We knew something was wrong when the conductor came on board the subway car blowing his whistle and motioning everyone to get off. Standing on the platform, we tried to decipher where we were, located our destination on the Metro diagram, and soberly realized we were at least 20 stops from it. While pitifully figuring out how to backtrack, a friendly woman repeatedly pointed to the platform on the other side of the terminal, and we finally realized she meant we should go there. Humping our way down the steps, under the platform, and up the other side, we waited for the subway, tired after a day of wandering on a couple of misguided adventures.
Waking early, we headed out to take the elevator to the top of the third tallest building in the world, only to discover upon arriving that the building was closed. Then we went next door to see the brand new tallest building in the world, and discovered that it wasn’t opening for another few weeks. We figured it was time for Plan B.
We took the Metro out to the suburbs to go shopping, at an obscure out of the way mall recommended by a friend. We found the discount pearl shop, stocked up on some great deals, but then spent too much time trying to find the discount eyeglass shop, which didn’t seem to exist where it was supposed to be – like a bad episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’.
This was followed by a rather frustrating taxi ride back, when we explained to the driver that we wanted to return to the Metro stop. ‘METRO’ we pronounced slowly, enunciating every vowel and inflecting each syllable slightly different, while my hand produced a hopeful diving motion to indicate underground. Mattering little, the driver finally called his friend, who also did not speak English. My wife bravely tried and miserably failed in her attempts to describe our destination, her failed conversation emphasized with a continual rolling of her eyes.
Just when we ready to exit and try our luck with another taxi, my wife found a crumpled Metro map under the seat. Triumphantly, she leaned over the seat with the map, jabbing at the subway stop, while repeating - ‘metro, metro.’ Miraculously, the driver began exclaiming ‘Metro’, ‘Metro’, - perhaps this is how a new parent feels when your newborn says ‘momma’ or ‘dada’ for the first time. Executing a perfect Mario Andretti U-turn in the middle of the street, he kept drumming his wheel and grinning. ‘Metro, metro’ he kept saying, as if neglecting to reiterate would cause a relapse and he would forget where he was going. In the back seat, we both marveled at the magical, neglected synapse that suddenly fired off in his brain – sometimes you just have to shake your head.
Shanghai is one of the most amazing destinations in the world. Home to thirteen million people, it is surprisingly the third largest city in the world. It has historical sites, the best shopping, skyscraper punctuated skylines, top of the line, free museums, colorful old neighborhoods, a splendid waterfront promenade, an exciting high-speed train, and efficient transportation. A curious and intriguing blend of old and new China, this is one of the most famous and entertaining cities we’ve visited.
If you have only one week to spend in China, spend it here. It would appear to be the most prosperous city we’ve visited so far. This folks, is a boom town, with construction everywhere, a brand spanking new luxurious airport, malls on every block chock full of shoppers, and festive pedestrian streets that go for miles. All through China, you see prosperity, but in Shanghai, it is taken to a new level. Still, we are the only Westerners around. In Shanghai, the great well to do middle class of China roams the streets, affluent shoppers with money to spend.
When we looked out from our hotel room, in all directions there was ongoing construction, more so than any other Chinese city we’ve been to so far, with dozens of skyscrapers in the process of rising in the air. Our hotel, the Sheraton Pudong, was on the East side of the Huangpu River, the newer and more modern section of Shanghai, conveniently located fifty feet from a metro stop, where everything seemed to have been built within the last five years.. There are many things to do in this city, but number one on everyone’s list would be shopping.
There are three levels of shopping in this city. The high end, with Armani, Rolex, and Gucci all melded together in a smattering of highbrow malls. The middle shopping level with legitimate Western name brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Timberland. Finally, the locally owned and low-end very cheap malls – places where you buy fake Clark shoes, darned good Rolex copies, and mass-produced Gucci handbags. Tucked away off the main roads, these low-end malls deal in counterfeit DVD’s, and copy and sell anything and everything.
We bought two nice Rolex watches for seventy bucks, a couple of Louis Vuitton purses, and a knock off pair of Clark shoes. Honestly, merchandise here is so cheap, it’s probably less expensive to book an airline ticket to Shanghai, spend a few thousand dollars, and fly home. You will end up with more good things at less cost than if you bought back in the states.
When we purchased our Rolex, we were given the card of a reputable ‘dealer’ from the manager of one of the hotels we stayed at. Tracking him down took a little bit of doing, but when we did, he led us into his secret back room behind a rack of clothes, where he unscrewed a section of sheetrock and uncovered his stash of grade ‘A’ watches locked in aluminum boxes. Evidently, precautions need to be taken, as the police do make occasional raids on merchants selling counterfeit goods. Knowing what to pay, we quickly got down to business and went through his surprisingly large selection, a who’s who of high-grade watches – Breitling, Omega, Tag Heuer, Piaget - finally settling on a nice set of his and her gold Rolexes. Why not?
Where to begin in Shanghai? Walk along the Bund, the historic waterfront promenade that separates old colonial buildings from the Huangpu River, and which historically served as a levee against the floodwaters of the surging river. Stick your head into many of the neoclassical brick buildings that front the river and feel transported back in time. Stroll along pedestrian East Nanjing Street, past every imaginable name brand shop, and wander down the side alleys where local merchants ply their wares. Sample the infinite variety of food, including my favorite, those squares of sweetly barbequed pork sold at a couple of outdoor stands on Nanjing Road. Even now, I can close my eyes and smell these greasy grids.
Stop by People’s Square, visit the wonderful Shanghai Museum, and the small but very impressive Shanghai Art Museum. Visit Yuyuan Gardens, Confucian Temple, the Jade Buddha Temple, and Jing’An Temple, set effortlessly amid modern Shanghai. Ride the subway to 50 Mogershan Road, a haven for local artists living and working in converted textile factories. Take a quick trip up Jinmao Tower, the world’s third tallest structure, and gaze upon the new Financial Building right next door, soon to be the tallest skyscraper in the world.
Hop on the hi tech magnetic train to the new Pudong International Airport, reaching a top speed of 260 mph in the 8 minute thrill a minute ride. Walk at night among the neon lights along Nanjing Road and enjoy the balmy evenings with thousands of other visitors. Wander through the French Concession and window shop at the endless array of shops lining the avenues. There is so much to see and do and breathe in Shanghai that a week is not enough time to do it justice. We absolutely loved it, and were busy every single day from early morning to late at night. This is a city not to be missed.
From here, we take an overnight train to Xian, home to the world famous terra cotta warriors. We’ll stay in Xian for maybe a week, and take a brief side trip to the sacred mountains of Huan Sha, before finishing with an overnight train to Beijing. Every now and then, you have a few hiccups in your plan, but for the most part, we have had little to complain about while traveling through China.
Forewarned by many that traversing China is a frustrating experience, we would disagree, and counter that negotiating the transportation network in China is much easier than you think. Just be patient and keep asking around – eventually someone will speak English. Despite some lapses in patience over certain personal habits of the population, we have had many more good days than bad. Just continue to smile and remember that some days are better than others.