Year of the Snake, suspicious museums, party jesus and the Maglev
Shanghai was a bit of a disappointment really. A good place that I can say I've been to but not much to do tourist wise, maybe return if you're a businessman… Rob and I arrived in Shanghai in the morning after spending the night on a train. A train that took more than 18 hours with only standing tickets. Standing tickets are the lowest tickets and if you have one then you're resigned to standing in the aisle for the duration of the journey. Of course we're foreign and white so we use this to our best advantage to charm seats. Whenever people go to the loo or visit their friends or something we grab a little while of sitting down but it's always a big disappointment when they return wanting the seat that they paid for. The most annoying thing about standing in the aisle though are the train guards-cum-salesmen that wander up and down the train with baskets of complete rubbish and trolleys of over-priced food. These are very narrow aisles and I have very big feet in China. I lost count of how many times they got run over as another Chinese person squeezed past. We got lucky after I sat next to a woman and asked her about some Chinese characters. She had also commandeered the seat and could speak a little English. She helped us to exchange our train tickets for direct ones to Shanghai (we were going to have to change at Hangzhou, stupid when that's the stop before Shanghai which is the train's final destination) and took us to the food carriage at night where we paid Y70 each for a seat at a table where we could try and get some sleep. It was a long night.
It was nice to arrive at the hostel and see everyone again after so long. Most people were in our hostel with a few others staying elsewhere but altogether, all 27 of the China volunteers had descended on Shanghai to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We were only in Shanghai for a few days but we probably could have done everything in one.
After a quick shower upon arrival we joined the others for an outing to The Bund, Shanghai's famous waterfront area and only 5 minutes from our hostel. It was cool to see the river and the famous skyline but the novelty soon wore off when we started to walk it and realised it was just an endless path of samey endlessness. Most importantly for our first day in Shanghai though; it was the last day of the Year of the Dragon and Rob and I had braved the 18 hour standing train to see in the Year of the Snake in style! The 'boy-band' returned and suited up for the night with newly purchased shirts (I liked mine but unfortunately it wouldn't last the travelling). I topped mine off with a lovely chain of orange flowers I found in my dingy hostel room and we all headed out, suited and booted, to The Bund to watch the fireworks extravaganza. I have seen the London New Year fireworks which were awesome but rumour had it China's would blow them out off the water. Various bad sources, including the hostel and the internet, gave various different times for the firework's start so we made sure we were all gathered on The Bund for a little after nine to establish a good spot and be ready for them whatever time they were at. That was a long, cold wait and many who couldn't handle it returned to the hostel to grab warmer clothing. Most though sought to warm themselves up with alcohol and ensure the New Year was a merry one. Nold and I split our drink for cheapness and went shopping together. We returned with a gigantic bottle of 'huangjiu' (yellow wine) which was revolting and tasted like burning soy sauce. We stomached it for a while but soon ditched it for the safer 'baijiu.' When the anticipation had reached fever pitch we stood straining to see over the river and waited for the monstrous fireworks that would surely light up the Shanghai skyline. Suspense was sated a little by a few miniscule fireworks set off from the building behind us but after a couple of minute of the pathetic poppers we realised this was all the show we were getting. 3 hours of cold waiting for fireworks that were outdone by Nold's firecrackers in the road at the start of the evening. We were not impressed at all but instead joined the frenzy of people to flag down taxis in the road. Of course we all got split up again but we all knew where we were going right? We texted the club's address round the few phones between our group and somehow I found myself crammed in the back of someone's car with Hannah, Beth, Rob and a car seat. The couple explained that they wanted to pick up someone as a gesture of goodwill and said they hoped if they were ever in England that someone would do the same for them. So if anyone sees any lost looking Chinese people - offer them a free lift! The car was a standard 5 seater and not really meant to have 4 over-sized foreigners shoved in the back. I think I broke their car seat but we insisted on paying them for their trouble and thanked them an awful lot. This is the point where we found that the club address we had was shut and hadn't been open for months. Ah. We found our way to another club called 'rich baby' where we were led to a table of foreigners and given free drinks and danced for a while and climbed lots of things. Then we made our way back across Shanghai to find the few of our number that had stayed out in a high-rise club called 'G+' near our hostel. We danced until we were the only ones left dancing and witnessed the first coming of party jesus. …more on him later.
