Friday, February 13, 2009

Shanghai, Someone Should Inform Them It Isn't 2050 Just Yet

The classic Shanghai shot

According to that good old wikipedia, Shanghai is the most populous city proper in the world behind Mumbai. That means it is big.

Tomorrow Square harnesses the power of the sun

In this mega city I found out the hard way that there are a few really annoying things. Things that aren't any reason to stop one coming here, but some thing you need to be warned of. First of all, if you are going to the south train station to buy a ticket make sure you have got money on you to buy it. I went there expecting an ATM, well there was one but it didn't like my card even though it has never let me down anywhere else in the world. Luckily there is another ATM a bit of a walk out of the station, but unfortunately it is, at the time of visiting, going through maintenance. Long story short, I wasted about four hours not buying a ticket out of Shanghai. Next really annoying thing is that the subway lines shut down around 10pm each night. So if you go to a movie in town late at night, you might only be able to catch one of the two trains you need to get home. This results in you walking a few kilometres through dark streets in an unknown district of a foreign city to get back to the hostel around midnight.

The reflective Tomorrow Square

But with those qualms out the way, Shanghai was really impressive. A pompous city with futuristic buildings, a real display of what China's cities could be if they continue to push the boundaries of the new age.

The best way of course to see all this is along the Bund waterfront. Here is one of the most impressive city scapes presented over the lovely Huangpu River dividing the main business district from the shopping district. The futuristic buildings were mind blowing, the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center are beyond nearly anything I've ever seen before. After seeing this, I turned around and walked back down one of the worlds busiest shopping streets, Nanjing Road. I looked around here, but all that was available was big retail brands. I wasn't into that, I wanted cheap knock offs, and I knew where to get them.

Nanjing Road means loads of annoying people trying to get your money

A subway ride out to Qipu Lu, an infamous knock off market aimed towards the locals, hence providing some of the cheapest big label clothes around. Standing out like a typical tourist in a sea of Chinese people I was instantly approached by all the nearby shop owners. They all can spot a sucker like myself to persuade to come in and spend lots of money on their low quality goods. I've turned rather market savvy and realise that you can probably get a better deal by walking around for a while making shops compete against each other, but instead I decided to go in for the 'follow me to my shop' approach. A man lead me a few blocks from the actual market to his shop that was in the back of some large unknown mall of other similar shops. Here he presented me with a fine selection of shirts and ties looking as though they were straight out of an Italian designers boutique. Expecting to make a good load of cash of me, he was fooled when the cheapest man in Shanghai to walk into his shop. So after experiences from Beijing such as getting a pair of jeans down to under 10 percent of the original asking price. I managed to achieve similar discounts after bargaining hard on a combo, which if real, would be worth well over a few hundred dollars.

The aesthetic French Concession

After a bit of super cheap shopping I headed over to the classy French Concession district. A nice contrast to the grey soul less streets elsewhere around town, I enjoyed a long walk along the tree lined avenues before getting some classic western food, donuts and coffee. Heading back into town I hoped to get into the Shanghai Museum before closing. Unfortunately the down to the letter rule abiding security guards wouldn't let me in only 3 mins after the last entrance time, even though it didn't fully shut for another hour. Rather angry at the world because it must have been the twentieth time I've missed a closing time by minutes in the last few months, I headed over across the city park to catch the subway back to the hostel.

The Oriental Pearl watches the sun go down

While going across the park the sun started to set, so as angry as I was, I stopped and took a photo. Then letting my anger subdue with the sunset I turned around and decided to try my luck on the MOCA (Museum of Comtempary Art) nearby. Being a much more open minded place, it didn't close till much later, and so I finally got to visit a decent art gallery overseas. It was small but of quite high quality. It had two really moving pieces, one a display of plastic dolls showing the amassing of rubbish toys being produced by China. The other a video showing people who make a living off saying a few words over and over. These were street vendors making a minuscule living repeating, “Shoes, watches, DVD's” or whatever every few seconds as a potential unsuspecting customer walked by. I found this moving because I have experienced hundreds of similar real life vendors every day in China.

Plastic dolls by the dozen

Afterwards I got back to the hostel and tried the local streets for some dinner. Not realising the hostel was in the middle of a illegal street market, I walked the busy streets, lined with peoples rubbish they were trying to sell, to a corner with a lady cooking up a storm. For 5 Yuan (~NZ$1.20) I got one of the most delicious street meals ever, full of MSG and all the other good stuff they put in their food in China. So feeling rather chuffed at my awesome dinner, I returned back to the hostel for the night after buying a hair brush off someone along the crazy street.

Mao is hanging out in Shanghai, as he does

All this might not have actually happened on one day, but actually over a few as I spent about three nights in Shanghai. After all that the best thing about Shanghai was the hostel. This was primarily because they put on a buffet breakfast every morning for no extra charge. The hostel was the Shanghai International Youth Hostel, for only $10 a night it was super awesome to wake up to an unlimited supply of really nice food. So if you are a hostel owner and reading this, heed my advice, put on a free breakfast. Seriously, a hostel with a free breakfast compared to one without is a definite deal seal. My last morning in town was an early one, but I risked the possibility of missing my train (I did have to go back another day to the train station with money to buy a ticket out) waiting around until the free breakfast started. Totally worth it.

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