shanghai - Where's Byrne?


09.02.2012 – 15.02.2012 Cloudy/Rainy 10 °C

A number three bus in the High Street of Macau got us to the ferry port for $3 where we hopped on a ferry to Kowloon for $139 each (approx £14). A super quick ride across the water and two last Portuguese Tarts later, we were back in Hong Kong. Walking down Nathan Road and along the harbour for 15 minutes we got to Hung Hom, where we were due to catch the T100, 15:15 train to Shanghai. We’d bought the tickets a few days earlier for $454 each (£37) so just had to turn up at the right place. Having waited around until the Chinese decided to board us (15:10) we jumped on and headed towards our new home for the next twenty hours. A fucking awful crypt was the discovery. Within our cabin were six beds, two lower, two middle and two upper and we had the two upper and they weren’t joking when they described them as ‘upper’. The four polite but coughing and spitting Chinese people below us were split into two two’s with two of them sitting quite rightly on their two bottom beds but the 2 in the middle grabbing the only two pull down seats in the corridor outside our cabin. This left us with nowhere to even stand, let alone sit meaning we had to jump up to our beds and stay there. Although comfortable for a nights sleep, you don’t want to spend more time in them than you have to and so I wouldn’t recommend these unless they are just a ten-hour journey maximum overnight.

Waking the next morning we were nearly in Shanghai, although we were an hour later than our scheduled arrival. We packed up and said goodbye to the borrowers below us and went to explore the massive city. Nightmare. Coming through immigration (crossing Hong Kong to China you get your exit stamp upon leaving Hung Hom and your Chinese arrival stamp exiting Shanghai Railway Station) we walked out into the vast concrete square outside the main station and were lost. Everything, and I mean everything, was in symbols. A stand selling newspapers was nearby so we went to see if we could buy a map but alas, they only had ones in Mandarin. Helpful, if I could read Mandarin I wouldn’t need a bloody map! The same thing happened with the next two street sellers we approached and spoke to, what I can only presume was tourist information – didn’t prove fruitful either, with none of the staff speaking a word of English. We took shelter from the sleeting weather and blistering wind, in another McDonald’s where we grabbed a coffee, pointing to the helpful A3 menu they offer to foreigners to order. We whipped out the netbook to see if we could track down a hostel via the internet but there were no wireless signals around. Damn you greedy Asian Maccy D’s. Next we attempted walking around a small ropey shopping centre in the hope we could find something useful, a map, Wi-Fi, anything. Nothing. With that I suggested jumping on the underground of which it’s entrances protruded from the concrete square outside the main station. The underground map was all in Mandarin too and I was beginning to curse my stubborn attitude for not buying a phrasebook, map or something similar beforehand. Their map looked a bit like London’s with a blue line being the circle. We were on the north edge of the circle so we bought tickets to the stop in the centre, four stations below us. To the trains! We got shoved on to our train, something we were not used to on the MTR in Hong Kong and looked for our stop, using the first symbol as reference, when I noticed a map of this line was in both English and Mandarin. We were heading for station; Peoples Square which I liked the sound of. Something rang home and reminded me maybe of, Trafalgar Square which would equal tourists and food and places to stay. We jumped off and noticed a McCafe (they are so convenient) which we paused in to warm up from the now snowing weather outside. Out came the netbook again and hallelujah, an unsecured Wi-Fi connection (thanks Marriott Hotels). First up, the exchange rate – we’d been so busy in Macau and Hong Kong we realised we’d done absolutely no planning at all and didn’t even know how many Yuan to the Pound (Yuan is now 10 to the £ so Y1 is 10p – easy!). Next up, Top result, the Phoenix Hostel, great reviews, cheap, and by complete luck it was 10 minutes walk from Peoples Square Station. Into the sleet and snow we walked finding it with relative ease and booked in for five nights in a dorm at Y55 each (£5.50). Sorted. It was warm with a restaurant downstairs, a bar on the roof and a steaming hot shower which was the first thing I used as we got into our dorm. That day was a write off, sitting in the restaurant, eating the surprisingly better than expected food and drinking pots of green tea for 50p a throw from traditional Chinese blue and white pottery.

After a quick kip and one too many Tsing Tao beers at dinner (£1 for a 600ml bottle served at frozen temperatures) we headed to the rooftop bar and met Fly, the 21-year-old manager who proceeded to teach us some basic Chinese – we needed it. A few more beers later we suggested going out, it was Friday night and so we asked Fly if he wanted to be our guide on the beer up, he duly agreed and left the bar in the hands of an attractive female assistant. We pulled up in our taxi outside a right plush establishment. An elevator up to the first floor and into the queue we went. As we got to the front we were asked if we had a reservation, after being looked up and down by the slim but ugly Chinese bird with a clipboard on the door. Me and B looked like, well, backpackers. Me in my jeans and jumper and B in her black Bench coat, tights and blue shoes, £4 from Primark. ‘No’ we said and were directed to the ticket counter where a big sign read Y100 entrance. Y100? That’s a tenner! Sod that we said to Fly and left. We couldn’t afford £30 without even having a drink. The next place we walked in and out because it was dead but the third place we thought was acceptable. Free to get in, although they were playing YMCA as we entered. Looking at the menu it read Y48 for half a pint and Y80 for a cocktail, we embarrassingly admitted to Fly that it was too rich for us, we couldn’t afford to pay those kind of prices, especially as we were buying for three. It was now 1am ish anyway and we decided to call it a night. As we walked out the song changed to the macarena and so we stuck by the decision to go to bed.

