A July 2005 trip
to Shanghai by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: We have seven weeks to travel the world without using the same method of transport twice and using 80 different methods total - www.80ways.co.uk
Not in a good way—not in the metaphorical sense that I’m gaining knowledge—but rather in that my brain is physically getting bigger whilst my skull remains the same size, resulting in a painful throbbing sensation.
It’s 38 degrees in Shanghai, we’ve just spent four hours running around in search of a ride to Guangzhou, and I seem to have eaten something that my stomach doesn’t entirely agree with.
In the absence of any other means of transport around China (the boats we hoped to take along the coast are out of action for a few months), we got a first-class sleeper from Beijing to Shanghai (since no other classes were available). We had a cabin to ourselves, with complimentary slippers, six different dials controlling everything from air-conditioning to mood lighting, and room-service meals.
The train pulled in at about 7am—a little early for my liking—and we headed across town for Captain Hostel, as recommended by our Rough Guide. Our stay in Shanghai was in the region of only 36 hours, so the priority after accommodation was transport out, our next port of call being Guangzhou, about a 1,000 miles southwest of us. With the desired boat out of action, it left only a train (another flagrant abuse of the 80 Ways theme) or a plane (a slightly more acceptable option, given that our only other flight is international).
The famous Peace Hotel was recommended not only for its pleasant rooftop terrace but also as a place to book flights, so we went there first. It was only 8am but already scorching hot (an electronic display in the hotel read 34-38 degrees C), and I was feeling sorry for myself. My head was pounding, and my stomach was churning. The concierge wasn’t open for another half-hour, so we picked up a copy of the Shanghai Daily and set about finding a quiet spot.
Thom decided we should just wander the hotel at random, and so we did. After discovering the roof garden to be closed, we instead settled for a small room on the 9th floor with some ancient-looking chairs. We made ourselves at home, moving chairs and opening curtains, put our feet up, and enjoyed the local news. A staff member did approach at one point to ask, in a slightly aggressive tone, "Can I help?", but a reply of "We’re waiting for the concierge to open" seemed to be sufficient.
I wasn’t the only one the heat was getting to, I discovered. The Shanghai Times ran a number of articles about the temperatures across the country (some of the highest in the last century, apparently), including a story reporting that a llama had fainted during an act at a local zoo and that the bears were demanding air-conditioning, else they wouldn’t perform.
Back in the hotel, the price for our flights was about 1,300 yuan each (about 150 pounds—I can’t find the ‘pound’ symbol on my Chinese keyboard). That wasn’t bargain enough for us to buy it without checking train prices first, so to our dismay, we headed back into the furnace once again.
Another metro ride took us back to Shanghai Railway Station. The intelligent traveller might have made use of arriving at said station to check train prices while he was there, but not us. We emerged from the underground right outside the station with no obvious method of entry. Walking up and down roads, the sun sapping energy with every step, we still had found no sign of an entrance. We stood in the middle of a crowded square, feeling hot and hopeless. The station was right there, but gaining access seemed all too far away.
After being rejected the first time, we got in by queuing with ‘platform tickets’, and then, having no idea where exactly tickets were sold, we were given an escort by a member of the station staff.
One of the great curiosities of China—to me, at least—is the excessive staffing. Restaurants seem to have more waiters than customers; elevators are often manned not only by people inside who push the floor button for you but also by smiling helpers who direct you to whichever lift will arrive next; and in the toilets, helpful people even point you in the direction of empty stalls. My personal favourites, however, are the traffic wardens who stand at junctions, wearing yellow jackets and wielding whistles. Just last night, I was at a crossroads with no less than three such wardens. The roads were controlled with traffic lights and crossing signals that could have been completely autonomous, but nonetheless, three luminous men kept people on the sidewalks with ferocious whistle-blowing and stopped cars that passed red lights with a vicious gaze.
So, whilst I generally regarded it as a little superfluous, I was suddenly appreciative of the Chinese overstaffing as this chap took us to the ticket office and translated for us. Not that there was much to translate—even I could have interpreted the shaking head to mean, ‘No tickets left’.
Weary from several hours of hot wandering and effortful self-pity, I was starting to feel the burn. At least we could just pick up the plane tickets, free from the guilt of an overindulgent purchase due to a lack of alternative. Our last fear—that the flight had sold out in the interim—was alleviated when the Peace Hotel man quoted us the same price, and even getting cash out (which had proved so troublesome in Beijing) proved all too easy.
Checked into our hostel, we dragged ourselves up six painful flights of stairs, where I dropped my bag, fell onto my bed, and passed out.
The actual method of transport was best described by Thom’s title of "evil henchmen shuttle pod", I think--some kind of big plastic bubble that moves along a railway track through a dark tunnel. Dark, that is, if it weren’t for the perpetual Doctor Who-like light show that keeps tourists (yes, tourists) amused throughout their journey. Weird flashing lights, space-type noises, and even the odd inflatable alien provide in-flight entertainment.
