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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together


CHINA | Wednesday, 16 July 2008 | Views [1325]

Sun 13th Jul – After checking into the hostel it was time to get some things organised, so got my train booked to Beijing for 16th July on an overnight sleeper. Also checked out the activities on offer as much to do here. Then a quick late afternoon lunch. The facilities in this hostel are superb and great value and very spacious. Next to get some more money. Plenty of ATMs around but some seem to want passwords to use them which I didn’t understand, so searched around for one that was normal. The ‘Bank of Commerce’ nearby worked ok.

Now off to explore the city, taking the metro line 3 (yellow) or 4 (blue) from Caoyang station a few minutes walk away, to Zhongshan park, then changing to Line 2 (green) to People’s square.

The metro is so cheap. You can go almost anywhere for 4Yuan total. You get your ticket from the machine in the entrance area....an english button in the top right hand corner of the touch sensitive screen makes it all so easy to follow. From the map decide which desiniation station you want to go to and tap the screen. Put in the amount of money in either coins (1 Yuan) or notes (not all machines accept notes)...and out pops your ticket and change of any. Dead easy.

At People’s square I was busy taking some photographs of the statues and buildings when I was approached by a group of four young students wanting to practice their english, so obliged. Funny that someone I spoke to later said...’oh no, you didn’t did you’. To be honest, I am always wary of an impending scam, but you never know, and I would most times like to trust first and see what happens. This is my first day in China and I don’t want to start mistrusting anyone from the outset. They then asked me if I had been to a proper chinese tea ceremony, which I hadn’t having only just arrived, so they invited me to go to one. So off we went to a tea house specialising in selling hand made teas and demonstrating the proper procedure to follow. A lovely young lady went through three different teas - Ginseng, Jasmine and a mixed fruit tea. Each had a different procedure and between each the ‘Tea Buddha’, which looks like a toad was bathed in the tea for good luck. It has a coin in its mouth which you turn with your finger for good luck.

The first pouring of each tea is thrown away and is only used to flavour and warm the cup. Each tea is drunk in three sips (tiny cups), holding the cup the correct way of course (different for men and women...for men, right hand using top three fingers and lower two curled underneath).

A vey sweet time and the group were very pleasant to talk to. Thanked them and carried on with my exploration. It had started to rain but it was warm and I didn’t care, so got wet.

Turned into East Nanjing street and... wow... cool place. Just what you expect in a busy city center in China...brightly lit neon signs, crowds everywhere, and superb buildings painting the skyline with fascinating designs. Then the fun starts....

I am heading for the 'Bund', the most famous road in Shanghai...more on that later. That is about 1km or so...to get there entailed running the gaunlet of a continuous barrage of 'street girls', otherwise know as hookers… most of them...they strike up a conversation with you saying that they are practicing their english and would I like to take them for a cup of tea so we can talk....oh yeh! The next thing you know, their equally pretty mates are following you down the street and saying they too would like to practice their english over a cup of tea, joined by another group of touts wanting to sell you rolex watches, the latest iPhones, everything that can be ripped off plus of course a 'massage' or a woman or any combination you would like or just DVDs of dubious sorts (you know what I mean)...it is best to have a joke with them and walk on. They follow of course, but easy to shake them off as another bunch soon appear for a similar attempt. It's a funny game actually and you can learn a lot in a short space of time. Onwards to the bund....

Got to the end of East Nanjing road where the famous ‘Peace’ hotel stands, which was formerly known as the Cathay hotel in the french times.... and... wow...there I go again....wow...Awesome! I was taking photos when I was approached by another group of students who wanted to practice their english....they really are taking this seriously aren't they? Started chatting to them and they were lovely and easy to talk to. They decided to show me around but first the bund....It isn't dark yet but the impact that Shanghai's Huanpu river's skyline has is amazing. A subway gets you across to the other side of the road. But, before you go back up to street level you have the choice of going on the ‘Tourist sightseeing Tunnel’, which runs under the river Huangpu to the other side ans supposed to be spectacular, but will do that another night. For now I want to see the Bund. Click click click…. So much to photograph. Wasn’t long before it started to get dark and….wow….there it goes again…. The buildings light up with such a technicolour show that Shanghai is famous for….such a beautiful sight. Stunning architecture with buildings like the Oriental Pearl Tower creating a focal point for the light show. The whole side of massive buildings become a moving display board…and, on top of that, numerous tourist boats with funky designs and dazzling lighting, creat this awesome moving and glittering show that is beyond superlatives….wow!