Next day we were up and out early considering our late night (yawn) and headed out to see what was on our doorstep. After buying a scarf for me and yet another McDonald’s coffee (where are all the coffee sellers in China?) we ended up back at the Rooftop Bar in the evening and was approached by a fella called Henry. English, from Dorset, we got on well and he asked if we’d like to tag along with him to a bar on the other side of the river that divides Shanghai called Shiva, which was pretty funky. Drinks were again at Y48 so we just swallowed it and done about £50 throughout the night but including the taxis and a bit of Tesco Express grub (yes, Tesco’s even have an express in China) which B had to buy as I was at bursting point for a piss. With no toilets available inside Tesco’s I had to go up a wall next to Tesco’s. This time though, I didn’t get cautioned by the Police for urinating in a public place and fined £80 as I did when I was 16 back in England. True story.

Hungover in the morning but able to comprehend basic instructions we got up and headed out again with Henry looking for a great Noodle Bar and a Tea House he’d seen the day before. We didn’t find the Noodle Bar but I did get a coat from Nanjing Road for £10 and we also found a tea house, but not the tea house he was looking for. This was a strange experience. You go in, you sit down on stools fit for children and they point to different tea leaves until you say which one you’d like to try. Henry seemed a bit of a tea master with his tea ramblings and mentioned he was into Tai Chi so I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy the ride. A whole process of making tea then unfolded before us. The polite Chinese woman got some boiling water and stuck it in a small teapot with no spout but with the tea leaves in, left it for fifteen seconds or so, poured it into another pot, before pouring it into a small glass teapot and serving it in what I can only describe as an upside down thimble. If it wasn’t so hot it wouldn’t even be a mouthful I don’t think. This process repeated three times with different teas but it was all a bit lost on me really with one of them tasting OK at best, the other two whilst not tasting unpleasant, you wouldn’t catch me drinking them with my corn flakes. This tea making process also included pouring hot water over a ‘tea pet’ for luck. Henry then said, usually you don’t pay for the tasting but you’re expected to buy something. With that I looked round to see a right load of expensive shit I neither wanted nor had any intention of buying. Even if I could have bought some stuff as gifts (we couldn’t because of extra weight and baggage) I don’t know of anyone who would want anything from this shop. Brilliant. After the tasting the Chinese woman asked B, Henry and I if we would like to buy any of the tea to which I shook my head. The formally polite Chinese woman now had a face like thunder. I also felt guilty so asked B to find the cheapest thing in there which was a tea pet of a squirrel. A tea pet is a little ornament they have on the tea-tray which has boiled water poured over it before the tea’s served, apparently. Y15. I begrudgingly and embarrassingly handed over the £1.50 and left but she was not happy. Won’t be doing that again. Why don’t they just charge for the tasting? Henry added you can go into any tea place and they will sit you down for a free tasting – give it a go when you’re next in China. On our way home we bought our tickets to Xi’an where the Terracotta Warriors are for three days time. It occurred to us, we’d been in Shanghai two full days but hadn’t done anything of note yet… better get cracking.

Shanghai Spring Tour Hop On, Hop Off Bus. Throughout the few days there we’d seen plenty of sightseeing open top buses driving around and thought it would be a good idea to blitz Shanghai’s sights. I’d never taken an open top bus anywhere before and was looking forward to it, only problem was, we couldn’t find where the pick up points were. Looking on the net (where would we be without the internet? France, probably) we found out there was a stop for the buses behind Peoples Square, near where we were staying. The ticket was £30 each, which was bloody steep in my opinion but I would have paid it. The bus company throw in entrance to Madame Tussaud’s (yawn) and a ticket to get you to the top of the Jin Mao Tower so we gingerly accepted the price. Walking round the back of Peoples Square, we saw a sightseeing bus so we followed it for five minutes or so (the bus hit a lot of traffic) and it eventually stopped to pick up passengers. As we approached we got jumped on by two Chinese men loudly talking at us, trying to sell us a ticket. We didn’t understand a word they were saying so one of the bright sparks grabs a leaflet all in English for us which explains brilliantly what you get. Two routes, red and green, circle Shanghai all day between 9am and 5:30pm. You get 24 hours to hop on and off. Great. The price; £3. Me and B looked at each other thinking it said £30 on the net? Had we got it wrong? We jumped on anyway, happy as sandboys (and girl) when we promptly overtook another sightseeing bus from a different company, the Big Bus Tour and realised we’d jumped on a competitor; Spring Tours. What a touch. Much rather pay £3 and sod bloody Madame Tussaud’s – who I never realised had so many places around the world, and the Jin Mao Tower we can do off our own backs.

