at 8.15pm went to Jinshajiang Road on Line 2/11 (seemed half the cities 20 million inhabitants were at the initial station) to pick a place to eat not far from her hostel. Ran by a husband and wife who had a young baby we somehow ordered about 5 dishes (Kristina speaks Chinese but was still hard work) including fried pork, spicy noodles, tomato/egg, green cabbage and rice with me having the majority together with a lukewarm beer I had not had before. Having enjoyed her company very much and wishing she wasn’t quite so shy it was tough to say goodbye again after such a short time but that’s what happens when you’re travelling. Still relatively early, after logging into see many unread messages on Facebook (hostel has a VPN), I used the computers to skype Amy and Mum whilst going through the remaining hundreds of Chinese photos (multi tasking!) being last up in the dark hoping was prepared for Borneo.
Using Chinese symbols the Russian wrote for me I was able to order the same noodle dish as the day before and about lunchtime felt should be on my way to avoid any potential problems. 11 stops away at Longyang I went up a level to the Maglev, paid 50 Yuen and awaited the German built Magnetic Levitation train that, although floating and taking 8 minutes to reach PuDong Airport, ‘only’ got to 302kmh when I know these things have gone in excess of 400 so was quite disappointed. In Terminal 2 I checked in with Malaysian Airlines (area A- furthest away and 22.5kg bag weight- no issues no), used the 30 Yuen Kristina had lent me to buy a Burger King meal (squirted ketchup all over me) and at 3.20pm boarded the Boeing 777 wide bodied jet equipped with personal TV’s meaning my middle seat wasn’t as bad as first thought. A few minutes later and it was bye bye China...