Shanghai Photos!

Shanghai, China

Together, Sara and I have amassed probably 10,000 photos from our trip. It’s almost overwhelming trying to figure out what to do with these. Such will be the challenge for 2012.

And so over the coming months I hope to post several photo collections from my portfolio.

The first from our time in Shanghai.

The city formerly known as Peking (pt. 1 The train)

I had no wifi and a sloppy computer at my last hostel, so I’m sorry for my absence. However, I’ve been keeping some notes along the way over my last few days in Beijing. This may be disjointed and my handwriting is a little dodgy…

Sunday, Sept. 11

We left breakfast early, pack and say goodbye to Motel 168, Shanghai. Check-out, minor kerfuffle over my deposit. Mental note to check credit card in very near future.

Head straight to the train station, never taken a train before in China and I’m a little concerned – especially since the night before a friend told me it can be a bit of a mad scramble.

So we sit in the train station lobby drinking beer at 1300, our bags are packed away with lockers that use face-recognition technology to determine the rightful owner. This is what the future looks like. My face.

The train leaves at 1830. With nothing to kill but time, we wander outside into a mall with four stories of stores that sell basically the same clothes – not even the hyper colour fashion of Shanghai, just drab sweaters, dress shirts, boring.

Move to the square outside, four hours to go, a book of suduko to help time pass. A girl walks by with bright redish orange hair. Sara and I discuss how it seems many of the girls in Shanghai must wear wigs. You can tell because of the hairline, says Sara. Girls know these things I suppose.

About 20 minutes later, we turn to a “Hello/Ni hao!” and she sits down beside us in awkward silence. Offers cigarettes (no thanks) and turns away the beggars that approach us.

Two hours to go still and we decide to head back to the station to wait. It’s a huge waiting room with people waiting for multiple trains. A giant screen shows images of beautiful China and happy children from CCTV. A Chinese voice blares across loudspeakers followed by the occasional English comment to get on your train.

I’m sitting straight, rigid, trying to get a handle on the scene. Finally, the people beside me grab their bags. Soon enough, we’re all standing in a cluster waiting for the green light. The gates open and we all move at once, not really a one-behind-the-other line, but more of clump squeezing through a bottleneck. I laugh outloud thinking how shocking this would be back home on the Via Train between Ottawa and Toronto. The pushing would be followed by angry, angry looks. Here, we’re all just doing what we can to get to our assigned seats on the train.

We’ve booked a “hard sleeper” – a pretty direct translation. We sleep on the top bunk (of three), nearly seven feet in the air. The bed is roughly 6 x 2 feet with not enough room to sit up. A mob of 10 girls set up shop below us, although they’re quickly dispirsed when the rightful owners of the beds arrive.

Instant noodles and a can of beer are supper for today. At 830 we crawl up the narrow ladder to our bed. Sara sleeps briefly then reads her book. I listen to Wilco and put a black mask over my eyes, drifting off. Lights off at 10 with the obvious exception of cellphones used as torches. Trip to the squat toliet, more Wilco, and rocked to sleep by the train until 2am. I wake consistently every hour until the morning light comes on at 630.

Three hours later, I get off the train in Beijing.

Shanghai old and new

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai, China

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai, China

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to understand Shanghai. It’s a city with a glistening skyline that would not look out of place in a sci-fi movie. However, there’s also a nostalgic undercurrent yearning for the days when it was looked at as the “Paris of the East,” while traditional neighbourhoods, gardens, and museums seek to celebrate the traditional way of life.

Consider our day on Friday. We woke up bright and early and headed off to the Yuyuan Gardens in what is considered the old part of Shanghai. Although somewhat crowded with tourists, I would say this truly was the pearl of the city. This is what you picture when you think of old China. Quiet wooden buildings decorated with dragons and lit with lamps painted with birds and hanging red garnish stand on stilts over ponds filled with orange, white and black coy. Large, 400-year old trees, bamboo and palm trees add shade and a beautiful green. The garden’s walls nearly block all of the honking on the streets outside (and in Shanghai they honk all the time).

After walking through this garden, we browsed through a nearby bazaar selling all sorts of trinkets, bags, watches and jewellery. Although they do try to get you to buy, it wasn’t nearly as pushy as Turkey with most sellers giving up as soon as you say no.

We stopped at a store at 385 Fangbang Road. Inside, was a celebration of old Shanghai. Gramophones, typewriters, paintings and photos of the city a century ago alongside old propaganda from the early post-1949 period. Upstairs was more of the same, only here we were greeted by an older completely bald man wearing glasses and dressed in a black robe. We sat at a table and ordered tea, which he presented in a tiny tea pot to compliment the tiny white tea cups. Add some delicious pork dumplings, old scratchy music seeming to play through a gramophone, and it was a perfect way to spend a couple hours.

Outside the open windows of our teashop was a clear image of the change in Shanghai that I’ve read so much about. We could see an old street crowded with small shops in front of crammed old houses, small alleyways, gritty roofs and bicycles. Towering behind was a series of newish office and apartment buildings in bland grey.

Leaving the teashop we walked through the Old Town and saw more rough-looking narrow shops and homes and alleyways clustered together. Out in the street you could buy seafood, ducks, chickens, snakes and pigeons – live or butchered with the meat laying out without any form of cooling. We turned a corner and on one side more of the same on the other a massive gaping hole in the ground where a new major construction project was taking place.

Pudong, Shanghai, China

Pudong, Shanghai, China

That evening we took a strange lightshow tunnel under the Huangpu River across to Pudong (I can’t really describe this, but let me just say it’s super weird). This part of Shanghai is a celebration of new. A fog had descended over the city, making the skyscrapers seem endless, while bright pinks, yellows, blues and red sparkled amidst flashing signs and video screens.

The sights and shapes of Pudong seem super modern, it is clearly meant as an ambitious showcase of money and power, although I wonder if it will just seem garish and overdone 40 years from now.

We went to the Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao Tower and took three elevators to get off at the 87th floor where we went to a bar appropriately named Cloud 9. If our noon tea seemed to pay homage to old Shanghai, this was a showcase of the new world metropolis. Unfortunately, the fog had made the cityscape somewhat hard to see, just blinking colours and a Pearl Tower that seemed to sparkle. But as I drank my Jameson’s whiskey surrounded by Western businessmen, I could certainly taste the contrast in this city.

The Pudong Skyline

The Pudong Skyline