Coincident with this, as it is the weekend, there are things going on along the pavements of the elevated walkway. The usual girls wanting to ‘ practice english’...getting the hang of this now...

Kite sellers, people selling neon spinning and flying objects, others selling flashing neon slip-on rollers to attach over your shoes…food sellers galore…the aroma….yummeee… One of the dazzling restaurant boats with golden dragon heads and pagoda roof brighlty lit….wow again. As a soundtrack to this amazing scene was the sound of mechanical diggers and cranes working through the night to complete another few stops on the metro line along the front, ready I guess for the mass influx of tourists they are planning for. So much to see that it takes a while for it to absorb...this is one of the world’s greatest citiscapes...Just stunning.

It had appeared as we were talking that students were art students, here as part of an art exhibition at a nearby hotel, so I went with them to see their work. A really talented group who were covering every aspect of chinese art, from old traditional work through to more modern contemporary styles. I later met their professor who had done most of the stuff in the main gallery...his students had the side galleries. Had a great time and they were really pleasant.

Back on the street as it was getting late and wandered for a bit, and the usual...can I practice english with you, or have tea or would you like a massage...or buy a watch etc...It’s hilarious!

Found a great place to eat and have a tsingtao beer and then head off back across town on the metro to the hostel from the East Nanjing station. The metro stops at 11:30pm so have to bear that in mind.

Got back in time to get some stuff sorted and talk to my lovely friend Belinda in the UK before heading to bed... It’s been a long and amazing day, with so many experiences in such a short space of time, there is a lot to absorb. Time to sleep...zzzzzz

Mon 14th Jul – Noisy night in the dorm (4 beds to a room) and had to have words with a bunch of guys who were crashing around and shouting til 4am...totally out of order and they soon stopped. First time I have had that problem in a long time.

After breakfast, off the the Bund again to get the Tourist sightseeing tunnel train to the other side. 30 Yuan one way, 50 Yuan return. After going through the ticket gate you go down a funky leaf-lined escalator to get to the departure area. The electric carriages smoothly glide into position after a turntable changes their direction from incoming, then it goes dark and the fun starts. The lining of the tunnel is covered in a sequence of moving light pattern from swirling spirals to lavalamp and others with music played and announcements. Great for the kids and grown-ups alike!

Everytime you go underground in this city, you find another shopping mall...they’re everywhere and massive. This one is no exception. Out into the roasting heat and the amazing form of the Oriental Pearl Tower hits you straight away, surrounded by the giant steel and glass sculptures of the other amazing buildings...the Jinmao Tower at 420.5m high...the tallest in Shangai open to the public being the most dominant feature. They are all vying for attention. Next door to the Jinmao is the near completed ‘Shanghai World Finance’ building which will replace the Jinmao as the tallest publicly accessible building next summer at 460m. Both awesome buildings. The sky is bluer than yesterday, so both look striking against the sky.

Main reason for coming was the Pearl transmission Tower or OPT for short. It is heaving with people today, so it won’t be a leisurely time I guess? A number of ticket option available depending on how many levels you want to do. I went for the maximum ticket of 150 Yuan. Up close it is a dramatic structure, with its tripod concrete and globe base and pink tinged glass on the main globes of the observation decks. Security is like an airport with a baggage scanner. No water allowed so everyone stood drinking by the scanner...daft isn’t it?

Anyway....up to the 263m observation deck in the first lift and into the throngs of kids running around. The views are superb as Shanghai spreads out before you. There is so much construction going on that cranes are so much a part of the skyline. The next level up is approximately 350m and is referred to as the ‘Space Module’. The views are even better. On the way down is the 90m viewing level and ‘Space City’. This last bit is a bit tacky in parts, but it is aimed primarliy at kids. It was a bit of a spectacle when we were queing up for the ‘Motion Cinema’ and the time came and went for it to start. An irate chinese woman shot off to get someone....they had supposedly closed it and forgot to put up the sign. The ensuing attack from the lady on the poor defenceless young member of staff was more entertaining than the show might have been.

China Post have a desk at 90m level which claims to be the highest Post Office in the world (more on that tomorrow). Thinking that it was all overwhen I got down to ground level, it was a nice surprise that the Shanghai Municipal History Museum was also included in the ticket I had. The museum is wonderful and has recreations of all generations of chinese history in settings with really good wax characters. A nice one was the herbal medicine shop, which had a wonderful aroma you could sense from a long way as you approached it. A real highlight and I hadn’t planned on being in the complex for such a long time and got really hungry all of a sudden. Had to escape to find somewhere to eat...

