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Travel Brochure for China
Denis and Lisa's
adventures in Shanghai

SHANGHAI, SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2002

Two seniors (Denis & Lisa) from New Zealand have a few tales to tell.

We have so many impressions of our time in Shanghai that we can never do justice to all the things we have seen, either with these notes, or in all the photos we have taken. At first we were wide-eyed, but as the time went by we took so much of it for granted that we had to remind ourselves that this was a foreign place.

Some examples of our early surprises: - the constant horn-blowing vehicles weaving through the ever-jaywalking pedestrians (but we never noticed any road rage), and the elevated 4-lane expressways ringing and crisscrossing the city (near where we lived was a "spaghetti junction" with five levels of traffic, plus one more for pedestrians!); the ever-present "heat haze" (smog in our estimation) limiting our visibility to only a few kilometres; the occasional blue sky during the day, and the totally starless sky at night; the live fish, crabs, eels, turtles and brown frogs for sale in big glass tanks in the grocery store down in the street nearby, Chinese are crab crazy; the locals meeting just after dawn in the parks to get together for Line Dancing, Aerobics or Tai Chi.

The never-ending street stalls and markets where folks buy and sell all manner of things, anything/everything , for the best price they can conjure up; the pet markets where giant crickets are for sale in small boxes, tiny cockroaches in tiny boxes, and also in very small boxes the sparrows, day-old chicks, mice, rats, piglets, small kittens & dogs, rabbits & chipmunks, and all manner of types and shapes of "goldfish" in plastic bags; the bird markets where people, mostly men, trade and display their feathered pets (many are, reportedly, captured wild birds, and some may even be rare) in small (too small), low, narrow, covered bamboo cages; and the huge grubs desperately trying to wriggle from their cocoons before they're chopped up for live bird feed, or maybe reach a wok somewhere (not sure which or both).

The sight of deep-fried sparrow, braised snake chunks , salted mud snail, squirrel, hairy crabs and dog, turning up on restaurant menus; the amazing, modern, 10+ floor shopping malls and the many beautiful shops with expensive decorations; the fabulous and historic turn-of-the (19th) century European buildings (especially along the famous Bund) alongside the fantastic and beautiful 21st century new buildings; the relentless demolition and reconstruction; the eye-opening supermarkets and department stores; the huge number and variety of superb restaurants ranging from cheap (20 cents a plate, to expensive, $25 a plate); the friendliness and the interest people take in the things we foreigners did as we walked and shopped (Chinese are always looking over other people's shoulders to see what's being read or being done or being discussed!); people, people everywhere, especially on the footpaths, making food, eating food, or playing cards or mah-jong, or draughts or Chinese chess, or reading newspapers or sleeping - people living much of their lives on the public streets and in the open in their home alleys ("home" is so small that the footpath is an essential extension), it all seemed very normal.

The totally awful squatty toilets; the sounds and sights of people spitting, (be ready to move quickly); the beautiful tree-lined avenues (in the more chic parts of this huge city); the hordes and hordes of people with their ability to get into the slightest space in front of us and think nothing of it; and the feeling of safety we got whenever we went out, be it day or night; the street sweepers keeping the main footpaths and visitor areas tidy, yet the food scraps and household rubbish being tossed nonchalantly into the gutter in the "unseen", non-visitor streets (but the stuff never seems to build up, where does it go?); the cheap, clean and highly regulated taxis (seat covers cleaned & replaced daily) with drivers who have no electronic contact with any known control base and who never, ever refer to a map; the lovely formal parks (with their "keep-off-the-grass" whistle-blowing guards) most of which are completely bird-less except for the flocks of white doves in the central city Peoples Park; (4000 people were relocated to make way for a park near where we were living, as home relocation is an accepted practice here in the interests of economic progress); the fascinating communal alleys (called longtangs, in Shanghaiese, hutongs in Beijing Mandarin) which are fast disappearing as a home and lifestyle for many.

Learning that "bye-bye", spoken very quickly, is a common Chinese term for goodbye; being continually surprised at the elegantly dressed and fashion-conscious young Chinese; watching the amazing kites flying high from the parks during the day and the glittering, shining, wriggling kites flying high from the parks at night, despite an official rule, just announced, to cease immediately! Everywhere someone is selling or trading something, a large amount of it food. And much, much more. It is all very, very different from home and making home look very, very far away in time and place. And the way Shanghai illuminates its buildings is so incredible we find it difficult to describe. Flashing lights, glowing lights, strobing lights, searching lights, bathing lights, blinking lights, glittering lights, lights changing colour, it was all Magic Kingdom stuff. We have heaps of photos, both digital and standard film which we developed back in NZ. (We can never possibly take pictures of everything we see and do, and in some cases we have deliberately refrained from taking shots of some folks who may have been embarrassed and annoyed by us recording their lowly circumstances.)

