China Part One: Shanghai
The next few blog posts here will be the long-in-the-making summarisation of my two week trip to China in October – due to my lack of preparation for the trip, my photo storage was not up to par, and I ended up having to store photos all over the place whilst on the road – my friend’s laptop, his dad’s laptop, a usb stick, and a couple of cds being the main areas. It’s taken a while to pull all of these together, and I’m still missing photos – stuck halfway between my computer at the office, and my laptop at home. Bear with me – and trust me when I say this – never again will I travel with merely a 4gb sd card.
“Diary Entry – 7 October 2011
I am sitting on flight MU544 bound for Shanghai. This is the beginning of the long awaited trip to mainland China, after planning started in May. We are meeting up with a friend from university days – Kuang, and his girlfriend Angela. Together we will be traveling for two weeks, seeing the sights and sounds of Shanghai, Chengdu, Jiu Zhai Go, Xi’an, and Beijing. I am highly excited to be back on the road for a reasonable amount of time – short trips such as our Vietnam one are good for breaks, but longer trips seem to leave the soul enriched and nourished. Hopefully this trip will also cure us of our mounting unease in Singapore – two weeks off work is a very very long time.”
We arrived in Shanghai at around 5am in the morning, having spent the last few hours trying to catch some sleep on a cramped and crowded China Air flight. Fortunately our customs transition was smooth and painless – our China Visas having arrived the day we were to fly (tip: Apply for your visa about a month out. Don’t give it 2 weeks like we did. No matter what the visa website says).
About 3 months prior to our arrival, I had been idly chatting with my good friend Kuang, who is originally from Shanghai, but has spent much of his teenage/adult life in New Zealand. From our discourse, we realised that we were both planning on going to China for travel, and that our current plans would see us in the country at about the same time as each other. Suddenly our original intentions went out the window, as we realised that we could travel together, making our travel group a total of four (myself, my girlfriend Yean, Kuang, and his girlfriend Angela).
Flash forward a few months, and by some amazing luck, we were waiting for Kuang and Angela’s flight to land from New Zealand – our flight from Singapore had landed a mere 2 hours prior to them. While we waited, a woman approached me, pointed to me and said ‘Kuang’. It turns out, this lady was Kuang’s mother, and my 6’4 figure had labelled me clearly as his friend. Might have also had something to do with the ‘Kuang’ sign we had scribbled and held up just prior.
We spent three days in Shanghai, making sorties into Pudong (the city centre) and surrounding areas. We saw some incredible sights, and some rather un incredible sights. Our dinner with Kuang’s extended family was one of the incredible sort – the energy and passion that was shown at the dinner table was not one I was expecting, and the food was nothing short of amazing. On the lazy susan that night included roast goose, bitter gourd, sea cucumber soup, roast fish, garlic snake, and steamed jellyfish. I’m glad I took several months in South East Asia prior to making the trip to China – before leaving New Zealand, my tolerance of sea food was limited to deep fried fish from the local chippy. Since my travel in Malaysia, and subsequent settling in Singapore, my palate has grown and developed. So it was with relish that each dish came, and I was able to enjoy the food for what it was, and not what my 6 year old imagination said it could be.
Our trip into Pudong the next day was eye opening – the scale of construction in Shanghai has to be seen to be believed. Everywhere the eye turns, there will be inevitably at least one high rise building being constructed. There’s plenty of sights to see, and then there’s plenty of sights to no bother with. High on the recommended list is the World Trade Centre, and the river side walk. Both give unique views of a city that’s seen incredible change and growth, not just in the last 10 years, but over the course of a couple of millenia.
Another place of worthy mention is the M50 Art District. Located a comfortable subway ride from Pudong, it’s quickly becoming the epicenter of art in the Shanghai greater area. Set in the buildings of an old textile mill, the compound takes on a village-like air with numerous side roads and alleys, hiding small single room galleries that are showing the works of one or two undiscovered artists, while the larger galleries on the main passageways show artists from around the Asia Pacific area. Like any art village, there was the inevitable mediocre work to get through, but that just makes the gems even greater when you stumble across them.
“Diary Entry – 10 October 2011
I am sitting at Gate 25 in the Hongqiao Airport, waiting for our flight to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Provence in West China. Shanghai was incredible. A world apart from Singapore. The traffic is chaotic, the people a contradiction in polite rudeness, and the stratification of societal classes even more severe than Malaysia and Singapore. But the climate is much more agreeable, customer service is sincere and ernest (if not always well guided) and the prices are genuinely cheap (besides branded items and anything within the Bund).”