Saturday, September 24, 2011

Middle Kingdom 2010, Part II: Shanghai

Doesn't seem like it has much going for it at first, but...
10 July 2010:
Arrived around 7.30am, feeling rather perky despite a long night squashed behind someone's seat, vaguely hoping whoever was in it wouldn't lean back too much, crushing me in the process. A light drizzle spoiled the mood a bit, but all was fine. Metro fares vary by distance- after the flat fares of Beijing, this was quite a put-off. As usual, security was tight at the stations- nearly lost my ticket at the x-ray scanner, fumbling with
my luggage.

Johann Sebastian Bach
I wonder what Bach's doing here. Seeing this statue, I wondered if he'd been to Shanghai in his lifetime- a long long trip from Vienna, or wherever in Europe he hailed from. Or maybe the former European colonists brought it over, and the Chinese left it there so that their people could have a 3D image of how funnily ancient Europeans dressed, while thinking 'how did they ever subjugate us, looking like that?'

The dark sky, as usual, never fails to scare.
A better view of the city, obligatory river included. Rivers always provide a nice view, especially when the cityscape doesn't have much to offer. Not that I'm saying that Shanghai is ugly, of course- I'm still some distance from the older (and hence more interesting) areas.
Nice fence.
What can I say? Nice fence. Moving on...
Not my hotel, unfortunately. I don't think it's a hotel anyway.
 There was a RMB100 deposit for my hostel, which wasn't nice either. The staff spoke lousy English- not good, as once someone speaks to me in a certain language I stick to it for the rest of the relationship, unless they plan on switching first.
Not the train station.
I headed back to the train station to get a ticket for my next destination- Guilin- but my efficiency did not gel with their rules- mainly that tickets can only be purchased 5 days in advance, meaning that I'd have to return tomorrow. Sigh. However I managed to get a student ticket for the ongoing World Expo- the main reason for including Shanghai on my itinerary.
Part of the Bund. Wunderbar.
Had lunch at some random hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Lousy, but filling. I must have walked around the entire Bund, which consists of pretty buildings for tourists to gawk at, and pretend they're in Europe, when they're actually in the most densely populated country in Asia (or is that India? Bah. Like you'd be able to tell when you're there. Hey, maybe it's Singapore).

Back to the hostel- I just realized that my track pants weren't there. Must have left 'em in Beijing. Bother. Met an Australian guy- I kept thinking he was Austrian. "I get that a lot," said he. Poor chap. I imagine the more hot-blooded Aussies would love to wipe Austria off the map if they could.
This is what they like about the Japanese.
 The hostel didn't provide any soap or shampoo, so I had to buy a bottle. Shower cream with a whitening effect- to mitigate the effect of the Summer sun somewhat- though I did wonder whether my hair would slowly turn white too. Dinner at a night market just a few steps away from the hostel- a truly Asian one selling cheap food, Cornetto ice-cream knock-offs, and porno DVDs.
Giorgio Armani's lost Chinese bisexual love-child.
11 July 2010:
Day 2 in Shanghai. Immediately headed to the train station to get my ticket to Guilin. That settled, I went off for a little walk through the city- Shanghai seems to have more pockets of greenery than Beijing- like Tokyo in that respect, though it lacks Tokyo's frenetic calmness (here it's just mild chaos), amongst many other things.
Qipu Road Clothing City
Rain. Again. Sigh. I'm soaked to the bone. Tried looking for the French Concession, but ended up in the Qipu Road Clothing City. It specializes in- what else? Clothing. Several large malls, each selling nothing but clothes. That being said, 99% of it is ladies wear... I walked past one shop, and heard one salesgirl say to another 'it's rare to see a guy here alone' in Mandarin- took her by surprise, I guess. Most of the men there were reluctant boyfriends/husbands, I think. I wonder where they buy their clothes. I got 3 pairs of cheap socks to replace my soggy ones and some heavenly Portuguese egg tarts- warm and crispy, unlike the bloody weather.
French Concession
I finally made it to the French Concession. It seems like none of the young ones know about it- I finally struck gold with a middle-aged lady working at one of the Metro stations- who actually scolded her (younger) male colleague for not knowing ("What do they teach you in History, young man?" or something to that effect). Well then. The French Concession. Nice tree-lined boulevards, red brick buildings (all fancy shops), but that's about it. A nice place to stroll around, perhaps, but not in this rain...

I came across a couple arguing. Loudly. What was more interesting was the crowd gathering around them to watch- free entertainment for them. It's a Chinese thing, apparently.
Some fancy converted villa.
Night. As a protest against (so far) lousy food with large servings, I had dinner at Burger King. No free refills, sadly. Back at the hotel, I took off my socks to find that the skin on my feet were all crinkled up. Painful to walk. One big toe had some internal bleeding going on- part of the nail was dark blue. Finally, ever since the Wall in Beijing, my right leg was nearly disabled for a few days. I could walk normally, but had to lift by hand to climb up stairs and ladders. Well, just the ladders. A grimace worked for the stairs.
Queue to Queue.
Weather seemed better, so I decided to head for the Expo today. Good thing I bought my ticket in advance. The photo above shows hordes of people queuing... for another queue.
For this queue here. Devolution. Looking at this image all I can only think of cattle pens...
Don't you dare go up. Or down.
Some sort of weather tower telling the temperature. On a side note, security was tight as usual- x-ray machines, and no water bottles allowed in. Absolutely ridiculous.
Coca-Cola pavilion.