Believe me, if we could have found the ferry station, we would have taken the boat.
Anyway, the reason for our trip was to gain access to Cloud 9 – the café at the top of Shanghai’s tallest building: the Jinmao Tower.
Inside the skyscraper, there were numerous directions to various different places, but the highest place signposted was the observation deck on the 54th floor. However, we had read that this café, Cloud 9, was on the 87th floor, so we set about finding it. We found ourselves wandering a rather swanky building where a whole gang of staff would direct us to lifts and push the floor buttons for us. We had no idea where the gold elevators and marble hallways were taking us, but we tried to look like we knew what we were doing and kept on marching around.
Earlier in the day, we had made a beeline once more for the Peace Hotel. They, we were told, had a roof garden with a view from the other side of the river to the Jinmao Tower, so decided we would check it out. Outside the lobby, the hotel seemed largely deserted, which made our exploration slightly more daunting, but we found the roof garden (empty) and made ourselves at home. A few suits came in, and a waiter took our order (tea, costing more than most of our meals to date), and we once again found amusement in our situation – sipping tea in the roof garden of Shanghai’s most famous hotel.
Now, we had found our way to floor number 87, Cloud Number 9. When we read about it (in a Beijing magazine), it had sounded just like any other café. But it was more like a very exclusive restaurant. We weren’t put off, however, and decided to give it a go.
In front of us, a guy in a shirt walked in with two women. The women were taken to their seats, but the guy was accosted by a waiter who had run across the room to hand him a pair of black trousers, saying, "Would you mind changing please, sir? We do have a dress code."
I was wearing a grubby pair of 3/4-length trousers and a sweaty wife-beater vest. I was not, it is fair to say, looking my best. Miraculously, our waitress didn’t bat an eyelid at our dubious attire and sat us down at a window with a commanding view over the city.
We ordered some cocktails and a little snack and caught on camera some appropriate dialogue explaining that just because we were raising money for charity, it didn’t mean we couldn’t do it in style—right? Earlier in the trip, we had used our blagging skills to get free rides for part of our ongoing charity project; now we were using them to get cocktails.
All that was left for us to do in Shanghai now was get to the airport. We set off from our hostel with the intention of getting the metro as far as it went, then hailing a taxi. However, we had left a bit late and, seeing a cab pull up next to us, decided we’d take a car the whole way there.
Our driver quoted us a reasonable estimated price, and we set off with plenty of time to get there. We had read that a good way to avoid being taken, literally, around the houses, was to make it look as though you were paying attention, or better still, following your progress on a map. I think it was safe to say that Thom fulfilled his role in the front seat by whipping out his compass and frequently checking our bearings.
The cabby seemed to be a bit of a bad driver. I was just trying to enjoy the view in comfort from the back and get a better look at Shanghai, since we had been there for such a short time, but he kept stop-starting all the time, and it was very distracting.
His driving deteriorated further on the motorway. He kept slowing down until the engine shook, then lurching forward suddenly. I was getting seasick in a taxi.
"This guy’s a pretty shoddy driver, huh?"
Thom agreed. We thought perhaps he had developed some cunning technique of getting the meter to run up faster by changing speeds in a certain way (but then, given that the fee was only about two pounds so far, we didn’t give that theory too much thought).
"I think he’s trying to change lanes."
That was Thom’s thought. We were on a big motorway, and he did have the indicator on, so it made sense. So we followed his progress; he was still doing the same thing: the car would slow, then shake, then jerk forward as he put his foot down. It’s not uncommon to ease off a bit if you want to squeeze in a gap in the adjacent lane, but the thing is, he was doing it regardless of the presence of cars next to us. We kept watching the traffic, but his dodgy maneuvering seemed to bear no correlation to the cars around us.
"What the hell is this guy doing?"
"You think I should ask him to stop? He’s really starting to annoy me."
It was annoying. We kept being thrown about in our seats. I decided to study his face in the rearview mirror from my position in the back seat. I noticed something: Every time we started to slow down, his eyes would narrow. Eyes narrow – slow down, eyes widen, jump forward. It was like he was trying to squint at something or concentrating really hard. Something like that. Then the penny, like our driver’s eyelids, dropped:
"Shit, Thom! He’s falling asleep!!"
We had been driving along a four-lane highway for the last half-hour, making jokes about our driver’s obscure road skills when in fact, we had been forty winks away from a high-speed collision!
"Hey! Hey!" Thom shook the driver, who replied with a calm, hazy smile and brought his eyes (now open) back onto the road.
Suddenly, my adrenalin was pumping, and I was on the edge of my seat (and not as the result of our driver’s narcolepsy this time). I fixed my gaze on the reflection of his eyelids and gave a reflexive yelp every time they made so much as a blink. Thom was staring intently at him round the partition, ready to shout loudly at him or grab the steering wheel.
Suffice it to say that we made it to the airport in one piece, but my nerves were shot by the time he pulled up. We thanked him, paid him, and suggested he got some sleep.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom