Shanghai, Gateway to the Orient
Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
105Trip End Jun 08, 2006
I find out that there are 4 such trains, all leaving within a few minutes of each other, bound for Shanghai, and each one is fully occupied. China certainly takes mass rail transit seriously; there is no other country in the world that would build a 1000 mile railroad over a frozen 4000m plateau as the Chinese have done in Tibet.
We chat to our cabin-mates, one of whom can speak English very well
Our other cabin mate, James, 22, not university educated but obviously bright, is studying part-time as well as working. He demonstrates his high tech Hello Moto mobile phone to us which cost Y5000, more than twice his monthly earnings.
The train rolls into Shanghai station precisely on time and we grab our bags and head for the ticket office to buy train tickets out of Shanghai. We find that there are no so called 'soft sleeper' seats left so we opt for the 'hard sleeper' alternative. We wonder if we'll get the same good night's sleep in an open cabin with six beds when we leave in 2 days time (see entry for Zhengzhou).
We take a taxi to our hotel in the Bund area of Shanghai, which is right in the heart of the most extreme high rise city-scape in the world. The hotel, The Pujian, turns out to be an absolute gem of imperial architecture on the waterfront. Built in 1854, it was the first place in China to get an electric lightbulb and a telephone, and it has all the nostalgic atmoshere of bygone days with its dark wood panelling, high ceilings, and victorian chandeliers
We manage to upgrade our room to one with the best view of the city, and we meander upstairs to room 507, in eager anticipation, with a porter lugging both our rucksacks. We both smile when we go into our room which has a triple bay window overlooking the river, wooden flooring, two enormous leather sofas, a king size bed, a flat screen computer, and enough floor-space to play a game of tennis doubles. Not bad Y800 (or GBP 55) per night.
After showering and breakfasting, we head out to visit Unilever Research in the Caohejin Hi-Tech Park. Rachel has organised to visit the 80-strong research lab and she has met some of the staff, including the Director Ya Cai, in the UK before. We are shown round the space-age facilities where they specialise in top secret research in food and personal care products which include hair loss prevention (...too late for you says Rachel).
That evening we stroll from our hotel out on to the riverside walkway to see the neon lit skyline of Shanghai. Across the Huangpu River in Pudong we see the enormous sky scrapers including the Pearl Tower which has 3 legs like a tripod converging in a large spherical revolving restaurant
On our side of the River, older colonial buildings, banks, and department stores are underlit in a conventional European style. Behing the old, loom modern architectures, edge-lit like obelisks against the night sky.
Dinner is taken in a random restaurant and turns out to be a good selection. Although the seafood dishes are tasty, I feel a little uneasy when I see the lively snakes next to the fish tanks.
Next day we take an underground train beneath the River to reach Pudong. The driverless pods speed through a neon lit tunnel in what can only be described as a 'trip that you would only ever take once' since it costs 10 times as more than the underground (albeit sans lumineres).
On the other side we buy Y50 (GBP3.50) tickets to the 88th floor of the 4th highest building in the world (488m). The elevator accelerates to 10 metres per second so my ears feel like they are about to burst
Back on the west of the city the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall shows how the city will develop in the future. We see a huge model of the city taking up the space of a 5-a-side football pitch and have fun spotting our hotel and also some new buildings that will soar even higher than the one we summitted earlier. We stand in a 360 degree cinema and watch a dizzying computer-generated animation film about how the airport will be developed to be even bigger than heathrow within just a few years. I see a young lad driving a virtual truck to the new container-port which needs a bridge of over 35km in length to be constructed.
The scale of development in Shanghai is all too much to take in and we collapse exhausted back at the hotel room. Neon lights glisten outside the victorian sash windows.
Next day we visit the chinese quarter of the city to buy a few presents. Many of the shops are inside pagodas and its easy to find anything chinese including chinese lanterns, chinese silk dresses, chinese paintings, chopsticks, the list goes on
A short taxi ride away is Zhou Enlai's house. The former premier used in it the 40's when the communist party was in its infancy. Set in a leafy suburb, the house is a lovely example of '20s English architecture with its dark flooring, spacious rooms, and large windows overlooking the garden. Although it only vaguely resembles our house in Avenue Rd, and has an unusual past, it makes me miss home.
Out of time in Shanghai, we head back to the railway station.