Day 186 (12th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
The fallout from the mugging continues… I often find that when I’m faced with a challenge, I overcome it best when I have a clear set of goals from which I can work on ticking off one at a time. The checklist so far is as follows:
- Terminate police investigation
- Obtain materials for insurance claim
- Replace wallet
- Re-earn 2000RMB
- Replace student ID card
- Replace campus money card
- Replace laundry card
- Replace Australian bank cards
- Replace Chinese bank card
- Replace watch
- Replace glasses
I’ll readdress those at the end of the blog and we’ll see how far I get.
I have to juggle all of this with my first week of classes and, most excitingly, Dan’s long-awaited visited to the great land of 中国.
I woke up at 6:30am to get a fresh start and put last week behind me. I discovered last week that after a lot of low points, I always felt better about everything if I opened the curtains and let some natural light in (even if that light was clouded by smog). It’s so much easier to be optimistic with some sunlight.
After taking in the view, I gathered all of my textbooks and marched to my first class at 7:30am. It was when exiting the guesthouse that I learned my first lesson about going to class at this university. NEVER go during peak hour. 18 floors of a few dozen rooms each all trying to exit through the lifts at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Worst of all, people on the 3rd and 4th floors still seem insistent on clogging up the lifts. I’m on the 17th floor meaning that I don’t really have any other choice, and I can tell that I’m going to be left nervously waiting on a few mornings over the next couple of months.
Either way, I rode my bike across to the classroom with time to spare. My timetable consists of three classes:
- Intensive reading
It’s definitely an odd way of doing things. I preferred Xuzhou’s method of splitting it into the basic four components: listening, speaking, reading and writing. But so be it. Maybe it will end up being a better designed course.
I can also choose to add electives, but those choices are made next week. Apparently some of the options include economic and legal subjects which are right up my alley. But then again, maybe I don’t want to overload myself. After all, I’m starting university next year. I’ll need to have a think about that one.
Walking into the first class, everyone was dead silent. I had built my confidence up and was ready to go converse and meet some new friends, but it’s hard to break the ice when not a single other person is speaking. It annoys me how much smartphones have impeded on our ability to be social in situations like that. If I couldn’t do it while I was out at a club the other night and I can’t do it here, I don’t see how I’m meant to break into these already-set friend groups and meet people. It’s starting to become quite frustrating.
Once the class got started things settled down. I was writing in my textbooks in pencil so that if need be, I could erase everything and swap the books for a different class. Within a few minutes, though, it became evident that this was the level for me. Our first task was to introduce ourselves to the class. My speaking ability was definitely higher than most others’, which was comforting, but the occasional phrase that others were using was still new territory to me. That’s a good sign. That means that I’ll be able to keep up with the class with ease and focus all of my energy on memorising a comparatively small amount of content. This is a different approach to what I was taking in Xuzhou – Xuzhou was a big bite with not much chewing, Shanghai is a small bit with a lot of chewing. Forgive my poor analogies.
The second class of the day was listening and speaking. The teacher for this subject is a charismatic young woman who laughs more than she speaks. It was good fun, and I can tell that this class won’t bore me even as the semester progresses.
I also found out today that I’ll be finishing my course just after exams. I thought that by picking the two month option that I would get to skip them, but unfortunately that’s not the case. On the upside, that will hold me to account in terms of performance.
My first job after class was to head straight for the ICBC Bank to get a new debit card. I have really been dying to use a lot of Chinese services which require one of these, and this delay has been quite badly timed considering that it was going to come in handy when Dan arrives. I went into the bank hoping that I could get a new card on the day like when I first got it, but instead I was told that I was looking down the barrel of a week-long wait. This was also frustrating because it was one of the main routes of being able to send me a care package of money to get me through until I get my Westpac cards back.
Worse still, the wait in the banking queue was estimated to be two hours long. This was frustrating because I had been recommended to come back today for the very reason that the queue would be shorter. I explained this to them, evoked some sympathy from the manager and, like everything in China, the rules were eventually bent. I was pushed up the queue, and only had to wait for half an hour.
While I waited, I had a very interesting conversation with two 80 year olds. This age group of people have by far the hardest Chinese to understand. Their accents are thick and they use ancient vocabulary. Worse still, most of their speech is hard to catch over their frequent spitting in tissues. Nevertheless, these two blokes were extremely friendly. They genuinely knew nothing about Australia. I introduced them to our population, our geographical location and even the language we speak. One of them commented that he thought that no one spoke English outside of America and England. They were particularly surprised when they learned that I was only 18.
“No 18 year old in China ever travels on their own or earns their all money. They’re all piss weak. Back in my day…”
Cue the zoning out. It was just too hard to keep up with. I proudly accepted the compliment and nodded for the next half an hour, occasionally understanding the odd word. It very much reminded me of my first days learning Chinese.
Just outside of the bank was a nice group of shops which I rode through to buy some lunch. I picked up some baozi and other cakes to see me through a quick hour-long tutoring session before continuing the day’s chores.
After the session, I jumped on a train and made my way to the famous “Shanghai Optical Market” just outside of the main railway station. This market, which is renowned among expats for being the best place to buy spectacles and sunglasses, occupies two whole floors of a shopping centre with every pair of glasses being sold at rock-bottom prices.
I spent two hours there intermittently on a video call with Mum, Bianca and Anneke as they fed me advice regarding my experimental new looks. I was originally going to buy two pairs, but I realised that this wouldn’t be very convenient for travel, so instead I settled with a pair that was almost identical to my existing one. I thought that I’d play it safe. I paid for the better quality pair of lenses and it only took 20 minutes for them to be installed.
