September 17, 2012
What a place! Impossible to count everyone but a close guess, give or take a few million, is 22 million people. Imagine: one city, almost two-thirds of the size of our own country. And that’s only the people they counted. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who live below the census line, in passages and tiny places without addresses. Every strata of society lives in this exciting, churning place. Walk down any sidewalk, on Nanjing Road or in the vast train stations and subways to experience the life and people of China.
To get to Shanghai, we took the fast train (300kph) from Jiaxing to Hongqiao Station, a massive building that also connects to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. As we made our way to one side, searching for directions to taxis, we saw many official-looking men with signs around their necks and carrying clipboards. One of these people stopped us and inquired if we were in need of a cab, as indeed we were. He took us to one of many booths where a woman filled out a contract, quoted a price (which we paid), then passed us over to another woman who began leading us away. After about 40 steps, she met a man who took over. “Are you our driver?” Geoff asked. No. He led us to another man, then another man. This person, he said, was our driver. Finally we were taken to a car where he opened the trunk to stow our bag. No luck, already full of luggage but no passengers. We got in and he took the front passenger side, holding our bag. Another person, number 7 if you’re counting, began driving us to Shanghai. A few miles out of the airport, he stopped in the middle of the left turn lane (not unusual so far), jumped out of the cab and ran across the highway (this is over the top, even for China). The man in the passenger seat then switched seats and drove us to Shanghai! After another totally insane ride, we arrived safely at our hotel. You can probably finish the story: turns out that we were charged about 4 times the going rate by a black market cab.
(Ed. note: Yesterday afternoon Terry wrote the above and then emailed it to herself at home. When she came home she spent another hour working on the rest of it. You can guess this as well, I’m sure. She saved it and then it disappeared off the computer. Anyone else out there identify with this? Frustrated? Angry? Ya Think? Anyway, I am going to do some writing and have her edit/input into so that you get two perspectives on our weekend.)
In the early evening Greg & Chan and Bruce & Kim (Greg and Bruce are the principals of our sister Cinec schools in Shanghai) came to the hotel and we all went out to a fabulous restaurant –Lost Heaven– for dinner(click on the link to check it out). Chan, who is Vietnamese, did the ordering of the dinner and Greg, who spent time in Kelowna, ordered the wine. Since it was our first real chance to unwind we consumed great quantities of both, or as Terry so eloquently put it the next morning, we drank our faces off!
The next morning Terry and I wandered down the street to DONQ – a really nice bakery/deli for breakfast. We had a kind of breakfast pizza, pineapple strudel, blueberry strudel, fresh oj and fresh watermelon juice for a total of about $8.00. A good start to the day.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel… just kidding. We met the other four at ten-thirty and began a day of sightseeing and shopping. We started off taking the subway – remarkably clean and modern (I can’t get over how clean and unlittered it is here). When we got off we wandered down a tree lined street to the Shanghai Exposition Grounds where there was an Ex-pat conference going on – basically it was just a trade show of all sorts of businesses related to ex-pats – travel booths, international school booths, learn chinese booths, wine importer booths etc. Not particularly interesting, but I did have a great chocolate crepe!
From there we went to Nanjing Road. Nothing prepares you for that. Apparently it is the most expensive shopping street in the world (but what city doesn’t claim that?). We wandered past all the stores you would predict: Dior, Gucci Apple – saw the largest Cartier sign I have ever seen! And people – wait until you see the video. (Ed. note: the video is approximately 3 minutes long. I could have edited but thought it would give you a good idea of the people. Also, the reason it dies so abruptly is because the battery died. To view the videos full screen, click the little arrows in the bottom right of the video.)
We also went in to The People’s Park of Shanghai. Unreal. This is where parents try to marry off their children. Geoff explains it in the video so I won’t go in to great detail, but it interesting to see the individuals as well as what appears to be brokers all involved in this. To be fair, it may be also a situation where many of the lookers may have been like us, but it must be a serious business as well since it continues year after year.
