Shanghai, China (8.18.11 – 8.24.11)

So, let me tell you about Shanghai.

My plane was five hours later, so I arrived at 9PM, instead of 4PM. This was annoying because I’d wanted to be able to navigate my way around the city during the daylight, but I did get to explore Vancouver, so it wasn’t all bad. After passing customs, my first task was to get money out. The machine began to reboot with my card inside. I hadn’t gotten any money out yet; it hadn’t let me get that far. There were airport workers around who spoke smatterings of English. They told me to call the support number. I didn’t have a sim card yet! I didn’t have anything yet! The experience was maddening.

One of the workers was kind enough to call the service number for me. They told me to come back the next day, to go to the bank located in the airport. They would have it for me. And so I had to leave it at that, because what else was there to do? Luckily, I had another debit card, so was able to get money out… worried the whole time that the process would repeat.

I got on the subway and switched at the appropriate time, only to discover that some metro lines close earlier than others, and the line that I wanted to transfer to was one of those lines. I was instructed to get back on the line I’d just disembarked and take a more roundabout route.

On the train I noticed some Germans. They were heading to the same hostel! At least from this point on I could relax.

It was 11:30PM by this point. A long day, filled with inconveniences, but finally, I was established in Shanghai

On Friday, I first had to get the matter of my debit card all sorted. It took me four hours. Jesus Christ. The airport is far away, so it took an hour and a half to get out there. Once there, I went into the wrong terminal, but found an information desk, so I asked the woman where I could find the ICBC bank location.

“No bank. Only machine.”

… The service rep on the phone had very specifically told me that there was a bank located in the airport. She gave me the phone number for their location!

I related this to the woman and she called the number. In short, they were not located in the airport, and they did not have my debit card.

I was so upset and so angry! Why is everybody telling me something different!? I decided to go to the terminal where I had arrived to find the ATM that had eaten my card. Maybe someone who had been their the night before would be there now. Maybe someone would know something.

I found a man working nearby and explained to him my problem.

“One minute,” he said, and knocked on the housing of the ATM. (There were three ATM’s for this bank, all joined by a metal housing.) I never would have predicted what happened next. A door opened and a human emerged! I explained what had happened, and she produced a manilla envelope. She opened it and OUT. SLID. MY. CARD. I nearly cried in relief! (I had already been thinking about how difficult it was going to be to try and have Compass mail me a new debit card… as I traveled from hostel to hostel. How would that work!?) Debit card in hand, I took the metro back into the city and set out to go exploring.

There is an area of Shanghai referred to as “The Bund.” It boasts a superb view of the Shanghai skyline, and I wanted to see it. I got off of the metro and wandered aimlessly for a few hours, getting lost in small streets, with an abundance of small restaurants. How to pick one? I ended up in a noodle house, painfully aware of my solitude as I fumbled with the menu. That picture looks nice, I’ll take that one. I point to convey my want.

After lunch I consulted a map in order to navigate my way to the Bund. As I neared the view, my head pounded. It was 90-something degrees with seventy-something percent humidity. I’d been out in the sun too long, and all the water I’d been drinking wasn’t enough. I admired the view, then rushed to find the nearest metro to get home.

Headache bordering unbearable by the time I reached my hostel, I sought my bed, threw back some ibuprofen and fell asleep. I woke five hours later, whimpering like an injured animal. Bad, bad, very bad. I took more painkillers, and a cold shower to try and cool down my skin that radiated heat. I put myself back to bed. I woke around midnight, feeling mostly better, and headed downstairs looking disheveled in order to internet to people back home (internet is totally a verb).

On Saturday, I slept. I wish I had more to tell you, and I am slightly ashamed to admit that other than getting up to have breakfast, I slept. Literally, the whole day.

On Sunday, I felt a bit pathetic about sleeping all day, but also rested and refreshed. My friend Jason, who I know through a friend back home, was in Shanghai en route to Nanning, where he will be teaching English. I had told him where I’d be staying and he booked a room. So, on Sunday we explored. He wanted to check out a modern sculpture park in Sheshan, which is about 50 minutes outside of the city. We took the metro there and discovered that the park cost about $20 to enter! We decided that was absurd, as we would think twice about paying that much in the US, and chose not to bother. In China, the ending “shan” means mountain, so we went to explore She Mountain, upon which sat a Christian church, and an Earthquake analysis museum. Before exploring the church, we stopped for a rest because it was obscenely hot, and the only reason I mention it is because I had a green-pea flavored ice cream! I picked it because it looked ridiculous; it was better than I expected it to be! The church was fairly simple and unadorned. It was remarkably Western, and were it not for the Chinese characters on the velveteen pennants, I would never have believed that I was in China. We then went to see the Earthquake analysis museum. This was interesting to me because they had a replica of a tool, hundreds of years old. The tool was able to report earthquakes around China, though it was unable to determine their strength. It was a sculpture of eight dragons, each pointing in one of the cardinal or sub-cardinal directions, each with a frog sitting below. Each held a ball in its mouth. In the event of an Earthquake in its designated direction, the dragon would drop the ball, and it would fall into the mouth of the frog. This was neat, but my favorite part of the museum was yet to come. They had a room in which CPR training was held, and they had mannequins lying on the floor. We also found some masks, used for practice, I assume. They were delightfully creepy, and, well, needless to say there were pictures. You will see. If there is a creepier picture of me out there, then god damn, I need to see it. I would also like to note that the ridiculous image that you will see below is the first picture taken of me in China. I feel pretty good about that.