Firstly we decided to sit on the bus for a complete trip to see what we wanted to get off and look at and what we didn’t. Good strategy as about half the stops were literally just stops. An hour and a half freezing our nuts off on the top deck sitting through one complete route, we sat tight and waited for it to go again eventually hopping off at Nanjing Street. By this time I was starving having missed breakfast and we were frozen from the bus so we returned to good old trusty McDonald’s once again for coffee and a Big Mac. Crime to eat this crap in a place where the food is so unbelievably good but we didn’t have time to go searching for a decent local spot. A full walk of Nanjing Street, warm from the coffee and a take away Mister Donut (which I make no apologies for) we walked back to get on the bus, which by complete chance, was sitting right where we got off. Sweet. Next stop; The Bund.

The Bund, I think, is Shanghai’s financial district although this is only my take. It’s a stretch of road along the Pudong River with some buildings London would be proud of, some of which were the Gold Exchange and what looked like their Stock Exchange, various banks and a couple of huge posh hotels. It starts with a big triangular statute, many floors in height and ends roughly, with a big brass bull, made by the same guy who designed the one in Wall Street. There are some nice shops and cafés there, the sightseeing tunnel and the ferry crossing point too. The sightseeing tunnel we decided against after reading Wikitravel’s review on it saying how tacky it was. Y60 return per person too when the ferry is Y2 each. This would also mess up our bus trips as the other side of the river was the green route and we hadn’t finished the red route yet. We continued walking along The Bund until we reached Yuyuan Garden, a group of traditional Chinese buildings full of shops, cafés, restaurants, markets and street sellers. The buildings though looked far too new and were obviously constructed in the last twenty years but were nice all the same. Walking along the road next to the market, our bus pulled up! Brilliant. On we climbed again and this time got off at the site of the First Chinese Communist Party, which has been renovated and stuffed full of posh cafés and wine bars. A shopping mall with a cinema had also been built there along with a garden area complete with lake. Great place to stop for lunch although we were still full so didn’t, but brilliant how all the retailers have been forced to keep in with the theme of the area. Walking around the lake there were various car showrooms including Rolls Royce and Lamborghini with some guy taking a Burton for a test drive which shot past us. The first time all day we had to wait for our bus, it turned up twenty minutes later and it was getting cold again. We then circled back to Peoples Square and got on the single-decker bus that covered the green route, getting off at the Pearl Tower. There are only four stops on this route and all pretty close together so we figured we could walk between them. It was knocking on 4pm now too and so we decided that was our last bus trip for the day and that we’d get the ferry back after a bit of dinner. The Pearl Tower was a bit tacky for me. It looks impressive from The Bund and is a welcome addition to the Shanghai skyline but up close, the reds, whites and other colours remind me of a rusty old structure from Total Recall. We decided not to go up it after seeing the Y180 (£18) price each. The Aquarium is next-door too but this was closing. Dinner time. Being around that area we were never going to find a local spot so decided to give one of the Chinese ‘chain’ type places a go. The result was surprising. A fantastic beef noodle dish and a beer went down too well and I was pleased with the Y30 price. After dinner it turned dark and started raining and so we questioned the walk to the Jin Mao Tower as despite being right next to us, it wasn’t easy to find the entrance in the rain. Dripping from the rain we walked in ready to go up to the observation deck on floor eighty-eight but again, the price was a stumbling block. Y120 each (£12). Lucky for me B is a tight old buggar too and so we decided they could poke their eighty-eighth floor for £12 and left. What can you see in the pissing rain from the eighty-eighth floor of a building in Shanghai anyway? Arguably should have done this, but definitely no regrets about the Pearl. Wet and tired we called time on our day and headed for the river to get the ferry which was great. Y2 and ten minutes and you’re back on the other side. As we entered the Phoenix it was past 9pm and so we headed for bed exhausted after covering over ten miles.

Next day was Valentines, a pointless celebration created to con us out of as much money as possible but most women love it and so must men. If you’re in a relationship you’re supposed to go out and buy shit for your other half and if you’re a single girl you’re usually depressed, but for single blokes it’s the best time of the year to pull. I shouldn’t moan too much – Valentines has been good to me over the years. Luckily, B isn’t high maintenance and was happy with the bar of Dove (Galaxy in China) I bought her.

Maglev. I’d read about the Maglev (magnetic levitating) Train going from Pudong Airport to central Shanghai and was intrigued so we decided to take a trip to the airport on it. Y50 a ticket is quite steep considering you’d only pay Y5 max to take the tube but it does only takes seven minutes and reaches speeds of 431kph (268mph). To be honest, it was scary. Within two minutes we were doing 250 miles an hour floating on an elevated monorail track using magnets, with no barriers or visible safety measures. It was pretty remarkable I’d just gone faster than a F1 car in a train yet hadn’t touched the earth. Verdict: $1.2b well spent and worth a ride.

We spent the rest of the day planning our assault on Xi’an, our next destination and went out to the local of local places for dumplings and broth for Valentines dinner (Y18).

Verdict: Shanghai was fantastic, my second favourite place to Hong Kong so far. Loads to do and see, great food, the people are pretty friendly and the girls are gorgeous.

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