Tuesday, March 27, 2007 China China

Shanghai: model city

Our 26 hour train journey was much more relaxing than we had expected, but we were still tired and didn't fancy going out on our first evening. The weather wasn't too good either. So we chose to chill out in our very well appointed room at the three-star Pacific Luck Hotel, making use of their complimentary broadband internet access and taking a bath in the groovy glass-walled bathroom. The only downside of the hotel was the in-house restaurant where we had an unmemorable dinner (we won't be eating dinner there again) and breakfast (which is included, so we will unfortunately be back for that one). The food was pretty bad and the service from the totally demotivated staff was half-hearted. Nay, it was no-hearted. When we came down for breakfast about two-thirds of the way through the service, we found that precisely no tables had been cleared away from previous use and made ready for new diners. The buffet stand had run out of: cutlery, glasses, plates, bowls, croissants, milk, tea and coffee. The staff did not appear to have noticed that every table needed clearing and absolutely everything on the buffet needed replenishing. Instead they were standing around chatting to each other. When we asked them if they would mind bringing out some new supplies, they did—very slowly. Sigh.

To have a break from do-it-yourself travel, we have decided to book a tour of China so that we can kick back for a couple of weeks. Our tour, booked through TravelChinaGuide.com doesn't really begin until tomorrow, so for our first day in Shanghai we had to make our own fun. After a good night's sleep we headed outside on foot.

When trying to cross the road in a new city, experience has made us cautious. There is no strategy which will guarantee success in any two cities. Shanghai is a city with proper pedestrian crossings and red/green men, but we've seen them ignored in plenty of places before. So at our first crossing point we were hesitant, and rightly so. It seems that traffic lights here are treated as advisory and vehicles cross the great expanses of tarmac at major intersections on random trajectories. Once we had sussed it out we found that the greatest chance of success at crossing the road comes from initially using the Hong Kong strategy of waiting for the green man to show; then switching to the Vietnam style of just striding out into the road slowly but deliberately, maintaining eye contact with the drivers, advancing bit-by-bit and trusting that they will avoid you. After about a ten minute walk we found ourselves at the famous Bund (the road along the waterfront), and then at Nanjing Road, Shanghai's main shopping street, and probably not unrelatedly, its main touting street.

The largest model of a city in the world. The model occupies an area of over 100 square metres and is in 1:2000 scale. [IMG_1690]
Huge model of Shanghai [Enlarge]

We decided to have a look at the Urban Planning Center on People's Square, which charts Shanghai's building progress over the last twenty years, and its plan for the next twenty. Arranged over four floors, with a hundred square metres of one floor occupied by a colossal scale model of the city—the largest urban planning model in the world—which depicts the entire area inside the ring road in 1:2000 scale as it will look in 2020. The most striking thing was the series of photos on display which show a series of streets as they were in the late 1980s or early 90s, placed next to photos of the same streets (retaken by the same photographer) in 2004. It's hard to believe that you're looking at the same city. Shanghai twenty years ago was shacks and dirt roads; today it is gleaming skyscrapers and multi-national companies.

In the museum's shop we found a small book claiming to teach the reader to recognise and understand 71 of the most common Chinese characters. Doesn't sound much, but when you realise that these characters are found all over the place, and as part of hundreds of other characters, the claim is that it will get you well on the way to being able to make sense of Chinese signs, menus etc. It looked like a great book, so we bought it. We walked through town looking for a supermarket to get a new pack of washing powder and found an Alldays convenience store where we got something that looks like hand-washing powder (we can't read the pack so we're not a hundred percent sure), and some beer and instant noodles for dinner. We were pretty sure we had identified the beer and instant noodles correctly and although the cooking instructions on the noodles were in Chinese we didn't think we would go too far wrong with adding hot water and stirring! We took the Shanghai subway back towards our hotel. It was cheap at 3 yuan each for our two-stop journey (GBP 0.20 / USD 0.39), and not too crowded.

A very strange train ride under the Huangpu River. [IMG_1698]
The Bund Tourist Tunnel, Shanghai [Enlarge]

After a tasty chilli-beef-noodle dinner in our room we decided to visit one of Shanghai's high-tech, high-rise attractions: the Jinmao tower. This is an 88-storey sky scraper like the IFC in Hong Kong, but unlike the IFC this one has an observation deck on the top floor. Yay! To get there we needed to cross the river Huangpu, so we took in the unusual alternative to the subway: the Bund Tourist Tunnel. The sober name does not give any hints as to the psychedelic and deeply disturbing experience that a ride through this tunnel entails. The journey lasts a couple of minutes, during which time you sit in your glass capsule and pass by an ever-changing sequence of coloured neon, strobes, fibre-optic fairy lights and dancing inflatable figures, while weird sounds and random words assault your ears. We most liked the words nascent magma. The price is steep at 40 yuan (GBP 2.64 / USD 5.17) for a return ticket, which probably explains why the place was bereft of locals and relatively uncontaminated by tourists too. We had no trouble getting the two seats at the front of our pod. Glenn attached the tripod to the front handrail and started clicking away with the camera. We're quite pleased with the photographic results.

The floors below are the Grand Hyatt hotel, occupying the 53rd to 87th floors. The lobby is visible at the bottom. [IMG_1710]
Looking down inside the Jinmao tower [Enlarge]

We could clearly see the Jinmao tower from the tunnel's exit (it is the fourth tallest building in the world, after all) and having marked the tunnel on the GPS so we could find our way back to it, we set off towards the tower. Again, the 70 yuan to go up to the observation deck is pricey, but we figured that we were only going to do it once. Having bought our tickets we were packed into a fifty-person express elevator which is dedicated to the observation floor, and were whisked up from the basement to the 88th floor in 45 ear-popping seconds. On the observation floor you can't get outside, but the windows all around give a pretty good view of the city below. However, the best thing is the view inside! Floors 53 to 87 of the tower are occupied by the Shanghai Grand Hyatt Hotel. The rooms are around the edge of the tower, and the centre is a huge open atrium. From floor 88 you can gaze down and see the hotel guests reading the papers and sipping their tea in the lobby lounge 35 floors below. It's really, really cool. The observation floor also has a post office, so we sent our new niece, now three months old, a postcard from the world's highest post office in terms of distance from the ground.

1 Comment:

Renewal of Heart said...

Hi Guys....we met at the Huangshan Train Station..the group of Singaporean and Malaysian?...where are you guys now?