On Monday, Jason left for Nanjing and I was by myself once more. I went to explore the French Concession area of the city, and proceeded to have a total meltdown. I considered coming home. Immediately. I was not loving Shanghai. Despite it being past midnight her time, my mum talked me through it and I went to wander about. Once again, I got myself hopelessly lost, because I am so, so good at it, but I found a post office, which I had been wanting to find! After I was tired, headed back to the hostel. The night was uneventful, but I pored over the idea of leaving early or instantly some more.

On Tuesday I went to explore a town called Zhujiajiao. From a bus station in the middle of the city, it took about an hour to reach. Zhujiajiao is like an Oriental Venice. Waterways run through the town, rendering it charming and picturesque. I explored the narrow streets and tiny bridges for a few hours, bought my fella a present, and headed back to the city. It was getting dark by this point, so I decided to head for the Bund, to catch a view of the night skyline. Having zero sense of direction, I never found it, but during my walk, I did find an endearing park. There was a beautifully lit fountain in the middle of a lake. The scene enticed me to sit, and upon doing so, I heard music float ethereally across the water. When I walked to the other side of the lake, I discovered the source: a man playing flute. He was talented, and it was incredibly relaxing to sit and listen to him. After enjoying for a while, I walked on, still in search of the Bund, before eventually giving up. When I stumbled across a metro station, I realized that I’d gone in the opposite direction than I’d thought. Oh well!

Wednesday I was due to take a train to Beijing, and the weather outside was miserable. I went for lunch with a German girl from the hostel, and the rest of the afternoon took respite from the rain. Around 5PM, I headed for the station, wanting to make it in good time. The train was delayed without explanation, and though our departure was schedule for 7:30PM, we didn’t leave until 9PM. When boarding the train, I presented my ticket, and they directed me to: STANDING ROOM. Now, I absolutely promise you that when I’d bought my ticket from the ticket machine, in English, I was purchasing a hard seat (as opposed to the sleeper cabins on the overnight trains). And yet, they were directing me to stand. And what could I do? There was no one I could complain to, certainly no one that would understand my complaint if I tried, and no seat to be had! So, in front of me lay a 15 hour train journey… in standing room. I got stuck by the bathroom. This is a little what I imagine hell to be like.

I met some English speakers who said that they had heard of this happening to other people, where they would purchase a ticket for a seat, and unwittingly been given a ticket for standing room. My back was aching, but I was relieved to know that I wasn’t completely full of it; I hadn’t just imagined buying the correct ticket. After about two hours, the crowds of people seemed to calm, and I was able to lay claim to a spot on the floor. And this is where I passed the remaining 13 hours of my journey. I had to move my leg every time the food cart passed through (every half hour, if not more frequently), every time someone wanted to go to the bathroom (constantly), every time someone wanted to fill their noodles with hot water (even more frequently than they went to the bathroom), and every time someone wanted to smoke (incessantly). By some magic, I think I did actually sleep for an hour or two, but to say I rested would be a lie. After fifteen arduous hours, I was in Beijing, and praying to the Universe that I would enjoy it more than Shanghai.



I love this. You see the alleyway between shops, lined with homes, with skyscrapers in the background.

The People’s Square is a very large, very beautiful public square in Shanghai. Home to the Shanghai Museum, and the municipal government headquarters.

The Shanghai skyline… probably my favorite part of Shanghai.

This was a temple on the way up Sheshan. I was excited to see this because it was the first one I’d seen in China!

Green pea ice cream! Surprisingly delicious. 🙂

Say hello to Jason!

The replica of the earthquake detecting machine; it was very ornate.

The most flattering picture ever taken of me. Ever. (I love this so much)

Zhujaijaio! (Don’t ask me to try and pronounce this)

This man is playing a hulusi. It’s a Chinese wind instrument, and the sounds it produces are incredible.  I got one for Michael!

It really is like a Chinese Venice!

This was my view in the park where I sat and listened to the flute player. It was such a beautiful experience.


My overall review of Shanghai is less than glowing. Another metropolis, it tries to blend the Chinese with the Western, somehow resulting in a city that seems disingenuous. I felt like the whole city was pretending to be something it wasn’t. If we’re being candid (and it’s my blog, so I’m going to be), I didn’t care for Shanghai at all. Though I do attribute some of this to the initial difficulty of being separated from my love by 6000 miles, the city lacked charm and character. This is of course, only my personal opinion, and it is entirely possible that the city is a lovely place that just didn’t sit well with me. Fortunately, I did like Beijing, and you’ll get to hear all about that next!


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