When we woke up on the morning of our journey from X'ian to Shanghai, it was pouring down with rain. It had been so long since we'd seen rain that it took us completely by surprise. We opted to buy some supplies for our over night train and drink the day away with a few people we'd met in Beijing.
After a few beers we set off for the station, big bag and all, boarding without incident. The train journey was okay but its novelty wore off as the noise levels and stench from the toilet rose around us. Indeed, entering that train toilet was akin to entering the fiery depths of hell. And the devil had left a calling card.
Returning from the toilet, scarred and shaken, I took a seat next to Alice on the ground level of the train, which was situated opposite a Chinese family chatting on the lower bunk beds. Noticing our presence, the grandmother gestured for a little girl of about six to turn around, anticipating her surprise. The child's expression when she saw us was something I had never seen before. Her eyes rounded and mouth dropped agape in total incomprehension. You could actively watch the cogs of her mind desperately turning as her eyes flickered from me to Alice and back as she tried and failed to find some memory, experience or image that could help her process what she was seeing. It was really fascinating to watch.
On our first full day in Shanghai we took our time to get up and eventually made our way to The Bund. Though it was Shanghai's most famous sight I had no idea what it was and was quite surprised to find a collection of banks and various other tall and modern looking buildings standing at attention across a dirty looking river. The shape, arrangement and colour of the buildings was pretty striking but unfortunately they were dulled by the grey mist that overhung them, a result of the rampant pollution problem that swept Shanghai. There wasn't much more to do here than look and take a picture of the view so we soon moved off and made for the Yu Gardens which had also been recommended.
On our way we stumbled into another one of China's busy market squares which was as lively and atmospheric as the ones we'd seen before. Unlike at the Muslim Quarter in X'ian, it didn't contain stall after stall of strange looking meat and so we were able to get our hands on some dumplings before visiting the local tea house. This was a bit expensive but as a tea enthusiast I thought I might as well give it a go. We're a crazy bunch of people us tea enthusiasts. The house was really pleasant and the tea very good. And as an extra bonus it was supposed to boost my energy and memory. I think that's what the lady said anyway.
After spending the afternoon at the market Square we returned to the hostel, chilled for a bit, and then went back out to find some food. The Chinese seem to eat really early because everytime we entered a restaurant they were about to close. If we were allowed in it did at least mean the service was quick, even if the cleaning staff were scrubbing the floors around us. The restaurant on this particular night was recommended by lonely planet and was one of our better meals. However, I still wouldn't choose to eat it if there was another option. We had to leave an entire dish because instead of chicken with red peppers we had been served deep fried chicken bones, with red peppers. And this was one of our better meals.
The next day, we visited the People's Square which was extremely ordinary. It didn't help matters that I had barely slept three hours because of the chorus of snoring that performed throughout the night, but it was still pretty s***. The park was pretty much summed up by its 'waterfall' which turned out to be a trickle of water running down a couple of big stones. Must have been a translation issue.
So after spending some time in Starbucks with a coffee and muffin, yes we were being brought to that, we wandered down to Shanghai's highly recommended museum. Lonely Planet had even gone as far as to deem it 'unmissable'. I guess it depends on how you feel about rows and rows of cased plates and coins whether you agree or not. I stand kind of indifferent to such things myself, so I wasn't too enthused. At least it was free. And it had some cool calligraphy.
Alice had a friend working and living in Shanghai and he had offered to take us out for dinner on our final night in the city. First of all though he told us to meet him down a strip of bars where all the ex pats went for a night out. It was the most white people we had seen in six weeks. On meeting us, Alice's friend, Tom, introduced us to some American girls who were either working in or visiting Shanghai. I liked him already. Unfortunately these girls were going out for an Italian (it clearly wasn't just us) so Tom, Alice and I headed out to give Chinese food yet another. It turned out to be our best meal in the country so far. But even then, the vegetables were swimming in oil, the meat would barely pass under that heading back at home, and the best dish was yams deep fried in sugar. Hardly a sustainable diet.
Once we had finished dinner, we went with Tom to a spot where he said his friends would be out drinking. This spot was actually a liquor shop which allowed people to sit upstairs or outside to drink its cheap beer or spirits. Most people there were out in Shanghai teaching English but it seemed, after speaking to them, this was no more than a necessary evil that allowed them to live in a foreign country and drink cheap beer. Most hadn't travelled around China and whether they had or they hadn't few had anything nice to say about it. They were just out there paddling water.
After a few drinks, the ex pats decided to move onto a club. Keen not to blow our budget on what was said to be an overly expensive night out, we decided to go home instead. And that was Shanghai over. It had been a pleasant enough stay in what seemed to be a pretty standard city.