Saturday, 13 April 2013

WOW SHANGHAI!!

Summary:

We made it to Shanghai. We have had a blast exploring the last three days. It’s
BIG! We have sent our bikes to Chengdu. We are following them now on a 31hr
sleeper train.

A bit more:

Words rung in my head as we circled above Shanghai. “I can’t think the last
time I’ve seen anyone getting a Chinese visa with no proof of onward travel.”
This from the Dunedin Airport staff as we checked in. “I”ve never heard of that
happening before,” from our travel agent Chris, after the Chinese Consulate-
General gave me a 30 minute telephone grilling me about our precise travel
plans in China, long after we had already obtained our visas. So as we looked
down on Shanghai with huge excitement for the beginnings of our journey, it was
also with some trepidation about our reception here. There is so much unknown
in this great, fascinating land!


Shanghai from the plane

So the firm sound of stamping on our passports 30 minutes later was a joyful
soundtrack to our entry! We were elated! We are in!! My glands stopped emitting
the strange odour they had been! Hello China!

Our time in Shanghai I would sum up as a time of wonderment, and of problem
solving. From the problem solving of buying our first meal in Mandarin, finding
our hostel and withdrawing money, to the greater challenge of booking our bikes
on a train to Chengdu. And there is wonderment on every corner, at the constant
stream of bicylces, scooters, taxis and buses that merge like two rivers through
the semi-controlled intersections, at the huge sprawl of apartment towers,
draped in drying washing. Wonderment at the taste of the delicious fried breads
we buy for breakfast from our alley, and at the mighty, psychedelic skyline of
Modern Shanghai/Pudong.

Fried bread breakfast in our local alley

We knew our biggest challenge in Shanghai was to get our bikes on the train
to Chengdu. So we got stuck in. And pretty quickly we got stuck! A rumoured
English-speaking counter proved elusive. We were told all sorts of things in
Mandarin. We even got a little note in Mandarin, which another office answered
with the English “Yes”. Possibly progress! But sadly we had no idea what the
original note said. With huge relief we finally found a booth titled “English
Speaking” and I promptly sat down just to look at it happily! Surely here all
difficulties will melt away! Not quite. We were met with frustration. This was
not the place for enquiries, or luggage booking. We tried some more options,
questions, gestures, streams of language we could only meet with blank stares,
and eventually turned for the half hour walk home. Not quite sure how we’ll do
it. But surely a train sorting angel will turn up! I think they’ll have to!

And yes, problem solved, there was a way! Things are often better in the
morning, and this morning, Yan appeared! A girl with wonderful English and an
amazingly helpful and realistic attitude, who appeared on the hostel reception
desk in the morning! “I think for you to send bicycles on train will be very hard.
I could write for you in Mandarin. But they will ask many questions. And staff
there are not very helpful.” Well that matched our experience! “I think you could
send them. I will find out for you.” Yan then worked hard, called, arranged,
interrogated and bargained hard, and by that afternoon we were waving off our
beloved bikes in the back of a black van. I hope not for the last time.

Exploring Shanghai together has been happy, mind-blowing fun! We’ve
seen Modern Shanghai, looking across the Huanggu River at one of the great
cityscapes of the world, architecturally mighty towers silver and gold in the
setting sun. Then crossing by ferry to walk amongst these giants, neck straining,
tops disappearing up into the night sky, lit by a thousand lights. Two Kiwis
walking among them, minds blown in wonder!

Shanghai by night

We’ve loved the Metro too. Like a time lapse video, streams of people ebb and
flow around the underground station. A swarm squeezes narrow up an escalator,
to sprawl out again at the top. Trains fly in with a rattling rush, doors slide open,
people flood out while others jostle in, the train rushes away, the escalators take
the remaining flood away, and as we watch, the bustle is gone. We’re alone again
on a brightly lit platform. Then one by one the next crowd gathers.

Navigating the metro

A good journey from east to west should start at an ocean, so we went to find
the ocean, and after some more Metro riding and some pretty funny dead end
explorations, we finally reached a spot where we could gaze out into the mouth
of the great Yangze River, where it empties into the East China Sea. We know we
were seeing only a minute section of the huge port of Shanghai, but still there
was a great bustle. Numerous ships moving to and fro. The water was brown,
and too far below me, otherwise I would have been tempted to splash my face in
this eastern sea, before we turn our faces west. Where will we next be beside the
ocean?

East China Sea, our journey begins
So now we have left Shanghai, and are on the train to Chengdu. We are thankful
for so much we have seen, and hold very happy memories of the Koala Garden
House that was our base there, the cobbled streets of our neighborhood, their
bicycle traffic and market alleys, and then all the bigness out beyond them that
we have been lucky to explore! Good bye Shanghai.

Andy is posting for Ollie and Anna while they are behind the Great Firewall of China.

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