Shanghai

I arrived into Shanghai on Thursday afternoon and then headed to my hostel on the metro where in the evening I settled into my hostel. I met up with a canadian and we went out to buy some (fake) designer fake leather belts – I needed a belt to hold up my trousers so I thought why not. In the end we bargained hard and ended up getting them for ¥40 including adjustments to make them fit – apparently the customers are generally really fat! Aside from the fact that they are designer (and we all know that adding a label is a very expensive process and so justifies a large price premium.) the deal wasn’t that great – you can get a Tesco fake leather belt of equivalent quality for £2.99 or maybe less. Anyhow personally while I do like my clothes to look good and be of good quality I don’t give a damn about the designer label on them as it doesn’t mean anything to me.

After this we went back to the hostel and went to have a massage (which was great actually and it was a real massage that didn’t come complete with a “happy ending“.).

The next day I headed out to do some initial exploration of the city – first I decided I was going to give the maglev train a go to see what it was like to go the fastest it is generally possible to go on land. The maglev is pretty damn quick as it goes up to 430km/h and that is faster by about 100km/h than the Shinkansen – however comparitavely it is only a little faster so it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it’d be. On the way back I got off one stop before peoples square where I am staying and did some shopping where after visiting a number of both western and Chinese stores I found a good quality and stylish coat and a jumper for a decent price from an outlet of Giordano (¥299 and ¥126 respectively.) – you’d pay £30-£35 for the jumper and probably a similar multiplier for the coat.

The next day it was Saturday and I wanted to see some more than shops. First I headed to the museum of contemporary art to see the exhibition there. It had some work by couple some of which was interesting but it gave no interesting insights into love which was the premise of the exhibition so that was a little underwhelming. After that I met some girls outside who wanted a photograph and suggested I went to see the acrobatics with them. As it seemed innocent enough I followed along until they said that rather than going to the box office we were going to go to a teahouse instead to buy the tickets – obviously at this stage it was a scam so I just walked off but it was very subtley done and even the prices given were entirely correct as I’d find out when I went to the box office. Its said to see this pulled though as I often legitimately ask people for photos of me.

After this I headed to the Shanghai museum as I had planned to before and like the scammers had said the museum was free – what they hadn’t mentioned was the absolutely massive queue outside so I decided against it and instead headed on the metro across the river to get a view of the city from one of the towers there. I headed to the Jinmao tower and first made my way up to the lobby of the Hyatt which was about half way up – unfortunately the bar at the top was closed so I couldn’t go for a beer instead of paying to go to the observation desk as I had in Chicago. So at that point I went down the tower and reluctantly paid the ¥60 (it’s ¥88 for adults.) to go to the top. The view from the top was good – though it was a bit blurry from the pollution even though it was a nice day so you couldn’t see as well as you otherwise might have been able to. After seeing this and after having a wander around at ground level I headed back into town were I decided I’d go to the acrobatics anyhow. First I went to the nearest teahouse on a backstreet to ask where I might be able to get some tickets. I headed to one of the theatres known for putting on a performance and it was on the right metro line (though conveniently 1/2 way between two stops.) so I headed in that direction.

It was actually surprisingly hard to find the box office as the signs pointed to the theatre itself even though it was actually in the forecourt of the shopping centre concerned and I had to “borrow” the conceirge services of the onsite RitzCarlton to get directions – they also sold tickets though it was definitely wise to go to the box office itself. This is due to the way the tickets themselves were sold I managed to only pay ¥150 for sitting slightly further back and on the side and was within 1m of people who had paid ¥280 or nearly twice as much. Unfortunately that was the end of my financial success for the evening as I then went to dinner. As I was outside the Ritzcarlton and between two branches of high end jewelry retailer Tiffany less than 1km apart I was, to put it mildly, screwed, with regards to finding a cheap meal outside of the traditional western chains. I decided that after saving over ¥100 on the theatre I could blow it all in one go on a meal in a nice restaurant. I did get quite a good meal of sichuan style duck and some traditional Chinese tea but to be honest it wasn’t really worth the extra – maybe I should just have stuck with McDonalds or gone slightly upmarket with a slightly pricier western food chain. After this I returned to the theatre to watch the acrobatics which were absolutely stunning to see. They did lots of different things from plate spinning to dancing to jumping through hoops – it’s well worth seeing if your in Shanghai and is without a shadow of a doubt the best such evening performance I’ve seen on my trip.

Then on Sunday morning I headed off to the Bund which is the strip of colonial buildings along the river and which was OK but not really that exciting as typically the skies had opened once again to prove that my shoes from New Zealand that I got a great price* on really were made of cardboard (though in credit to cardboard it probably would dry out quicker :rolleyes:) – I’m off in the morning to buy at least one further pair. Then, determined not to have a western lunch I went to a Japanese food chain to get some food like everyone else I left my umbrella (hey it was a ¥50 umbrella that was bent and missing the cap and case from Marks and Spencers in the UK.) at the door before having a lunch of rice and chicken and cheese on a scewer which was a speciality of the south of Japan I think and which was very good.

Now if you were paying attention you’ll notice the large amount of attention to the umbrella in the last paragraph – yes, I return to the door to find that the umbrella has gone. There were some other similar ones but they all looked absolutely god-awful so I made a fuss and extorted ¥30 from the restuarant which given my previous shopping successes* I thought would be enough to get a replacement**. I then went into the first Chinese department store and used my fluent Mandarin pointing skillz to find the correct department. First I checked the price which was ¥40 which was fine by me and then – just to confirm I opened the umbrella unfortunately it failed to open correctly and pointed up initially on the outside. Now this wouldn’t be an issue except that a second failed to open as well. As I expect it to work at least the first time I walked out and this was then repeated in a further two stores (one of which was recommended by tourist information.). Fortunately at this point I found a store of Giordanos and managed to get a decent working umbrella for ¥45 as well as another jumper for ¥126. Now the shock here wasn’t the price or necessarily the quality but the combination – if they are charging that kind of money which is almost as much as you pay in the fairly pricy M&S I was shocked at the total lack of quality. Hell in a lower class UK chain you could probably get an umbrella for ¥20 that was better – and probably also made in China!

After this I headed to Xintiandi which is a block of restored Shanghai houses from the 1930’s that is full of coffee houses as you would expect in a similar place in the west. It was interesting though – and they also had a museum on it. I then went to have a cup of tea and a muffin. Following this I headed over to the Wu garden in the old city (the rest of which seems to be being rapidly demolished.) which was quite interesting to see as a traditional Chinese garden. Chinese gardens include lots of rocks and water features but seem to be plainer than Japanese gardens and there is also less gravel – they are fairy similar though.

After this I returned to my hostel to investigate my onward adventures. I had lots of ideas but they were put to bed by lack of trains or cheap accommodation so in the end I decided to do a day trip to Suzhou and then head straight to Xi’An this did take a surprisingly long time – travelling to more remote parts of China is still difficult, if they had a single overall computer system (and website) that would help a lot. In the evening I settled down and watched a couple of films – the first was a weird Japanese film and the second was this is England – a movie on skinheads in the early 1980’s. I really liked it as it exposed everyones limits and how people can be manipulated.

On Monday morning I got up early and got my train ticket for Xi’An on Tuesday evening before heading out to Suzhou but this post is massive enough as it is so I’m going to write it now and post it later, maybe tomorrow or the next day from Xi’An.

*= of course like the camera I got a great deal on in Chile it wasn’t in the end such a great deal – we shall see if my great deals I’ve bought here do better – I think they will as I checked the quality quite carefully.
**= I promise this story is at least moderately interesting :p.

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