Our family from Australia asked which side of the road they drive on in China. Good question. Officially, it is the right hand side (although Hong Kong is on the left and as far as we can see it would be a physical impossibility to change Hong Kong over to the mainland side). But here in China the reality is, only busses seem to drive on the right hand side of the road. Taxis and cars will mostly take the shortest route, whatever side that happens to be, and bicycles, scooters & motorbikes will use any part of the road and the footpath that is available. In fact, the footpaths are also the bicycle parks so this makes regular walking a great trick. Watch out on the footpath for bikes and scooters (and sometimes cars) coming at you from any direction, and also watch out for washing dripping, air conditioners dripping, people spitting, slippery food scraps, uneven paving. But if you want to cross the road, easy! - just take off into the traffic at any point in the road and let everyone drive around you. There are plenty of marked pedestrian crossings which no one takes any notice of, and plenty of traffic lights which seem only to control busses and cars, not much else. (Lisa & I did our "training" for this in Vietnam but we have had to brush up on our street confidence or bravery or stupidity for getting around Shanghai on foot.) Close calls between pedestrians and traffic are common.

We did some tourist things in Shanghai, but it wasn't easy as there is no infrastructure for foreign tourists, no English speaking travel agents, no brochures and no special tourist/travel connections. So if we wanted to go outside the city we had to do it ourselves. Yet we learned to find our way around this enormous city quite well. Taxis were a joy always available within a couple of minutes. Everyone everywhere is very helpful, even if they spoke Chinese to us at a million miles an hour. We tried our very limited Mandarin but it didn't work much of the time as the language here is mostly Shanghaiese; a form of local dialect Mandarin so, much of our communication was in sign language, and it seemed to work pretty well most of the time.We became quite good in restaurants and at talking with hawkers and bargaining their prices. I say mostly Shanghaiese is spoken here because this colossal city is a magnet for many people from the rural provinces and they come with many dialects. (The Three Gorges Dam project on the upper Yangtzi River will resettle over a million people by the time it is finished very soon, and nearly a third of those people will be sent to live in Shanghai). So much resettlement is going on that it's hard for us to understand. Acres and acres of personal, low level "longtang" housing are constantly being demolished to make way for 50+ level high-rise buildings, which is supposed to re-house these people, but it will never be in the same way or with the same community lifestyles they were displaced from. And the compensation prices paid by the local government to these displaced folks won't buy the new equivalent housing, due to huge demand pushing prices out of reach. (It seemed to us that this relocation policy will produce a new, hitherto unknown, class of homeless people.) Don't know where this is taking these Shanghai folks, although "Fast Changing China" is the official government catch-cry here these days and the people are buying into it. Lucy (our NZ friend here) met a Chinese professor who had a sister 5 years younger than him; he said to Lucy that there was a generation gap between him and his sister due to the high-speed pace of China's social & economic change.

All the road signs and metro stations and major public signs have an English equivalent printed below the Chinese characters so getting around was pretty good. Fluency in "Modern English" (American English!) is considered essential for any Chinese person who wants to make progress in this modern world, and special TV programs teach it.

There are many jobs being created in China by people standing around in some kind of uniform, doing very little. Almost every major store has "security guards" standing, watching, being very bored; every "official" building has guards standing at entrances, they seem to do nothing, although in some cases these guards have rifles and military uniforms, and are very determined that no-one (us) takes a photograph of them; "guards" stand at street intersections with whistles which they blow furiously when pedestrians don't follow the controlling traffic lights (which they don't do most of the time); "guards" patrol many parks (with whistles) to ensure no-one walks on the grass. And most shops have more shop assistants than customers, even if the shop is crammed with potential buyers. Selling in shops and markets stalls is very aggressive, and bargaining is expected (if the buyer doesn't bargain he/she may be considered a mug). Service is instant, and anything will be shoved under your nose. Staff in shops and in stalls at markets will always begin to try to sell us one more item immediately the first sale has been clinched, well before it has been wrapped or put in a bag. Disconcerting at first, but fun when we became used to it. Good humour in buying and selling is always present.

On the night before Steve (another NZ friend) left for America we went for a very posh (Western, expensive!) dinner at the Grand Hyatt hotel in the Jinmao tower. This tower is the highest in China and the third highest in the world, and the building looks like it has been draped with fine silk then teased out in ruffles at the top. With the lighting effects, it is just magic to see. The hotel dining room, with the very best service and food, is on the 54th floor, and the night we were there a light breeze had blown away the smog so the view was incredible. Right below us was the famous Bund on a curve of the river, and just to one side we looked down on the landmark tower of Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl TV tower with its signature coloured spheres and balls.

