Welcome to China!

Finally we say goodbye to Delhi and board our flight to Shanghai. What a mission it has been, a month has flown by; but though it’s sad to leave this country behind with so many places unexplored we’re also glad to be going to a new destination.

At Shanghai we’re greeted by a pristine airport: modern, organized, hi-tech; immigration clearance is quick and painless… pretty much like in Delhi’s Terminal3, but we know not to let the facade of a modern airport terminal set our expectations for what is beyond don’t we. The one thing that does stay with me though is that at the immigration desks there is a little device with a series of buttons, inviting me to rate whether the service I received was [Satisfactory]<-[..]-[..]-[..]->[Disappointing]. This is something I’ll be seeing at various other state run facilities, e.g. train station etc. Excellent idea 🙂

Ebru’s brother Sava$ and his colleague Tong collect us and chauffeur us back to Sava$’s apartment in a leather-upholstered car, air conditioned and smelling of new rubber, leather and cockpit spray. I wonder what we must smell like.

What we see beyond the airport terminal blows us away! The Chinese have been very busy indeed and I’d urge anybody back in the West who’s under the impression they live in modern cities to come over here and have a look at this: roads so flat and fresh they look like icing on a cake, clear street signs on every corner in Chinese and English (for the most part), modern motorway signs indicating congestion levels in colour coded LED, clean taxis at modest rates, hybrid/electric buses running off overhead power lines, a pristine subway system at minimal cost, electric scooters that swish by you silently as you walk the streets…    Well built apartments, water saving toilets, hybrid wall power sockets allowing use of three plug types without need for an adapter… Stunning skyscrapers, well restored/preserved historical architecture, temples, gardens, lakes, trees, plants, huge LED cinema screens on buildings, lights, lasers…. and they extinguish after 23:00 at night to let the population sleep, alleviate light pollution and save energy.

And the item I probably enjoyed the most: signs above the urinals in the public toilet saying “One small step forward.. One big step for civilization”  ROTFL 😀

For a week we stay at Sava$’s flat in a complex called Top of the City. It’s right in the centre of the city and close to all major attractions there so it’s perfect. We spend our days buzzing around, familiarising ourselves with the city. It’s a feast for the eyes: aside from all the modern department stores and interesting little gadget shops there’s an alley full of pet stores; they sell only animals there, dogs, cats, rabbits, but also tortoises, turtles, lizards, snakes, fish – you name it. I say they’re pet stores as I assume they’re not for consumption. 😉 And then another alley is awash with stores that sell crickets! Hundreds of little perspex boxes with crickets of every size and description, and little cages to place them in so that come nightfall, they will chirp you a pretty coutryside tune while you’re relaxing on your 15th-floor perch in the concrete jungle after a hard day’s work.

Some definite highlights are visit the Jade Buddha temple – massive wooden beams and meticulously crafted ornamentation and cast iron incense burners big enough to consume a person. A must see! And a walk through the streets around Dongjiadu silk and textile market where aside from countless silk and textile sellers, the buzzing narrow streets are lined with small seafood vendors, displaying an endless selection live culinary ocean treasures in cooler boxes along the pavement. If I lived I Shanghai I think I’d probably choose here. Oh and there’s a block in the city where the all the building are old style chinese, full of little shops where you can buy all sorts of interesting things from clothing to musical instruments. At this place we enter a restaurant – more like a food hall – which you could spend an entire week’s in,eating! The counters are lined with row upon row of beautiful dishes, seafood, red and white meats, vegetables, eggs, soups – it’s hard to explain. You pick up a tray and walk down the counter for 10 minutes wanting to pick up every second plate or bowl because everything looks so damn good! But each dish is a good fill for one person. WOW!

Although very impressive, one thing we quickly realize is that Shanghai is also very expensive. Not a good place for a backpacker to hang around if s/he wants to make the budget last! A cup of coffee in a coffee shop around 30RMB (£3); a trolly of groceries in a supermarket (think of whatever you’d buy at home in Tescos) about 700RMB (£70), a meal + beer in a mainstream restaurant somwhere around 100RMB (10£). Of course there are smaller local places where things are significantly cheaper but most of the places in the centre here seem to cater for city folk with an affinity for fashion, glamour, and ultimately money.

The weather report for the Philippines talks about monsoon rains we decide since to cancel that part of the trip and go to Beijing instead. After India we’ve had enough rain for a while. Two days later we’ll be at Shanghai HongQuiao station and wondering whether we’ve ended up in an airport terminal.