A land of auspicious economic endeavors and over 23 million people, this is a city the likes of which are the exact opposite of what I think I might enjoy. It is an endless site of concrete lavished with lights and video screens. Streets bustling with people and cars such that crossing the street feels like playing Frogger with your life. Towers of buildings dwarfed under grey, horizonless skies appear to loom high overhead as I stroll the streets. Magnetic Levitation (maglev) trains transport you from the airport into the city. This landscape suggests a futuristic time warp of sorts. A modern city of economic aspirations, the largest container port, one of the largest cities and the most populated of any in the world, make this city a unique and fantastic place to experience. Despite my apprehensions, I really enjoyed my time there.
I went to Shanghai on business the week before the Chinese New Year. This worked well for me to take some vacation during the Holiday to experience another side of China, but that story is for another post. I was nervous about traveling to China because I was afraid I would not be able to communicate or navigate my way around the city. Tourists get swindled easily, and I only imagined the worst traveling solo.
I was lucky to have my office organize a driver to be waiting for me when I arrived at the airport. I missed him somehow, despite the sign he was holding, and slightly panicked, felt fortunate to find someone/anyone to help. This worked in my favor because I was able to get a Chinese SIM for my phone from this same service person. I called the driver from my new number and had the woman talk with him, something I would do often while traveling in China (answer my phone or make a call only to hand it to someone nearby who could understand or speak to the person on the other end). The drive to the city is about an hour, sometimes more with traffic. Because of the Holiday, traffic kept thinning out as the week progressed. I was told Shanghai would become a ghost town as everyone left the city to head home to spend the time with family. (At one point, the night before the New Year, I could cross the street without a headlight in sight!) I arrived without incident to my westernized Hotel.
While I was in Shanghai, I was fortunate to meet a friend who toured me around a bit. Also, my colleagues took me to dinner and lunch and I was excited to dine in some interesting and unique restaurants, including a Japanese restaurant (just to mix things up a bit). I climbed at the local climbing gyms a few times, meeting some psyched and strong climbers. It snowed one day and despite the rain and snow, the air quality still hovered around 100, which I’m told is good. Fireworks started going off and the city echoed with the sounds of the blasts. I was told Shanghai would sound like a warzone soon, when people really started celebrating.
(Learn more about China’s air quality: http://shanghai.usembassy-china.org.cn/airmonitor.html or here http://www.aqicn.info/?city=shanghai. Compared to Beijing’s 900 reading on a scale of 0 – 500, Shanghai seems healthy. By contrast, when I returned to Seattle, the AQI there was 9. Las Vegas was 26.)
The town was decorated for the New Year and I marveled at the amount of lights on display with many buildings lit in fancy arrangements. Large screen monitors playing advertisements of some sort were abundant all over town. I bought a subway card and navigated my way (with the help of my friend) around. I love cities with a good underground system. It makes getting places a lot easier. I was warned, however, that the subway can be very crowded, mind my phone (beware of pick-pocketers) and don’t cram yourself into the train. You will get jammed into the door when it shuts. Some trains do not have a safety mechanism to re-open the doors if jammed. If they did, the trains would never go anywhere as people would attempt to continuously cram themselves inside. 23 million people in this city makes for a very busy subway. 🙂
Getting around was easier than I thought. There were English signs on major markers, street signs, subway stops, etc. The challenge was if I needed to ask a local for directions, I had to have the destination written in Chinese to hand to someone.
Working in the office in the Min Hang district took me away from major things so getting around took time. One day my colleagues took me out for lunch only to find the restaurant closed because of the New Year. We walked the street and came across another restaurant that was open and found ourselves having a Western Chinese meal. This restaurant had the flavors and mix of cuisine of China, India and the Middle East. It was wonderfully tasty.
The food in China was definitely the biggest highlight. I experimented with fish, eggplant, noodles, soup, strange mixes, and the somewhat familiar. For something a little different, my friend took me to this amazing Japanese restaurant, Kota’s Kitchen, where we and some other friends dined like Kings! The week was filled with many fun and interesting things that it flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was leaving this concrete city for a different kind of Chinese experience in the Sichuan Province. Next stop, Chengdu!
Since this was my first time visiting China, I took quite a few photos. I put together a 2 minute video with a riveting soundtrack to accompany the pics in the hopes of not boring the reader too much. Enjoy!
Music: Torn by Nathan Lanier
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