7 March 2011
I intended to open this postcard with something profound like, "The twenty-hour train journey from Hong Kong into China took us back XXX years....", but the Shanghai we found was as vibrant a twenty-first century city as any I've visited. Although in the end our time was limited and the weather wasn't kind, we did manage to catch a glimpse of Shanghai's flashy bravado as well as her crumbling flanks. It's a city I'd like to come back to.
After the low-twenties comfort of the Hong Kong weather, the single digit Shanghai maxima came as a shock, though not an unpleasant one. Neither was the language barrier unexpected: English is less spoken here than anywhere I've visited. The seven week investment in Introduction to Mandarin was next to useless against this communication barrier.
Lots of research into hotels had me stumped for a while until I stumbled across the Astor House Hotel, a historic 1840s hotel which pioneered accommodation for foreigners in China and has in its day housed American Presidents, Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin, among others. It was the first building in China connected to electricity, to the telephone. Which begs the question, who did they call, until the second was connected? Did they just pick up the receiver and say hopefully: "Ni hao? Ni hao? Is anybody there?".
This beautifully grand old dame overflows with personality. The dark rose wood of the corridors and the rich red carpets, the beautiful terrazzo floors and the grand foyer. I was crestfallen yesterday when I discovered the magnificent staircase hidden behind the lift, its integrity ruined by the later addition of this bland box into its convenient void. I couldn't even admire it from under the brim of my access hat, since this lift is the focus of a dozen rather grand steps up from one end of the foyer.
Zoe warmed to the charms of the place, though when wandering the hallways alone, she said it made her feel five years old, like she was walking through a haunted castle. Personally, I think the lack of heating in the back corridor down to our (huge!) room may have had something to do with that.
After unsuccessfully searching out a city tour online, we happened upon the red City Sightseeing bus as we walked along Wai Tan or The Bund. It was very informative about how not to lose or break a limb (don't hang out of the bus, don't stand while the bus is in motion), but less so about the city. Still, it ushered us across a stunningly elegant bridge and past a number of Shanghai icons.
Later, we were MagLev-ed out to Pudong airport in 7 minutes, a 30km trip. The return trip on the regular Metro service over the same distance took 45-minutes. MagLev, the planet's fastest train in regular commercial service, has no actual contact with the tracks since it levitates via magnetic repulsion, offering an incredibly smooth ride even at the 431km/h recorded on our trip.
Rather than make our last day all about travel, we took the early train to Hangzhou leaving time to see something of the city before our flight. Overcoming the language barrier via a handrwritten note from the hotel, hand gestures in a swooshing motion up into the air and gesticulations at my wallet with a number of fingers, we satisfactorily negotiated price. Our obliging cabbie then ushered us around his city, China's number one tourist destination for domestic travellers. It's a beautiful city, principally focussed on the West Lake and its picture postcard classic Chinese vistas. A fine farewell.