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Shanghaied

January 11, 2017

We stSONY DSCarted our new year in Shanghai, China. For everyone but Michael this was our first time in China and none of us had ever been to Shanghai before. We arrived at the airport around eleven and followed the signs for the 144 Hour Transit Visa desk. There were only a couple of people in front of us, but the process took quite a while for all five of us. Kira had all of the papers ready and kept things moving, but it was long enough that all of our bags were waiting for us when we finished with immigration. China (or at least Shanghai) has a “nothing to declare line” for customs and we just walked through without stopping. Kira had made us reservations for brunch at the Shanghai Westin Hotel, which in addition to amazing food “includes a DJ, dancers, acrobats, electronic wired musicians and much more.” Unfortunately we had been delayed enough that making our reservation was not going to be possible. We debated just going late to the brunch, but in the end we shrugged it off and made our way to the J.W. Marriott Hotel, our residence for the next two nights. Shanghai boasts a Maglev train and we were tempted to use this to get to our hotel, but we would need to transfer to the metro later on. We decided to take a single train on the metro straight from the airport. Kira traded in some of our Yen for Yuan and we bought tickets for each of us to ride the train. The tickets they use are a small piece of plastic that look like the phone cards which used to be ubiquitous in Japan.

My first impressions of China and Shanghai come from that Metro ride. I immediately started making comparisons with the Tokyo Metro and between the Shanghai metro riders and the Tokyo metro riders. The first large difference is that you pass through a metal detector and bags are X-rayed as you enter the platform. The passengers on this train were much more animated than those on the quiet Tokyo trains. I found myself thinking that the Chinese people seemed a lot more like Americans on vacation than Japanese commuters. Of course people are different all over the world, but 95% of my train riding experience is in Japan so it is what I have as a baseline.

We ended up having to change trains after a few stops. We stayed on the same train line, but the train emptied out and we switched from a mostly empty train with seats to a packed train struggling to hold onto our suitcases. The train ride was about forty-five minutes, but it put us out in the People’s Square which was a two minute walk from our hotel. We checked in to one of our rooms (the other was not ready yet), ate lunch at the hotel restaurant, and then set out to explore Shanghai.

In Shanghai the place to go is the Bund. It is a walkway along the Huangpu river filled with posh hotels and an amazing view of the Pudong Skyline (Pudong is a district in Shanghai). And all of the guide books say that the best way to get from People’s Square to the Bund is to walk along East Nanjing Road. Which is a pedestrian road for a short section and is lined with fancy shops like a giant Apple Store, the Shanghai No. 1 Department store, and M&M World.

East Nanjing Road became more and more crowded the further in we traveled. And it was further than we expected. The wide pedestrian boulevard became an actual street with cars on it, but the same number of people were squeezing onto the side walks. Feeling a little overwhelmed, we all agreed to meet back at the hotel if we got lost in the flowing river of people. I don’t know if this was just Sunday in Shanghai or if it was crowded because of the New Year holiday, but there were platoons of police (soldiers?) on site to manage the crowds. The traffic lights at crosswalks were sometimes adhered to, sometimes not, but when they really wanted people to stop the police would form a phalanx and block the intersection, when the light changed or there was a break in the traffic they would step back to let people through.

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After a much longer walk than we anticipated, we reached the Bund still together. The Bund was crowded too, but seemed open compared to Nanjing Road. The plan had been to walk up and down the river a little way, but we were getting tired. Instead we enjoyed the view of Pudong, took some pictures and then started back towards our hotel on side streets.

The walk back was much more pleasant and included the surprise of stumbling upon the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore. I was able to appreciate my surroundings more on the return trip and it was interesting to see so much western architecture. We took a mostly straight path back to the hotel stopping on the edge of People’s Square for a snack (some potato thing on a stick). Like many parks in large cities, People’s Square has a homeless population and, as tourists, we stuck out as sources of income. It was an odd interruption into our evening to have panhandlers come up to us and almost insist on a handout. It was only a couple, but one woman patted my pockets to see what money I might have and then spit at me when I refused to give anything. I don’t claim to know what the right thing to do here is, but I am pretty sure if you spit at me I made the right call on not giving you money. I’m not going to figure out this issue in a blog post, but the memory stuck with me so I included it here.

Overall it was a good first day for 2017, but after walking for several miles through the city and getting up at 4:30 am we were exhausted. We headed back to the hotel and called it night.

 

 

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