Back into the seering heat and some streetfood and a drink before heading down Century Avenue, the main road through the business district towards the Jinmao Tower. Spread across the city they have a large number of bronze sculptures of people in various poses. In one of them a group of travellers, backpack on one of them, staring up at the Pearl Tower. In another a group of business people talking on their mobiles....most of the population of this city are permanently attached to their mobile, so very appropriate! Of course all of them are surrounded by tourists scrambling to take photographs.

I got most of the way to the Jinmao and decided to not go any further as I was so hot and feeling tired, so turned around and headed for the convention centre with its two world globes outside instead. Quick look around and then headed back to the Sightseeing tunnel for the return trip to the Bund side.

Around here you get hundreds of people giving out leaflets and business cards, which most people discard on the floor immediately, so it is a real mess at times although they do clear it up regularly, albeit a thankless task.

Quick stop at the China bank to see the inside of this old building...vast vaulted hall, stained glass done at its center and dark wood counters full of character.

Chilled over a smoothie at a nice cafe on East Nanjing street and watched the world go y for a while, then deicded to go to the ‘French Concession’ area. Did I tell you that crossing the roads here is a fun experience? Generally ignore traffic lights and beware the zebra crossings as bicycles and motorbikes corss on them as well, and zigzag in betwen the pedestrians in both directions, so a bit chaotic.... a totally different concept after just coming from Japan. Also, running along the length of Nanjing street are sweet little tourist trains of many designs. Adds a bit of fun to the athmosphere.

Back on the metro to South Shaanxi station. This area is an upmarket tree-lined zone, with plenty of exclusive names for the avid shopper. What I found more interesting was the many lovely narrow lanes accessed through wrought iron gates, full of nice weathered faces on the old folk. A pleasant change from the glitzy main city...still got approached by watch and bag sellers though!

Had had enough now due to the heat, so headed back to the hostel, with a quick stop at a street vendor for a nice pancake snack for 2 Yuan. So many diferent types of street food on offer and amazingly cheap. Back at the hostel booked myself on to a trip for tomorrow to Zhouzuang to get out of the city.

Tue 15th Jul – The tour company running today’s trip arrived on time at 8am. As it peak time, getting through the traffic to pick up the others was chaotic. It took close to 1 1/2 hours to complete the pick-ups and there were only five of us! We all agreed that it would have been much better to have a central meeting place. I could have been at the last pick-up spot in 20 minutes. Nowhere takes that long on the metro. Could have had an extra hour in bed or even longer at our destination.

Our guide for the trip was the lovelyJo, who spoke really good engligh and gave an introduction and an interesting background to the traffic problem here. Yeh...we had first hand experience of it! Shanghai, like all cities here is on the increase from foreign investment. Apparently, every month upto 7,000 more people come in from Japan, Taiwan and Korea as well as europeans. Congestion is such a problem and having a car has become a very expensive option. The car may cost say 80,000RMB/Yuan, whilst the licence plate will set you back a further 40,000RMB/ Yuan (approx 3000 GBP)! And they are placing limits on the amount of licence plates being made available. Apparently, in Beijing they have days when only Even number plates can drive, interleaved with days when Odd plates can drive. In between you have to either car share, use public transport, or don’t go anywhere!

Both cities are investing heavily in expanding their public transport systems to reduce the need for cars. Many countries who are looking at similar congestion problems should be doing the same...and making it cheap enough to encourage people to use it! (Not having a dig at the UK at all....am I?)

From Shanghai to ZhouZuang is about 1 1/2 hours journey and passes through some nice stretches of poaddy fields and open spaces. Very welcome after the confines of the city. The ‘Water village’ was made famous by a painter and is claimed to be China’s best preserved water village...their equivalent to Venice.

The entrance to Zhouzuang village is via a decorative arch and attractive shop area to pander to tourist needs for souvenirs. The layout is fairly open, with lovely wood and cement houses bending in every direction (apparently in dragon snaking fashion...a historical belief) to add a real old world effect. Canals carve the village up with stone bridges crossing in many places. One of them is its most famous ‘Two-bridges crossing’ where the two bridges meet at right angles. With boats being rowed along by their driver punting at the rear, it does have a venetian feel to it....apart from the chinese lanterns and other chinese artefacts of course.

Ladies carry out their washing along the canal bank and other stuff is dumped in the water too. When it gets dirty, they replace the water from the main river. Something that happens every month or so.

We were given a guided tour around two of the most important houses in the village...unfortunatley, along with a hundred or so other tourists with their guide having a megaphone at full volume. Some peace would have been nice, but it is popular and this is China!