After a Subway brunch some of us set out to find some temple the girls had found. Our group is just too big though and it ended up with just Hannah, Rob and I spending a lovely day together. We wandered about Shanghai in reasonably nice weather and followed the crush of the crowd to the temple where lots of people were visiting to take photos of the cheesy models of smiling snakes and other creatures and people from Chinese legend hanging from the walls. The temple didn't appear to be much of a temple to be honest; all I saw of it were the colourful models, the tops of lots of people's heads and street after street of shops selling crap to tourists. We tried to find a pub to watch the rugby in that night armed with some trusty advice from the hostel. We got lost and walked around Shanghai for the entirety of the rugby match. After that, the fireworks let down and not knowing lots of other things a hostel really should, the Shanghai hostel became one of the most useless we've stayed in. Instead we went to join the other vols in a club they'd found in the French Concession, amazingly Naomi had managed to score hundreds of yuan worth of free drinks and a table for the lot of us! Being foreign and willing to dance is a great bonus. At some point in the morning we witnessed the second coming of party jesus. This guy is just a mental foreigner who happens to be the splitting image of Jesus with flowing brown hair and beard. He instructed everyone (again) in various dance moves and soon had a following of many foreigners copying him. TIP for great clubbing - look look like a religious messiah.
Nothing too exciting to report from the next two days in Shanghai… The two Dutch guys that had joined our group for the time being had been given a card for a museum by some other foreigners and they passed it on to us so Rob, Naomi and I went out to find it. We walked for a very long time aided by a terrible map on the back of the card and the knowledge that we should show the card to a gatekeeper who would then let us pass… By the time we found the place it was almost closing time but it was tiny so we didn't need long. It seemed very suspicious and it looked like the guy didn't want many people to know the place existed. Cards were handed out to foreigners who were then asked to pass them on. It was on a high up floor in a high rise block and was a propaganda museum filled with original posters and other propaganda stuff from China's past. Plus a huge amount of Mao statues… There was loads of cool stuff to buy in his tiny shop but they were all expensive prices tailored to the foreign clientele. I just bought a pretty cool cultural revolution school textbook meant to teach English to children, with Mao and the party the heroes of every page. It's a real page turner with plenty of English examples in the form of short stories about 'US imperialism,' 'Soviet revolutionism' and what a great honour it is to serve the party with your life…
On the final day Nold, Naomi, Henry, Bertie and I made a valiant attempt to travel to a nearby ancient water village. We woke early and got the subway all the way to the other side of Shanghai to find that the train times wouldn't allow us enough time at the village and in any case I'd forgotten my passport so couldn't have got a ticket anyway. We went for a Mcdonalds breakfast instead where we outlined a different plan for the day. And Bertie had a creepy photo with a poor, unsuspecting child. We were joined in Shanghai by Bertie (Henry's friend from the UK who's family now lives in China) and two legendary Dutch guys we met in our hostel. New plan meant getting back on the subway - we were at the terminal station at one end of Shanghai and now we were travelling the entire length of the tube line to reach the other side of Shanghai and the Maglev. After such a long train journey it seemed only fitting to stop of at Mcdonalds again before heading for the Maglev. The Maglev in Shanghai is one of only a few operating in the world and relies on magnets to levitate and propel itself on its track. It's one of the fastest trains in the world and we watched the speedometer in our carriage rocket up to its top speed of 431km in just 3 minutes. It was awesomely fast and crosses Shanghai in just 7 minutes - the exact same journey we'd just done on the subway in over an hour and a half. So to sum up our day we got the subway to Shanghai's East train station then the subway to Shanghai's West train station where we took the Maglev train back to the East station and returned on the same train to the West (in only 15 minutes!). At the West we got back on the subway to our hostel. Yes, we spent our last day in Shanghai on the city's trains and we crossed the entire city 4 times in total…
So that was Shanghai. We had a bit of fun but it wasn't the best travelling destination I don't think. Riding the Maglev was a wicked highlight though!