Shanghai, China (15th Dec 2007)
After our final overnight train we arrived in Shanghai in the early morning and managed to navigate Shanghai's metro system to find our way to our hostel, where we were told that we couldn't check in yet as the people in our beds (yup, it's time for the dorm room adventures!!) hadn't checked out. So off we went to do a bit of exploring on foot for a couple of hours. One of Shanghai's most talked about attractions is The Bund, located by the bank of the Huangpu River and as it wasn't far from our Hostel we decided to take a stroll down there. Walking down, we were treated to a rich collection of early 20th century architecture, ranging in style from the neo classical HSBC building (the location of one of many photos!) to the art deco Sassoon house. The only disappointment was that, because it was early morning none of the buildings were open yet and so many appeared derelict, something which has happened to many of the older style building on the streets stretching back from The Bund. We headed back to the hostel to check in and as it was still relatively early all but one of our new room mates were still asleep, and the one guy who was awake managed to give us quite a fright. Now we don't mean to be judgemental or cruel but he really managed to freak us out with his crazy whitish hair, unusually pale eyes and lack of speech, to the point Kara began to worry she might not make it through the night alive!!
Not wanting to stick around in the room for too long we grabbed all the necessities and headed back out again, eager to explore the skyscraper-laden new financial and commercial district on the east bank of the river known as Pudong. Wanting a change of transport from the metro we decided to take the ferry over and eventually (after pacing the upper viewing promenade on the bund a number of times) found the ticket terminal tucked away at a lower level. The crossing only took a few minutes and dropped us off at the end of the promenade so we were able to enjoy a walk along the river and see The Bund from a whole new perspective. From Pudong, you are really able to appreciate the architectural splendour that is The Bund. Up close it is easy to take it all for granted but from afar you can really see the buildings in all their individual glory as well as the collective spectacle. Pudong itself in home to two of Shanghai's other main tourist attractions, The Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao building. The Pearl tower is Asia's tallest tower and is Shanghai's most recognised structure as it comprises of 3 baubles, decreasing in size the further it climbs into the sky and is the highlight in pictures of Shanghai's skyline. The Jin Mao tower is not only Shanghai's tallest building, but also China's and ranks fifth highest in the world. The Building is home to the Grand Hyatt hotel and houses an observation deck on the 88th floor. As it wasn't a very clear day we decided to stick to ground level (shopping malls to be precise!) as visibility from either of the building observation decks wouldn't be very good.
On our way over to the 'Super Brand Mall' we were approached by a man offering us a Rolex watch for 200 Yuan. Refusing straight away as it was too horrendous to even try and describe, we carried on walking but the man must have thought he could crack us as he followed us all the way there adding another two watches and two pens and lowering his price to just 100 Yuan (about £6!!) Despite it being such a 'bargain' we declined and lost him in the crowds of the mall. What we thought would be a relatively small shopping centre soon turned out to be one of Shanghai's biggest malls with over 8 levels housing every shop you could imagine, along with every kind of food establishment you could ever want! There was a definite Christmas feel to the mall, with large decorated Christmas trees at every entrance and exit and cheery Christmas songs playing in every shop, all this combined with the weather conditions outside it kind of felt like the run up to Christmas at home. Determined not to spend any more money on clothes we steered clear of the fashion shops and just headed to the opticians as Mark was running low of contact lenses.
On our way home we decided to take a detour to the post office to see how easy it would be to send home some of the stuff we'd accumulated so far (especially the winter woollies) as we didn't want to get charged excess luggage again like we did leaving Bangkok for Hong Kong. It all seemed relatively easy so we purchased a box and Mark 'borrowed' some packaging tape and we went back to the hostel to sort out what we could get rid of. When we got back to the hostel there was a note on the door that we managed to translate as meaning we needed to change rooms and to contact reception for more details. We were told that due to some 'water works' needing to be carried out in our room we needed to transfer to another dorm tomorrow morning....good job we packed up after sorting all our stuff out!
In the evening we didn't feel much up to socialising in the bar downstairs, nor did we feel like being confined in our teeny dorm room where the so called 'windows' looked out onto the internal corridors so we went out and experienced The Bund at night. Although it didn't quite live up to the skyline of Hong Kong at night, it was really quite impressive. We walked the entire length of the raised promenade and saw all the buildings definitely at their best thanks to some cleverly placed atmospheric lighting! Across the river, the skyscrapers of Pudong made quite an impact as well. The baubles of The Oriental Pearl Tower put on a frantic light show while the other buildings flash all the colour of the rainbow. We took a slight detour on the way home and took a stroll down the pedestrian section of East Nanjing Road where we were dazzled by the bright neon lights and harassed by an infinite number of Chinese people who started off just wanting a friendly chat but it soon became obvious they either wanted us to buy their merchandise, go and visit their art show or drink their tea, all of which would probably rip us off! However there was one gadget people were selling that did grab Marks attention, illuminated wheels that clip onto the bottom of your shoes and enable you to zip in between the crowds......or just fall flat on your face which is what we predicted would happen to us if we gave in and bought some (they did look pretty good fun!!)
