Our shortest train journey of just 1 hour led us to the worlds biggest city, Shanghai. A city with a greater population than the whole of Australia, it is a place I have always wanted to visit after looking at pictures of its spectacular skyline. Thankfully we were staying in pretty much the centre of the central area of Shangahi at a wicked hotel called the Phoenix Hotel. Damien our Shanghai guide showed us a good place to get food as we were all starving. It was a small street vendor selling dumplings, the sort of place you wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at when walking past ordinarily, but we took onboard Damien’s recommendation and gave it a go. We paid 6 kuai (60p) for 6 dumplings which were made from the softest pastry which oozed a gravy like taste when you bit into it. We all loved it and because it was so cheap I ended up eating 9 meals there whilst in Shanghai which included the dumplings, wontons and noodles which if I spend a bit of time adding up the cost saved me a lot of money, hold on…okay so the 9 meals I ate there cost me approximately £6.90, which is a lifesaver as Shanghai in a nutshell is an expensive city in regards to eating out. I used to love eating there as it would always be the same woman at the front desk who smiled at me as she took my order, almost expecting me each morning, I’m on a train to Nanjing right now I bet she’s gutted I haven’t showed up yet.
Regardless of feeling the most tired I had felt in weeks we went on a night out on the town, although I didn’t last as long as I wanted to. First of all we went to a bar called E.S which was a really dingy, underground club that was very cool. You would never ever find it if you weren’t with a local, to get there you had to walk along a deserted street in a seemingly unpopular area of Shanghai, walk through a random steel door past a restaurant and then walk down some flights of stairs into the club. We had quite a few beers and cocktails there for some hours until we decided to move on. Our intention was to go to a club called Dada but our taxi dropped us off at a location which had a street BBQ frying the most delicious food (this was at 2am by the way) and after that I crumbled and decided to get a taxi home, Dada didn’t live up to expectations apparently, which made me feel a bit better the next morning.
It was tipping it down the next morning which was a shame but after a bit of a lay in we caught a bus to the outskirts of Shanghai to Zhujiajiao water town. With 1700 years worth of history, this ancient suburb also known as ‘pearl stream’ is the best preserved among the four ancient towns in Shanghai. Others have also recognised it as the ‘Asian Venice’ with similar canals flowing in the middle of shops and restaurants and with there being 36 wooden, stone and marble bridges joining opposite sides of the town together. I have to reiterate that whilst here the rain was torrential so unfortunately I didn’t get to take in as much of the scenery as I would of liked as with my glasses on I could barely see in front of me but from what I could see Zhujiajio is a special place in an otherwise hectic metropolis that is Shanghai. Buses to the town from Shanghai cost 12 kuai each way and can be caught from many locations in central Shanghai.
Damien had planned to take us to KTV that night but we had already embarrassed ourselves enough before so we decided against it and thought we would do something abit different by ourselves. The Chinese Super League is currently undergoing a major transformation in the footballing world with Guangzhou Evergrande signing players like Jackson Martinez and Ramires for millions of pounds. We thought seeing a CSL game would be definitely worth doing so we headed to the Hongkou stadium to watch Shanghai Shenhua play a match. We actually saw a couple of familiar faces, Demba Ba and Obafemi Martins featured, with Ba scoring a hat trick and missing a penalty. The actual game itself featured a bit of everything, including some awful Sunday league play but overall for 150 kuai (£15.50) a ticket it was really interesting to see how football In China is developing after the league having started in 2004 and with how crazy the fans are when cheering on their team. Being a western tourist I even bought a Shenhua scarf.
The next day we were much luckier with the weather, blue skies romanticised the bustling streets we walked down on our way to Yu gardens. When we arrived there it was majorly busy as today was Tomb sweeping day, a Chinese national holiday where the dead are remembered and their tombs ‘swept’ as a gesture of respect. The gardens themselves are adjacent to the city of God temple in the North East Old City. The luscious gardens display the epitome of Ming Dynasty architecture aswell as boasting various ponds, exotic plants and trees aswell as model mountains. Whilst there I tried supposedly the best dumpling in Shanghai which was a crab dumpling where you suck the juices from the dumpling through a straw, I was quite disappointed with it but I did go for the cheaper option after avoiding paying the expensive restaurant prices.
Closer to our hostel we walked through people’s park, with the sun still shining it was very uplifting to see the locals and all the children playing and enjoying the good weather in harmony. My good spirits peaked strolling around the park properly taking in the moment, a point in time I will not forget for a long while. Next we walked down Nanjing Road which is the busiest shopping road in the world. If you had money it would be the best place to get everything from jewelery to clothes. On a budget I went into the M and M sweet shop and couldn’t even afford a tube of candy. Instead I got a beer from a restaurant and we all walked from the top of the road down to the bottom swigging away. This suprised me as I thought drinking in public would be against the law in China as my impression of it before I left was that policing was strict. When I asked Damien if we were okay drinking whilst walking in the early afternoon he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘It’s China man no one cares’. After 7 weeks in China I still haven’t grasped the hypocrisy when it comes to the unspoken rules and regulations of how you should behave here. Arriving at the Bund the sun started to set over the riverbank in the former British concession, hosting a wide range of colonial architecture. We admired the sunset overlooking the colourful and distinct Shanghai skyline from a roof top bar which was awe inspiring to say the least. Sinking a couple of cans of Tiger on the way we arrived at The Vue Bar which was situated at the top of a skyscraper. You pay 100rmb (£10.50) to get to the view point, are given a complimentary drink and access to a jacuzzi overlooking the biggest man made residential area on Planet Earth. We all had an amazing night dipping our feet in the jacuzzi, chatting away, drink in hand whilst Techno and Disco played in the background.
Our last full day in Shanghai crept on us just as we were really getting into the swing of things. Getting a bus we visited the propaganda museum of Shanghai. An impressive collection of 6000 posters which can only be seen at this exhibition displaying Chinese propaganda dating from the early 1900’s, through world war 2 and during/ after the cultural revolution. I loved this underground museum as I was able to see the extreme levels the government went through to impose Marxism and communist thought on its citizens whilst criticising American imperialism.
Walking through the French concession we did a bit of shopping at TianziFang. It reminded me a lot of Camden. Narrow alleys of street food and knock off market stalls, as well as unique artisan shops. Our time in Shanghai had came to an abrupt end. We spent the evening utilising the hotels mediocre wifi to book some things in Thailand and change a couple of bookings. Our alarms were on for 5am to begin our train journey to Fujian, our penultimate stop in China.