Shanghai September 2002, Part One

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.

As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

After the overnight flight on which I got only 2 or 3 hours of sleep, I was barely conscious of my arrival in Shanghai. As a friend told me, Hong Qiao airport is more like a bus terminal than an airport, quite unlike the beautiful new Pudong Airport on the other side of the city. At 6:30 in the morning there just wasn’t much happening at the Hong. I caught a cab to the city, because of course the cab drivers all claimed that there wasn’t a bus to the city, even when a bus drove by right in front of me!! At least I talked them down from the ridiculous price of 380 kuai to the city, because the guide book said it was 50 kuai. But I couldn’t get less than 100. And it wasn’t even a real taxi, it was a nice van. They, the nice van guys, told me the taxis were just for short distances. Hmmm, I think I will be going back to the airport another way. Though, to tell the truth, $12 is not a horrible price to pay from an airport to the city in any country.

The day before my departure I had checked online for information a hotel which was to have dorms. Their website indicated all the types of rooms were available for Saturday. I figured since I was checking less than 24 hours before my arrival, I could safely expect them to remain available after I arrived. Still when I checked in and asked for the dorm I was told they were full. I mentioned I had checked the computer the day before, and miraculously one bed became available!! I just love that, milk the foreigners for all they are worth.

At 7:30 in the morning my room was devoid of people. I thought it odd that in a 6 bed dorm everyone was up and about so early. But maybe they are like me when I travel: early to bed and early to rise? I stayed up to get some water at the little mini store which opened at 8, and then I took a nap until 11. That felt good. Once I got up it was still cloudy but I thought I should at least go for a walk. The hotel I stay at is quite close to the Bund, the riverfront symbol of Shanghai. I somehow thought the Bund would be a bit nicer than it was, so much hype about it I suppose, but it is a rather cool place to go for a walk, because so many people are about. On one side of the Bund, the same side of the river is a main road, and many colonial buildings from the early 20th century. Grand, imposing structures that have a proud, weary, worn feel to them. On the other side, next to the busy brown waterway, is the modern New Pudong area, with a huge pink needle like skyscraper, a building with two glass globes flanking it, and several more shiny new tall buildings. So the Bund seems to flank both the “old” and the new in Shanghai, kind of a walkway between them? Really cool. Today I took a picture of a set of quadruplets dressed identically and wearing funny masks. They were maybe 3 years old and so cute. I am a bit surprised by people’s reaction to me, they still stare. I thought since this is Shanghai and many foreigners live here, that there wouldn’t be much staring, but I am a celebrity again!! I even noticed a few people taking pictures of me when I walked by. But I thought it was kind of funny when I stopped to check in my bag and then was on my way again, and a group of young women became frantic because they hadn’t gotten their camera out in time. Just the day before, an old man and a little Chinese girl had stopped in front of a huge Soviet-style statue and it was such a perfect picture, I was fumbling about for MY camera, but wasn’t quick enough!! I was stopped by several people today to chat and for them to introduce themselves and practice English. One guy asks if he could accompany me all day and show me around. I politely told him that I prefer to sightsee on my own. And thankfully he accepted that. I have had others in Tunisia, Italy, and Paris who would not believe me when I said that, and I was followed for hours….. But not here, not yet.

When I stopped to talk to the first guy who introduced himself to me, and then three children hung around to try and listen in and demand I speak Chinese (which I tried!), of course a few people would stop and watch the spectacle. And when I stopped to take a picture of the four identically dressed boys (all in pink!) with the funny Groucho Marx glasses on, we became a circus act in ourselves. The parents beaming that a foreigner wanted to take pictures of their children, the children unable to all have their glasses and stand still at one time, and myself trying to take the picture. A regular three ring circus it was. I managed to extricate myself from the circus and still the crowd was forming, because it seems in China when a small group of people begins to form, others cannot help but go and see what is happening too, so even after there is little to see, the crowd continues to grow.

Yesterday, I took a walk down Nanjing Lu, the main shopping drag of Shanghai. I stopped in and got a bad manicure and pedicure, but the most incredible foot massage ever! I think the pedicure was so bad, because normally they only give it to men. So my toe nails were at a rather longish length and I just wanted them cut nicely and some polish on them. They are sooooo short now, men’s length! And the polish, ugh! It was somewhat amusing to watch the man trying to put polish on my toe nails (especially as they were so short!). A woman working there saw how it was putting the polish on and told him to move and let her do it because he was doing a bad job. But she didn’t do all that great either. But the experience was worth it. The nails will grow back.

The hotel I am staying at is the Pujiang Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Shanghai, and what used to be one of the most posh It used to be called the Astor Hotel and then Richard’s Hotel, and the likes of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Einstein, and other celebrities stayed here. Now it is the location of some of the cheapest accommodation in the city. It still has the high ceilings and imposing rooms, but all are a bit worn for wear. It has a neglected feel and seems dark and tired, but it is also kind of cool. I wonder if Einstein stayed in my room? Though I have a feeling that it was the billiards room, because the light on the ceiling has that look about it. It has what used to be a fireplace, as well as a small alcove that can be closed off, which to me speaks of a small smoking room or gambling room off the billiards area. But I could be wrong, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll just think of it has the former billiards room anyway.

Ah, but what craziness my room is! Yesterday when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning, no one is there. Then at 7:30 pm when I returned, the others are sleeping. I was annoyed because I wanted to take a shower, but a pair of pants was floating in the bathtub. But I think, well, they ARE early to sleep, early to rise people. I am just going to go and do a little email, and then I will go to sleep early. But after email, I watched the Fellowship of the Ring in the bar, and went back to the room at half past ten, which had then become a flurry of activity! All the rest of the room members are women from Mongolia, and hard partiers from the look of it! They were all getting ready to go out, putting on make-up, in all states of undress/dress, and yakking up a storm!! They were talking so loud. The television was blaring. One girl in her bed chattering away on the phone, and almost as soon as she would hang up, someone would call again. I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep right away, so I started to write in my journal. After half an hour though, my eyes were getting too heavy. I put my stuff away, and lay down, but the yakking did not stop! They even turned to me and told me sorry, they would be off soon, and then returned to talking to each other at the top of their lungs. Mongolian to me sounds like a cross between Korean and Russian, which isn’t all that surprising, but of course I did not understand a thing. But I didn’t care; I just wanted them to talk quietly. Half an hour later they will still going strong and I was about to scream. I asked them if they were going out, and they said in two minutes, sorry, and off they went again using up oxygen as though it were in short supply. About 20 minutes later they finally left. Though one girl arrived back at 5:30 in the morning and stomped about in her high heels as loud as she could, back and forth, back and forth across the room.  I cannot help but hope these women check out tomorrow.

Today I took the psychedelic Bund tourist tunnel under the Huangpu River to the New Pudong area and checked out a mostly empty mall and the Shanghai aquarium. The aquarium was really, really good. In my opinion it is much better than the one in Singapore, which really surprised me. Especially as the Shanghai one mentions conservation, while the Singapore does not. Yeah, China!

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