At 10 we went to change rooms but were told that another 6 bed en-suite dorm wouldn't be available till 12 but if we wanted we could have a 4 bed dorm with shared bathroom, an offer we declined and so spent till lunchtime doing not very much! Finally we were allowed to check into our new room and so we dumped our stuff and decided to see what the area close to our hostel had to offer. We retraced our steps from the previous night and headed down East Nanjing Road which eventually brought us out at Remnin Park (also known as People's square) an area of greenery that also accommodates the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition (our main motivation for heading to the area). The exhibition remains one of the highlights of our time in Shanghai as it gave us a really good insight into the foundation, development and future of the thriving metropolis we were experiencing. The first floor is dedicated to Shanghai's history and documents it through numerous black and white photos. The rest of the floors concentrate on the present and the future and is where the museum really thrives, with the help of a scale model of the city, covering more than 600sqm it is the largest one of urban planning in the modern world and is easily bigger than the average ground floor of a house back home, something that really impressed us both! Other exhibits that caught our eye were a virtual hall of a 360 degree function taking us on an all encompassing magic tour of Shanghai in 2010 and finally a scale model of the proposed extension to Pudong Airport. We emerged into a drizzly Shanghai a few hours later thoroughly impressed with a museum that was finally worth the entrance cost!! On our way home we saw The Park Hotel (famous in Shanghai's history for its unusual architecture and prestigious guests) grabbed a not very satisfying pizza from 'Hello Pizza' and soon realised that it was impossible to buy a cold can/bottle of beer from any shop as turning fridges on appeared not to be the 'done' thing in Shanghai!!
After an unexpected lie in we decided to visit Shanghai's Science and Technology Museum as the weather was pretty crappy and an afternoon indoors sounded perfect! We caught the metro down to the designated stop and emerged from the market attached to the underground station and were confronted with a hugely imposing glass and metal building that was The Science and Technology Museum. The external appearance of the building certainly matched its supposed purpose but we were unable to find this out for sure as it turned out to be closed! Rather than get straight back on the metro and go home we decided to explore this unknown territory set back from the river in Pudong. The first thing we encountered was Century Square which was nothing more than a public square with another access point to the metro. We then stumbled upon the Oriental Arts Centre which is housed in a building that appears like huge spherical drums breaking out of the ground. We walked up the main road to the next tram stop and thought that, because visibility wasn't too bad we could make the most of it and make our way to the Oriental Pearl Tower and go up to the observation deck. We had previously decided that we would give the observation floor at the Grand Hyatt a miss as we didn't have any clothes nice enough for that kind of establishment. And so we emerged from the metro at the foot of the tower, the first time we had seen it so close and we instantly impressed. There were numerous different options for which levels you could go to but we eventually just opted to go up to the sightseeing floor at 263 metresin the second bauble.We got out of the lift and were instantly greeted with a view of The Bund and soon realised we could walk the whole way around the bauble, something we did numerous times as the sun slowly set and the bright neon lights of Shanghai came out to play. On our way down we stumbled upon another sightseeing floor, this time outdoors but we soon realised why it wasn't as popular as the floor above as the cold air began cutting into out face!! We definitely chose the right time to go up the Pearl Tower as we got the best of both world, photos of Shanghai's old and new skylines, both at day and at night.
We made our way back to the hostel to get changed after we decided we would make the most of our last night in Shanghai and go to a nice restaurant on West Nanjing Road we had read about in our lonely planet. We were disappointed to discover no-where with the name of the recommended restaurant existed but there was one place in the same location that looked ok so we thought what the hell and went for it. We were hit by the warm air and instantly felt reassured and were then doubly reassured when the menu arrived and there was everything you could ever possibly want, coupled with being informed that it was happy hour for another hour and a half, we couldn't have been happier! The atmosphere in the restaurant was quite European and we enjoyed our meals and beers sat on a candlelit table by the window, Christmas songs playing quietly in the background.
We had already decided that our first stop on our last day in Shanghai needed to be the post office to send our package home so after rising relatively early we walked the short distance across the river and got it posted home. After initially planning on doing nothing on our last day due to our lack of money we quickly got bored and so headed back to Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, which was actually a surprisingly fun way to waste a couple of hours. Although some of the translations were a little hit and miss we still managed to enjoy many of the museums exhibits in the twelve exhibition halls. Among our favourites were Spectrum Of Life where life-size replicas of animals from every continent stand in their own familiar landscape and Human Health where you get the opportunity to test your own health (which we declined fearing the outcome) have a penalty shootout, test your boxing abilities and even play a little bit of ping pong. Another exhibit in the museum was the 'spider' hall which was an experience to say the least. Kara steered away from the life spiders on display but still managed to get freaked out reading about all the harmful and deadly spiders that can be found in Australia, our next stop! Despite all the leaflets and guides saying this place makes a great day out for kids, we recon it's just as much fun for adults to enjoy, or maybe that's just us!!
To get to the airport we had already figured out we needed to get the metro and then get something called the MAGLEV, which stands for Magnetic Levitation, and is one hell of a fast train. Mark was a little disappointed however as after 5pm its top speed goes down to 300km/hr instead of the advertised 430km/hr, regardless of this, we still managed to do the 20mile ride to the airport in under 7minutes! Needless to say it was still a good experience and a fun way to end our time in China.