I landed in Shanghai at about 9am after a long flight from Heathrow. I hadn’t had much sleep but the time difference meant I had missed the whole night. Immigration was pretty quick, and I was able to get a Chinese SIM card while waiting for my bag, meaning I had internet access before I even left the airport! Everyone in the airport was very helpful if I had questions or needed directions. My hotel was across the city next to Hongqiao railway station, so my first task was to get to the hotel and get rid of my suitcase. I opted for a shuttle bus to Hongqiao railway station, which took about an hour, and planned to get a taxi for the short hop from there. I’d initially planned to get the subway, but I was so tired I didn’t fancy trying to navigate the ticketing and the system. When I got to the station I decided to pick up the train tickets that Yang had bought for me, as it was still early and my hotel room probably wasn’t ready. I knew Shanghai was big but nothing can prepare you for the scale of Hongqiao railway station. It’s absolutely enormous, with at least ten ticket offices spread through the massive halls, plus all the departure gates. It feels much more like an airport. Most people could collect their tickets from machines by scanning their ID card, but as mine are linked to my passport I had to go to the counter. After waiting in the huge queue of people wanting to change tickets, I got to the front and got served. With a bit of help from my Baidu Translate app and a lot of help from context, I soon had my tickets in hand. Finally, I sought out a taxi and arrived at my hotel, which was spectacular. Normally I go for a pretty cheap place, but I knew I’d be tired so I went a bit more expensive. It was worth every penny. My room was well appointed, very comfortable and clean, and all the staff were very helpful. My room had a view of the train station and airport, which have massive red signs on top like real-life map labels. I slept for a few hours, ate my sandwich from Heathrow, freshened up and then headed back out into the city. Hotel staff gave me a map and some advice on where I was going and how to get there. They were keen to book me a taxi but I was ready to brave the ticket machines after my sleep! As it was possible to walk to the subway station at Hongqiao railway station, I decided to go for a wander. The trip to the station took me through a modern mall and office development. It was all huge and shiny but there weren’t too many people around. I got to the station and found the ticket machines. Luckily they have an English button, but I didn’t realise you have to select a line and then destination. Someone gave me a hand cheerfully and refused to be thanked. The lines are displayed along the bottom, and you select your destination by tapping it on the map. You can show it in English too, but the Chinese version looks cooler. My destination was Lujiazui for the Oriental Pearl, otherwise known as the ball on a stick tower. It’s about half an hour away from Hongqiao on the subway. Before you go down to the train platform there’s a security check like in the airport, with a bag scanner, and the platforms have a barrier between you and the train. There are also guidelines on where to stand on the platform. I had to wait ages for the platform to clear before I took pictures. All of the stations I used had multiple exits, leading to different streets and different places. I ended up getting out of Lujiazui into a big shopping mall, and after wandering around there for a little while I asked for directions and found the right exit. Again, the scale of these stations is amazing. I came out of the station to be confronted by downtown Shanghai in all its glory. Even if you’re not a city person, I don’t think you could fail to be impressed by these buildings. It was really cool to see them all lit up at night – some whole buildings were turned into dynamic displays for advertising. Shanghai’s defining landmark is the Oriental Pearl tower. The middle ball of the three contains a sightseeing deck as well as a second lower deck with a glass floor. I got a ticket (about £15) and went inside. In contrast to the brand new buildings and Hongqiao, the style of the inside was a little older. It was clearly built with high volumes of tourists in mind, and was decorated for new year. The tower also proudly displays the Chinese government’s highest rating as a tourist attraction. Again there is a security check and plenty of people in smart wool coats and caps to help you. You take the lift up to the observation deck and the view is spectacular. Some of the buildings are now below you, and some still tower above. You can get a full 360 of the city, and can look out over the river and the Bund, a riverside promenade on the other bank which has European style buildings. The full moon was orange and hung over the skyscrapers. The overall effect was like being in a city on another planet! The glass floor observation deck is not for the faint hearted, and there are warnings posted ‘banning’ people who are scared of heights, agoraphobics, pregnant women and ‘violent sports’. I did eventually manage to convince myself to go in the glass and look down, but it’s impossible to walk on it and look down at the same time. At least, it was for me… Kids in particular were delighted by their parents’ trepidation. I eventually came down and took the subway again (like a pro) just over the river to see the view from afar, and to explore Nanjing Road, famous for its bright lights and food. Most of the shops had open fronts and there were plenty selling souvenirs and snacks. I went for the biggest crowd and found kebabs. You could choose from beef or lamb, paid your money and were given a paper bag, proving you’ve paid. Once your stick was ready it was popped through the bag to keep your hands clean. I chatted with a fellow buyer in the queue, and she turned out to be a travel agent from Thailand, in town to sell her newest tours to the Chinese market. The meat was tender and a bit fatty, with a mildly spicy and sweet marinade. It was tricky to pull the meat off the stick as some of the pieces were quite well welded on! The other snack that was being sold all along the road was a glass jar of yogurt, sold under signage proclaiming its Shanghai provenance, unique slow fermenting method and health benefits for the elderly. I bought one and stuck it in my bag for later. There were loads of people on Nanjing Road, and everyone looked like they were enjoying the evening and the shopping and food. I walked along as far as the Bund, and was greeted by this unbelievable view of the skyscrapers once I got to the end. The full moon and the brightly lit cruise boats were the icing on the cake. It gave me goosebumps to see it in person. I got the subway back to the hotel again, and had my special Shanghai yogurt. It was thick and creamy, not as tangy as plain yogurt at home. When I finished I finally noticed how tired I was, and went to sleep.
