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Lost in a big world


CHINA | Thursday, 30 October 2008 | Views [755]

I am an urbanite. I like modern buildings. Skyscrapers. Efficient subway systems. Places where you can walk. The hustle and bustle of people on the street. Having lots of places to eat. Well shanghai has all this and more. The downtown area has a huge walking street between the main square in town (with lots of museuams and skyscrapers and a park) and the river, with upscale shopping, and lots of people (but it did not feel over crouded like xian's downtown). There was lots of english (probably more than there was in paris when I first visted there in 1991, although not as much as today). Its a truely international city. So I should have loved this place, and yet I hated it. The reason is simple. Its not that someone comes up to you every 5 seconds trying to sell watches, bags, clothes and other stuff. I do find that annoying but those folks usually have a good sense of humor about it and will let you go after you firmly say no (or sometimes I have to offer to sell them my watch). I even kind of liked the guy who offered me a shoeshine, and then laughed when I pointed at my sandals.

The problem is the con artists. If you are walking alone, and are a westerner, someone will come up with you and try to make friends. There are a few common scams. The first one I saw is innocuous, and I didn't see it much. But I did see it as soon as I arrived. A young women came up to me an introduced herself as an art student from inner mongolia. I said, wow, thats amazing, I am an art student also. She went away (the game is to get you to come to a student art show, and then get you to overpay for art. Since you do know what you are paying, I really don't think this one is that bad, but just try getting away without buying something....).

But the really annoying one, which happened every 10 minutes, was 2 young women would come up to you, start talking in english, and 5 minutes later say they are thursty and suggest you get something to drink. What happens then is they disappear and you get a huge bill for the drinks, and a big guy comes out. (I have also heard other bad stories). Anyway, my first tactic was to just me in a hurry. Well that didn't get rid of them easily. For the second pair, I said that I knew a place to go for drinks, but they didn't want to go far and started to physically pull me into another place. Well I pulled away. My third technique was I was meeting my girlfriend and her father, and I was late. That worked pretty well. But the main problem is you need to put up a wall and not interact with the locals, since you feel everyone is trying to scam you. That really sucks. I actually met two young guys from shandong at the Shanghai museum, who asked me if I knew anything about tea ceremony's here in town. Apparently more than one person had invited them to a tea ceremeony (I guess its a different scam for chinese tourists). I told them don't go. Someone will pour you a cub of tea, charge you a lot of money and then it will be over. Yuck. I wish this city would crack down on this stuff. If it wasn't for the scam artists, shanghai would be a great place. Next time I go down town I am going to bring my ipod and use music as my wall...

Anyway, Back to the travel story. My journey to shanghai was interesting. I went to the airport bus in xi'an, a cabbie offered me a ride for 50, I said the bus is 27, the cabbie said 30, as the bus was empty and wasn't leaving until it was full I said ok. Well the cabbie needed 2 more people (and after that looked for a 4'th but didn't find one) so we didn't actually leave town for 20 minutes. On the cab this women from shanghai wanted to practice her english with me. She turned out to be on the same flight and suggested we sit together. I don't think she had been on many planes since she kept leaving me witrh her bags and running off somewhere (first another line, then she thought we had the wrong flight on our bording pass since the code CA for china air was apparently unfamiliar to her, and then we noticed that when I had checked my bag that hadn't given me a claim ticket, but instead had given her two. I was panicing about this. I didn't really think this was a scam (if it was she was really good at it), but I did worry that if my bag got lost, I might be screwed.

Anyway, I did learn one thing at the airport. I apparently messed up in xi'an. Everyone was carrying boxes upon boxes of xi'an apples to wherever they were going. Next time in town, I need to get myself some xi'an apples!

Anyway, nothing bad happened. I got my bag in shanghai. The women called my hostel on her cell phone to get directions, and then wrote them down in chinese. Well thats good if the directions were for a cab driver. When the directions were take the maglev train to the 2 line, switch to the 3 or 4 line, get off at caoyang station and walk 1 block, english is probably a better language...

I did have fun taking the maglev train. We accelerated to 431 KPH in about 3-4 minutes, held the speed for 30 seconds, and then decelerated. But it was the fastest I have ever gone on land, and it was a smooth ride. Very cool. Eventually I made it to a very nice hostel, after passing through a number of train stations all with malls and mcdonalds attached. The hostel turned out to be very nice, which I did not expect. The rooms were nice (they also operate a hotel next door), there were lots of computers, and the bar/resturant tv area was huge and comfortable with free breakfast and CNN (I had not seen CNN for my entire time in china).

My first night in Shanghai I went to the acrobats after walking along the river (the views of the skyscrapers were great, and they get lit up at night which is cool, and the old buildings from the 20's are also cool). The show was great. They did some amazing stuff although 3 of 4 times someone messed up. I found that suprising.

Actually I forgot to mention a few things. In general, shanghai is a bit more civilized than much of china in a few respects. First, traffic rules are mostly follwed (although not completely). Second, at least when I got a cab in front of cartier (its like beverly hills downtown), I the can came up to me and I gave it to someone who was waiting, and then someone wgho worked at cartier got a cab for some ladies there and they gave the cab to me. Wow, people waiting for their turn! The one exception is the subway. Apparently the universal metro code of conduct that you let people off before you go on, has not managed to arrive in shanghai.

Tags: shanghai


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