Anyway, back to Nanjing Road. The masses of people were amazing – on a normal Saturday afternoon – apparently on a holiday there are two to three the numbers. It is a long pedestrian mall, but with cross traffic. At one point we were in an intersection while a bus, cars and scooters were trying to go north south and three hundred people were going east-west. It all worked out, but it was a slow go for the vehicular traffic!
From there we were on to the clothing market. “Want to buy a watch – how about a bag? No, then underwear – very nice underwear!” What a hoot. There was stall after stall – I am sure that on the three or four floors there had to be anywhere for 300 – 400 (Terry’s estimate) to over a thousand (mine). You get get genuine NHL jerseys too! (Well, genuine Chinese jerseys as our guide Tiger said. Yes our “guide” – they latch onto you at the entrance and are with you every step of the way! I don’t know how they make their money. I bought a backpack:
Saleswoman: “Good quality – Swiss Army”
Me: “How much”
S. “560 yuan” ($93.)
M. “75 yuan ” ($12.50)
M.”Too much. Time to go”
Get out into the aisle
S. “Okay 150 yuan”
M. “Okay 150 yuan” ($25.)
Works quite well – packs groceries and everything – I am a regular something or other now! Terry bought 4 very nice sweaters and a polo shirt for golf – total $94.50.
We then proceeded back to the hotel to rest up before dinner and went out to an area called Hongmie Road (I may have got it wrong). We had heard about The Big Bamboo, owned by Canadians for ex-pats. Just a bar, really, with a pool table, a dance floor and live entertainment–except when we were there. It appeals to the sports fan as well, with TVs on the walls in several spaces. We started on the patio in front of a big screen playing soccer, but the sound was so loud we gave it up and moved around the side of the building. A disinterested waitress took our orders but all in all, we’d give the Big Bamboo a miss.
On to choose a dining spot along the strip of territory running along the way. Probably 40 or so choices; ultimately we landed at Simply Thai, voted the best Thai food in the city. It didn’t disappoint–and the price was excellent, once again. Food – $30 for two, same for the alcohol. If you didn’t want to drink, you could get by very cheaply!
Sunday morning we had breakfast cooked by Chan at their place. Very nice Asian twist on bacon and eggs! Later Greg took us to his school and provided me with a lot of insights and info that are going to make my life easier back in Jiaxing. His school was beautiful and I confess to a little envy at his very modern, pristine building.
We took a cab back to the train station and got ripped off, again. Not as badly as before and I probably could have put an end to it by simply taking out a pen and recording his licence number, but I didn’t have the energy for it. The ride cost under $20 so it wasn’t going to break the bank. In the station we had time to look around. At each end there is a concourse on the upper floor which gives you quite the view of the hoards of people below. It’s hard to estimate these things but I would guess that the floor area is the size of maybe 10 football fields? Huge doesn’t really cut it. Vast, maybe. Anyway, things flow quite smoothly. People wait then 15 minutes before the train arrives, they are allowed to pass through the turnstiles to wait on the loading platforms outside. We have heard that it’s a little scary when it’s crowded and a “pusher” gives you a good nudge to cram into an already crowded car. We didn’t have that experience, however, and were able to comfortably enter the train to our designated car and seats. and away we went. We had run into Puneet and Wes, the other two teachers in our program, at the train station so when we saw them again, the four of us shared a cab back into town. All of us had stocked up on comfort food (read: things we recognized and loved) and were ready to face the new week. We loved Shanghai and look forward to a longer trip over the Mid-Autumn festival in a few weeks.
- For those who missed the entire tour of our blog and our view, the complete and updated versions are now on The Apartment post.
- For those who have waited with baited breath to hear the results of our extensive medical tests, Terry is totally healthy, while I have Frequent Atrial premature beats, Atrial tachycardia and a fatty liver. While none of these things are going to kill me in the near future, I will have to, sadly and with great difficulty, limit myself to 2 glasses of wine a day. Please say a prayer for me!!
- For those who think I am stalking the couple ahead of us on the Nanjing Road video, fear not – it was Greg and his girlfriend Chan.
- I am adding some photos to our Flickr account – just check the photos on the right hand side. I have also added some descriptions to the set of photos called “Things I have seen on my walks.)