Once inside, more queues. There was actually a 4 hour queue for the Coca-Cola pavilion. Like hell if I'd wait for it, even if there was free Coke involved. I wanted to go to the Japan pavilion, but it was- get this- closed temporarily. Too popular, apparently. Sigh.
Inside the South Korean Industrial pavilion
 I went to some of the smaller pavilions, like the South Korean Industrial pavilion (as opposed to the South Korean pavilion), which featured tech like touchscreen interfaces and the like.
Carnival-like decorations.
A free ferry ride to get to the other side of the river. Transportation within the Expo grounds was all F.O.C- or already paid for along with your entry ticket, if you prefer to be cynical.
South Korean pavilion.
The South Korean pavilion, which I didn't go to. 4 hour wait to enter. Pretty building, though.
China pavilion.
That's China in the distance- a 5 hour wait. Skipped it. It's one of the buildings slated to remain permanently- most of the other pavilions will be demolished after the event.
Ramen bowl?
Um. Giant ramen bowl, I think. I was pretty hungry, but most of the food there was over-priced.
Malaysian pavilion.
That's the Malaysian pavilion in the background (the red roof). It drew quite a big of flak in the home press for looking more like a market on the inside, not to mention the bucket placed in the middle of floor to catch water from a leak in the roof- which if you ask me is characteristic of anything contracted by the government.
Will the owner of this pavilion please stand up?
Erm, intestines? I've no idea what pavilion this was. Not much of a queue, though.
Wicker basket.
Spain. I think they'd just won some football tournament, and were rather happy about it. 4 hour queue.
Porcupine UK.
The UK pavilion, otherwise known as the Porcupine. 3 hour queue. It got good reviews, so I decided to take a look.
Seed bank.
There's nothing to see on the inside except the seed bank.
Guess who's the foreigner.
And outside, a little... park (empty space) to loaf around and admire the building you spent 3 hours queuing to see. The locals I asked to help take a picture for me (not posted here) were so excited at the chance to speak with a foreigner (who knew their language) that they asked for a photo.
Don't tell me what it is. I don't want to know.
Half of a fruit from the aforementioned photographer's friend. Bitter.
Turkey Lasagna.
Turkey. It looked like lasagna, but was quite nice on the inside- as to be expected from a country that was once ruled by Greeks and Romans, and subsequently formed a respectable empire in its own right.
All I need now is a pipe.
Me in period costume- either the Czech or Slovakian pavilion. There was a female one too, which I'd have loved to try just for kicks, but would have attracted too many stares, and I chickened out.

Tiring day. If only I was someone like Cleopatra, I thought- then I'd have people to carry me around on a gold divan, and everyone would have to give way. The only downside would be the diaphanous silk gown I'd have to wear as a sort of period uniform- what I thought as I queued for the Japanese pavilion later in the day, after visiting most of the smaller ones. A wait of about 4-5 hours- I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get back to the hostel. I got in eventually, but no photography was allowed, curses- a rule which I should just have ignored, really. And the kid blowing his plastic vuvuzuela in the queue should have been arrested and shot.
You can't be serious.
13 July 2010:
Train to Hangzhou. Back in Shanghai I finally succumbed and bought an umbrella. I wanted something fancier, really, but settled on a cheap RMB10 umbrella (which didn't take long to rust). Lunch was mixed rice near the station for RMB15, rather steep, I think. I wonder if they charged me a tourist price...
Golden bull.
Hangzhou's main claim to fame is the West Lake, a large and pretty park. What else can I say about it? It was raining, I was wet- the umbrella was useless- my shoes and socks were soaked again- and in a foul mood once more. To make things worse, fog... bah. Why do I even bother?
Bridge. Don't fall off.
A bridge out to a small island in the lake.

Took my shoes and socks off and sat on a bench hopelessly hoping for them to dry somewhat, while munching on Oreos, swatting away the little bloodsucking insects with a lust for foreign blood, trying not to feel overly miserable.
Main street. Presumably.
It's actually a rather nice place to wander around for a few hours. I just wasn't feeling nice enough to do so.

14 July 2010:
Took the Metro to Gubei, and after getting lost for a bit, managed to find Fukuzen, a 2nd hand Japanese store, with help from a real estate agent (these people sure know their addresses). What did I want with a 2nd hand store, you ask?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah, lujah, lujah, jahjahjah... 2nd hand manga, still in pretty good condition. I take it that there's a sizable community of Japanese expatriates living in Gubei. Got myself some hard to find manga, a haul good enough to dispel most of the dark clouds surrounding my head, though not those further up in the sky.
Shanghai 1930 Underground Shopping Street
Back to Shanghai proper. Here, an underground mall- this is apparently what Shanghai looked like in 1930.
Mushroom soup steamboat.
15 July 2010:
Went out for a bit, got my train ticket to Guilin. Got sick- flu, fever, phlegm, headache. Went back to the hostel and slept in till dinner- which I had at a steamboat restaurant near the hostel. Steamboat here in China is a little different from that back home- you have to pay for the soup, which really counts as a dish in itself. I ordered one full of mushrooms. Lovely:)

Fish, soup, veggies. Returned the meatballs as I thought I wouldn't be able to finish it (being sick and all). Nothing like a nice warm meal. Most of the other patrons were there with friends or family- I was the only one dining by myself.
Snacks for the trip.
 Recovered, mostly. Bought some snacks for the 23 hour journey by train to Guilin. Horrible rain as I left the hostel at 11.30am. Bought a pair of fake Crocs to replace my constantly soggy shoes. Guilin in the next post, not to mention the torturous rail journey it took to get there!

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