On to a longboat for a leisurely float along the canals and then meander back through the alleyways to look at some of the other old houses, many being hundreds of years old. One nice old building being the last traditional barber shop as most have now closed and been replaced by salons outside of the village. On odd sight throughout the village is the many tea houses selling ‘Grandma’s tea’. Nothing special really, just a throwback from the days when the old ladies would gather in the afternoons and drink tea whilst catching up....more a social statement rather than a brand or type of tea!

A few other things that you might not see anywhere else...guys zipping along with fish-based snacks in glass cabinets in a yoke across their shoulders....pagoda style rickshaws...to name a couple. It is a very quaint place, the sort where you should really spend at least a full day and maybe stop over night if you can. Rather than a short fly-in and out. At the end of the village tour we were taken for a superb lunch as a hotel just outside of the village and then back in the welcomed air-conditioned minibus to Shanghai. From the relative quiet of open space back into the congestion of the city. It has been an interesting day and had a nice chat to the others in the group who have seen some different things than I have. There is always more to do that the time you have allocated...fact of life.

It has been another steamer of a day. Something else I learnt today was that businesses in Shanghai theoretically have to stop work if the temperature reaches 42 degrees C. As a result, it never reaches that temperature...they ignore it if it does. As buildings get higher, they are struggling to keep up with the air-conditioning practicalities and so the government has decided that after the new Shanghai Finance building has been completed, there will bo no more buildings allowed any higher than it....that is, until someone comes with a good enough reason.

When we arrived back in the city, the tour guide mentioned about making a short stop at a pearl factory and an art exhibition. Most on the bus sensed a scam coming on and didn’t want to go. When she started to say that there was no obligation to buy anything if we didn't want to, she said we must go or she would get into trouble….the sales scam was going to happen at some point. A couple of us didn't want to go and so got off the bus when it pulled up at a traffic stop and left the others to go with her.

Fancied going to see the Maglev train that goes to/from the airport. Just so happened that we hopped off the bus next to the line 2 station by the lovely Jing'an temple. Its beauty seems to be lost surrounded by monster modern buildings, but that's Shanghai for you. Anyway, onto Line 2 and off at Longyang road station, only to find that it was 80 Yuan return to the airport and didn't fancy paying that much, but saw the maglev shuttle anyway. Between 6:45am and 8:45am it runs at a mere 300km/h, but come 9am it whizzes along at a more interesting 431km/h before falling back to 300km/h after 5pm. It is the fastest land transport in the world and takes only 8 minutes to cover the 30km to the airport! Whizzzzzz

Instead of going on the maglev, decided to go to the Jinmao tower that I didn't visit yesterday...great decision as it turned out. Back onto line 2 and off at Century Avenue then walked amonst the enormous glass monuments. Stunning as usual. When you get to the Jinmao and look up, it is just awesome. 70 Yuan to get up to the 88th floor observatory and wow, what a view. The smog over the city on the other side was more pronounced than from the Oriental Pearl tower yesterday, which gave it a mysterious quality. At 340.1 metres, the observation deck claims to have the highest post office in the world. So did the pearl tower I saw yesterday, so not sure how they work that one out? On the windows around its perimeter are engravings of its relative distances to major landmarks and cities of the world. I noted that I am currently 9,350km from London. 

This tower is also home to the 'Grand Hyatt' hotel. The highest 5 star hotel in the world. Its 555 guest rooms occupy levels 53 to 87 and surround an amazing grand attrium that has to be seen to be believed. Looking down this tube of golden light from the observation deck has been alikened to looking down a time travel into the future....astounding, jawdropping and just wow....come to mind. Looking up from the ground floor to the top can only be done if you are a hotel resident...and of course, you have to pay a 5 star price for that piviledge. For us mere mortals, there are photographs on the wall of what it looks like...wow again!

Next door to the Jinmao is the not yet opened Shanghai world Finance building. Now that is as I said yesterday, the soon to be new tallest structure open to the public, but not until next summer. For now it is only accessible by businesses who work there. Workers are still constructing the remainder of it.

It has been a long and full day and shattered once again, so back on the metro to the hostel. Happy that my train ticket for tomorrow night's overnight sleeper to Beijing has arrived, so can relax now.

Wed 16th Jul – Have to check out at noon today but my train to Beijing doesn’t depart from the main Shanghai station until 8:45pm, sao lots of time to lose today. A bit boring, but have to get such things as laundry done….it is so humid and hot that you go through clothes very rapidly and without wanting to knock anyone out on the train tonight with the smell, it was time to get everything freshened up. And then chill for a bit as I think I have done enough of what I set out to do in Shanghai, so no burning desire to do much more.


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