Everywhere we could look out over the amazing light shows on the buildings of central Shanghai. After a superb dinner we took the speed lift up by the height of a modest apartment building, (33 levels) to the fancy bar ("Cloud 9") on the 87th floor. (Still not the highest level). The bar only allows a specific number of people in and was very modern and gloomy and would have cost us $25 each door charge if we hadn't eaten in the hotel below. But from here the whole of nighttime Shanghai was stretched out below us and the experience was awesome. After one cocktail each ($30 a glass) we made our way home, not far, about 4 km. Fabulous evening. A couple of weeks later Lisa & I went to the 88th level during the day, on a visually good day, so the view went a bit further than usual , and it was awesome. 16 million people, big city, modern city, the economic engine for China.

On a recent Saturday (while Steve was in America) Lucy & Lisa & I went "out into the country" with the help of one of Lucy's Chinese staff (Sam) and his lady friend. Lisa & I had planned for some time to visit a little town called Xitang (pronounced something like S(h)eetarng) that had caught our eye in a magazine. We caught the underground Metro for about half an hour, then a train for another hour, then taxis for another 30 minutes to get there. Without Sam's help we would have been totally lost and stranded from the time we left the Metro, as it was total Chinese at all times. On the way in the train we passed through the Chinese countryside. It is all cultivated, with rice fields and lotus plants, and much other stuff we couldn't recognize. The small farm buildings are frequent and the roads and the traffic and the people and the "civilization" are a constant. Also a constant, was the thick, gray air which was no different from the city and which blocked out any view beyond about 4 kilometres. Many times we could see smoke stacks (power plants, factories) belching out gray or black smoke into the country air. We eventually reached this jewel of a village tucked away behind the main town. It is a living 1000 year-old village and is built over and around many canals. Many of the "streets" (alleys called Longtans) are only a metre wide and we spent a fascinating day walking and eating our way through this old, old living piece of Chinese history. .

(Again, without Sam we would probably still be there, hopelessly lost and with very limited communication with anyone.) The locals hadn't seen many Europeans so we were a bit of a show-piece ourselves. It is very difficult to describe, so our photos will provide a better explanation. The trip took us from 6 am to 8:30 pm and we were very tired by the time we got home. But it was a magic day, and brought home to Lisa & I how difficult it is to get around this country without organized tours and bilingual tour guides. .

October 1 was China's "National Day", the celebration of the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, and the whole country was on holiday for a week! Shanghai was overrun with about 3.5 million extra (Chinese) visitors and the sights from our apartment windows, of the Peoples Park below, were amazing. The whole, huge square is constantly filled with people and all traffic has been banned from driving through. The main overhead motorways have been completely blocked off so no traffic is reaching the central city. In fact, the only traffic seems to be busses and taxis and bicycles and scooters, most car drivers are on holiday. Along the popular river-bank Bund the nine-lane road has been sealed off and is constantly filled with wall-to-wall people. The huge numbers of extra people is all a bit scary. Additional trains, bus's and taxi's have been brought into service all over China to cater for the massive numbers of holiday travelers. Elsewhere in the main central areas of the city the crowds are so thick people can hardly move. From our apartment we can also see the crowds clogging the east Nanjing road area, and it's clearly impossible almost to move over in that part of town. We are avoiding those places and finding nice shops and restaurants in other, less crowded places. .

The city has been dressed with extra illuminations that make it look like a giant fireworks display, truly magic stuff. (From what we see on TV the holiday lighting effects and the building and park illuminations in Beijing are more impressive than here in Shanghai, if that were possible.) And in many places around China (and Hong Kong) fantastic fireworks shows have lit up their night skies. (We haven't been to the Shanghai fireworks spectacular over on Pudong, as it is very difficult to get to, and with the massive crowds, it will be extremely difficult to get home.) On the TV tonight we see the efforts of the Chinese state television channel in promoting the "miracle" of their wonderful birthday. It is a huge milestone here with "wonderful" statistics being shown about the growth and success of China. Very slick music shows feature young pop artists singing about the beautiful flag; words in the songs like. The wonderful stars and fluttering symbol which is more important than life to me. If I am away I will kiss you when I return. I love you 5 star red flag. Marching with me toward the new century. The control of the state over the opinions of the people here, via TV, is an eye-opener to us. But, no one seems to mind. Life is peaceful and safe and ordered, and people can get on with their lives in any way they wish. Police are evident, but not intrusive many on their bicycles, or sitting in their cars smoking or drinking tea from screw-top jars (like everyone). And there seems to be different types of police; traffic, regular, economic (?), pedestrian control with whistlers on the street corners (no-one takes any notice), green parks control (here they take some notice), and plain clothed police who patrol through the markets and the street hawkers, and who will quickly (and sometimes roughly) remove any hawker who seems to be breaking some law.

To us the Chinese Government's policies seem to be built on three platforms, Significant Economic Growth, Social Stability (control!) and EDUCATED YOUTH. And the official support and regular references to their WTO membership (via state TV) is very obvious. But Lisa & I still find it very comfortable and we are enjoying this experience immensely.

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