Woke early and had a hearty breakfast, though was forced to listen to an old American (it’s always the Yanks) talking to the 2 girls at his table like they were on the other side of the room. Another English guy was sat alone a few tables in front, with a look of not wanting to hear the American, but not having a choice. He was glaring out of the window intensely chewing some bread, breathing out of his nose violently. Annoyed.
After breakfast we headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, teeming with busloads of Chinese tourists following little flags, some wearing identical caps so they remembered which group they belonged to. Most were trying their best to get photos in front of the huge portrait of Chairman Mao hanging at the front. Security seemed tight here, and there were a number of ‘secret’ police wandering around discreetly listening in to conversations. Probably. It would seem the huge demonstration for democratic reform in 1989 by students here which led to thousands of deaths was largely in vain. It’s a forbidden topic in China. One of the largest city squares in the world, Tiananmen Square is quite an awe-inspiring place to be, however. We walked to the centre of the square to the Monument to the People’s Heroes, commemorating the martyrs who devoted their lives to the Chinese people. Nothing commemorates the massacre of the students. From here, we walked right through to the end of the Forbidden City, the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty. It’s an incredible place. There are almost 1000 buildings housed within the high city walls, and it has housed many an Emperor. It’s now the location of the Palace Museum, which has an impressive array of porcelain vases, jade, and paintings. We managed to break through the crowds and get to the far end of the Forbidden City, where we exited and walked back around to the subway. We grabbed a quick McDonalds for some on-the-go fuel, and then got back to the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel and checked out. We jumped in a cab for Beijing South Train Station where we got the train – the bullet high speed train to Shanghai, a journey of 4 hours 55 minutes, with the train reaching speeds of 340km/hr. Scenery was mainly farmland, and we passed no mountains – this part of China is quite flat.
Got to Shanghai Hongqiao Station at 7:55 – a huge place, like an airport. The cab line was huge too, so we decided to get a train. I’d earlier phoned the hotel and spoken to the ‘nominated English speaker’:
“Hello. Do you speak English?”
“Yeah….well, I’m at the main Railway Station. How do I get to your hotel?”
“OK, but what station?”
“No. Line 2.”
“Yes, but Line 2 has many stations.”
“Taxi. Takes 20 minutes.”
“But I can’t get a taxi, I need to get subway”
“East-West. Nanjing West.”
“A 20 minute walk from there.”
Got the subway Line 2, which was an interesting ride. A procession of God’s unlucky people came by jangling their little plastic cups. A woman escorting her blind son. An old blind man. Another blind man playing a sorrowful tune on his harmonica. I felt so sorry for them – life is tough enough in the big cities of Shanghai without having a disability to impede you further. There is no welfare state here.
Arrived at Nanjing West and walked down Nanjing Road West hoping to find the hotel. We were pointed in vague directions by many people, and one who said “very far.” Indeed it was.
We hopped in a taxi eventually and got to the hotel on a journey that took ages. It was only later I realized that the correct subway station was Nanjing Road EAST. The man had been wrong. The hotel, Astor House, brightened my mood. Steeped in colonial history and tradition, established in 1846, and with a perfect location right on the Bund – a river on the far side of which is Pudong and the financial district, where the Oriental Pearl tower sits iconically, shining brightly and protruding skywards like a space rocket of the future about to take off any second. Jin Mao Tower, an impressively designed spectacle combining Western and Chinese architecture, looms behind like the Empire State Building remodeled for the year 3000.
Everything about Pudong’s financial district screams modernity, boasts a city hurtling into the future, leaving other cities gazing enviously in it’s wake. The other side of the Bund, the side of our hotel, is lined with Colonial buildings from the glory days of the early 1900’s, a time when Shanghai was known as the Pearl of the Orient or, less complementary, the Whore of the East. It really is a spectacular skyline, with few competitors, although HK’s skyline possibly edges it still.
Vero and I walked into Astor House, door opened by a gentleman in white suit and black bowtie, and we entered the cavernous lobby, all marble floors and fine chandeliers – they type of lobby they don’t build anymore. It looked like the setting of a period drama –and indeed a famous Chinese series was being filmed there that very night and the next day.
The room we were given was suitably splendid. On the second floor, roadside, and the old single-glazing didn’t help with traffic noise. Still, the modern touches of hot rain shower and bath gave the room a contemporary gloss to its matt of refined old elegance. Many a famous person has stayed in this hotel – from Charlie Chaplin to Albert Einstein. Perhaps if I stayed long enough I’d get some inspiration to do something creative with my life, make some money or something.
Headed out in a taxi to the French Concession area, the ‘Clarke Quay’ of Shanghai, a square of bars and clubs. It had a fun, party vibe. We headed to a fusion tapas bar, a bar that blended traditional Chinese elements with modern touches – so the bar stools were glowing red Chinese lanterns, and the menu reflected influences of both Eastern and Western cuisine. Enjoyed a Tsingtao and some tapas style cuisine. Headed to a German theme pub with a live band. Good, fun vibe. Loads of whores touting for business. Very Clarke Quay Singapore then. Had a pint of German brew.
Walked down the strip and saw a group of young ladies obviously heading somewhere for a drink and a dance. We followed them into a shopping mall, and up to the 5th floor, where we found a lively club playing house music. The place was buzzing, everybody jumping and dancing, getting drunk, having fun. It’s worth following people down rabbit holes and up elevator shafts sometimes. Had a tequila and a mojito. We danced a bit. A good, random night. We tool a taxi back, feeling a bit ‘fresh.’ It had been busy day and evening, eventful and entertaining. Welcome to Shanghai.