On our first (and only free) weekend in Hangzhou, we made plans to go to Shanghai. We caught the bullet trains early afternoon, which was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. I’d heard stories of it going up to speeds of 300 km/h with revolving seats. Instead, it went to about 170km/h and the seats only revolved halfway – a bit pointless but oh well! The journey was about 2 hours and other than disgusting toilets was mostly uneventful. If I haven’t yet mentioned them, most toilets in China are squat toilets which took a bit of getting used to but are actually more hygienic than sitting down ones. It is a bit awkward, however, when there’s nothing to hold onto and the doors don’t even lock properly!
Once we got to Shanghai, we checked into our hostel and headed out, wandered down the streets, and enjoyed the little shops and fruit stands. We eventually found a metro and headed to People’s Square, where we came out onto a massive square surrounded by skyscrapers, giant billboards and swarms of people. The scale of Shanghai is hard to describe, until you’ve actually been there.
Our first experience in Shanghai was less pleasant than we expected. We met two Chinese students from Hangzhou, who told us they were going to an amazing tea shop around the corner and asked us if we wanted to go. On asking them how much it was and getting a somewhat shifty response, one of us finally realised that this was probably a tea scam we were falling right into. Wearing our Study China Hangzhou hoodies made us easy prey for them to sound as plausible as possible. Essentially, “students” come up to you talking about an amazing tea house and then charge you extortionate amounts for a cup of green tea. If we gone to the tea house, we would definitely be broke now!
The rest of the evening was pretty amazing – we talked down the side of the river at night and saw Shanghai’s industrially beautiful Skyline by night. We then took a ferry across to the other side (an experience In itself: I nearly got run over by a swarm of motorbikes and would’ve been if one of my friends hadn’t pulled me out of the way!) Once we got across, we wandered in the direction of the World Financial Centre, which looks like a giant bottle opener(!) and as we got closer, we lay down on the road to take pictures (as you do…) and I got one where it looks like I’m walking on the building! We headed in and 15pound later went up 250 floors (over 400m) and walked along the world’s highest skywalk – even not being afraid to height, I was a bit nervous looking through a Perspex block and seeing the ground thousands of feet below! You can really tell how high it is by comparing pictures of the skyline from the ground and from the top.
The next day, we visited the Old Town, which I loved as much as modern Shanghai. The old buildings were slightly ruined by Starbucks and Mcdonalds, but we ate a massive Chinese buffet with noodles and massive spring rolls (a lot of snails, but I think we all avoided them.) We managed to go to a real tea house for 30RMB (3pound) and tried every variety of tea we could, in a beautiful old room with a stage that was apparently once used for the rich to come to theatre performances.
We then went down a little side street and went into some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. They were made up of designer rock formations, cherry blossom and vast gnarled trees, pagodas and little water bodies, full of massively fat gold fish. The contrast between the old town and new Shanghai is far more poignant than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Obviously the old town has only been preserved as a tourist attraction, however, this doesn’t diminish it’s worth as something to see when in Shanghai.
On leaving the Old Town, we were at a bit of a loss but eventually decided to hail a taxi to the French Quarter. We headed to Fuxing Park, where we saw a group of about 20 people practicing ball room dancing (!) at about 4 in the afternoon! We found another couple a few moments around a bend, who were clearly far too advanced to be in the class but were enjoying the music anyway. Next to them, an old man gracefully practiced his Tai ji moves. We also saw an old man doing Calligraphy with a paint brush about half the size of a grown man across the ground – absolutely perfectly formed.
We then headed out into the French Quarter, where we found a main street that literally looked like it had been lifted from Paris with tiny boutiques, cafés and even Parisian style lamp posts and cobble stones. After having a quick drink in one of the little cafés, we headed back to the station and Hangzhou, which really feels like home in China!