My friend Aimee was visiting from Austria, and happily she made it to Edinburgh so we could catch up! We had no real plans in the city until we could meet friends at 6pm, so we just wandered about and I had a go at a few caches because, well… it would be rude not to. Our first success was with a new type of cache for me – a webcam cache. You go and stand in front of a webcam at the specified coordinates, and then use software on your phone or ask a friend to log into it from their computer at home. Jon took this picture for us “Wolfing it in the West End” (GCHWAP).
This was lots of fun to do – I don’t really know why but it really appealed! We arranged to see Luke, another friend of ours, and decided to get the tram to a lovely restaurant across town – an excellent excuse for a go on the new trams, and a great opportunity to grab a mystery cache that I had already worked out the answer for. I quickly found the right spot for Tramspotting (GC5359Q) which has a funny description (probably even funnier if you’re an Edinburger) and is well worth a look.
After this quick find we jumped onto the tram and went for a well deserved pile of Chinese dumplings at Chop Chop. Yum!
Later, the three of us attempted Greyfriar’s Bobby (GC3B3R2) but had no luck! We had a hunt around for a bit but couldn’t see where the cache could be. Happily, we did meet a nice German family who were doing the same thing. We left before they did, but happened to bump into them while crossing the road to Waverley Station a few hours later – they didn’t find it either!
Maybe next time…
I thought I’d better post some proof of the temperature here at the moment, so here’s something I found at the castle on Friday. It’s still freezing, too. The snow still hasn’t melted from last week. The upside of this is that the building’s heating is still on.
I seem to be making some headway with the students, finally. On my way out of the school some of them stopped me to ask if I’d like to play cards and asked me how me day had gone, mocking each others’ English the whole time. With a younger class I did a quiz on Australia, which got the class really wound up and competitive – it’s nice to have a class who actually want to speak, rather than having to pull teeth just to get a “good morning”. Most of these pupils are in the chemistry class I work with are in that class, so I’m starting to get to know them a bit better. It’s really horrible not knowing anyone’s names.
Tomorrow, as announced, everyone employed by the government – librarians, teachers, civil servants, train drivers, etc. are going on strike.
…so I’m not going to work tomorrow. I might go along to the “manifestation”, if I don’t sleep through my alarm. After asking a teacher if she was indeed striking in the morning, she said yes, and that we didn’t have class together. Then, she said “See you tomorrow!”, which I assume means at the demonstration. It’s at 9am though. If you’re going to go on strike you might as well take the opportunity to lie in.
After school I went to the post office, and walked past a shop full of interesting-looking things, some of them being Matryoshka. Then I looked closer. All the products were labelled in Cyrillic. In Russian. I went inside. It’s a little corner of Russia in this small town. The shop owner came over and chatted with me about the products I was looking at, and said she’d love to speak some Russian with me in my free hours if I would also speak some French with her. In the shop I found dill, kvass, kasha and sushka, amongst a million other Russian products I didn’t recognise. This place is amazing.
She also didn’t let me out of the shop before she’d offered me everything else she had to taste, which included sugary things that were a bit like Wotsits but without the cheese, and also some neon spun sugar which was so sweet it hurt. I was also very lucky to manage to buy kvass, which I was reminded numerous time was “not like any French drinks, you know…”. I only convinced her when I said I wasn’t French either and I wanted to try it. It’s like a cross between lager and cola, but is made from fermented bread. Weird.
Finally, I had Chinese class today, which is still pretty interesting from the Chinese-French front. I’m also getting a very different language-learning experience because the other people in the class are not used to studying languages, and they’re generally older than me. As such, it’s taking quite a lot of time to get through things, but I think the pace is going to pick up as the teacher seems quite impatient too!
That’s all for now, I have to be up early in the morning so I can be on time for the mouvement sociale…