I rushed back home for one hour of late night tutoring and then called it a day in preparation of yet more class tomorrow. My classes are from 8:00am until 11:20am every day. It will take a while to adjust to my new wake-up time!
Day 187 (13th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
I made the same mistake of going to class during peak hour and was caught at the lifts well after school began. Luckily I was one of a big group of people in the same position and I blended into the crowd when I came into the class.
This class is set up to be my favourite. “Intensive Reading” is the main class and the teacher is in charge of you as a student at the university. I’m glad that the teacher was a good person. I figured that he could become a good asset for me in case I ever needed any help with the fallout of the mugging incident.
While he was running through the logistics of how to get around at the university, he mentioned using campus ID cards. I asked him where I could get a new one, and after he asked why and I replied that it was stolen. He pulled me back after class to ask more details. I told him the basic story. He nodded and kindly offered his help if I was ever worried with the police situation. It was very comforting – finally I had a Chinese ally on the issue. During the twenty minute break between classes, I ran down to the student office to get my card sorted out.
At the beginning of my next class, there was a teacher waiting to collect me. She said that the police wanted me to return to the station at 1:30pm. I had a better idea: I would tell her and the university everything that happened in the hope that they understand my reluctance to return to the police. We spent the next hour going through everything which happened from the start of Thursday until Friday evening. She looked shocked and gave every sign that she was on my side. At the end of our meeting, she said that she would call the police and explain my side of the story properly. That way, she said, I should be able to get some sort of report which I could use for my insurance. I was told to return after class.
I never go well in classes when I’m nervously awaiting something which is about to happen directly after it. I spent most of the one and a half hour lecture daydreaming and weighing up my options in response to what could happen.
After class, I went to the meeting room that I was told to go to. No one was there to meet me for the next twenty minutes. I ended up roaming the hallways until I spotted the teacher who had spoken to me sitting at a desk. She seemed surprised to see me.
“I’m sorry, they won’t give you the report because you won’t cooperate with them,” she claimed. “They also asked if you could come in at 1:30pm today to give them your Chinese credit card number and any more information which you’ve decided to reveal to them.”
“Excuse me? There is no information which I’m suddenly going to decide to ‘reveal’ to them, only hazy memories which become clearer over time. For the moment, I’m cooperating as fully as I can. I thought I made that very clear. But with that being said, I don’t feel comfortable returning to the police on my own. Could a teacher from the university come with me?” I asked.
“What? No, I’m sorry, no one can.”
“Why?” I really needed the university to pull through for me if I was going to say one more word to the police.
“We get paid to teach, not to help students at the police.” She certainly didn’t sugarcoat anything.
At this point I realised that the teachers at the university weren’t my allies, they were just passing the messages between the police and I.
“Tell them that I would like to discontinue the investigation.” I stated.
She was shocked. Quite odd considering it was very evident by now that this was all that the police wanted me to do.
“I wouldn’t recommend that you do that…” she muttered.
“Why?” I was genuinely curious. Surely if it was her son in this situation she could empathise.
“You may have to suffer the legal consequences…”. I was getting pretty sick of that line.
“I don’t mind. Right now I’m going to go to the Australian consulate and do what I can to get some paperwork sorted out for my insurance. In the meantime, I don’t want to have anything to do with the police on this issue ever again.”
She nodded hesitantly and I was told to put my request in writing before walking out.
I moved directly to the Australian Consulate in Jing’an on the metro. I was getting pretty anxious about the whole thing and it was starting to have a pretty marked effect on my mood. Arriving at Nanjing West Road lifted my spirits, though.
And seeing an Australian flag hoisted high is a great way to make you feel more at home.
The Consulate was part way up a huge skyscraper. Up at the office, I explained my situation to the woman at the front desk and she explained to me what my options were. She said that the Consulate had come across cases of Australians being treated in the same way by police, though not often. She said that it largely depends on which police station you go to and which investigator takes care of your case. She explained that since it was China, we have to play by their rules no matter how absurd they are. Therefore, if I wanted to continue with the police, I had no choice but to suffer through the long days of sitting in their office and being told that I wasn’t believed. Likely, she said, nothing would come of it.
We therefore agreed that the best course of action was to suspend the police investigation and to have a Statutory Declaration signed in a last-ditch attempt to provide some valid documentation for my insurance claim. I was glad that I made the right decision with the police investigation.
The Statutory Declaration process took no longer than a few minutes. That’s Australian efficiency for you. The days spent trying to get a piece of paper from Chinese officials now seemed even more ridiculous.
Because the process finished so quickly I decided that I had time to spend the rest of the day being a tourist again. Walking through the Nanjing West Road area, I came across a restaurant with a bargain satay wonton soup.
The metro system in Shanghai is incredibly efficient, but its one weakness is that transferring between lines can sometimes mean a long walk. At this particular station, this walk goes above ground and you have to walk to another “mini-station” a few streets away. Though this is inconvenient, it certainly takes you past some spectacular streets.
With Jing’an being near the French Concession, the train to my next destination didn’t take too long. The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre has been on the top of my Shanghai to-do list for some time. It houses a collection of thousands of posters, largely from the Cultural Revolution era, which give an insight into the social discourse at each point of the country’s modern history. The museum took some time to find, but after my third time walking past the entrance a security guard spotted me and handed me this card.
The mysterious entrance was located on the basement level of one of the residential apartment buildings. I couldn’t believe that such a rich collection of historical artefacts was in such an incognito location.
With 1984 being my favourite novel, this real-world demonstration of brainwashing was fascinating to see.
It began with early 1900’s Shanghai, where displays of the ‘Shanghai Lady’ were common on calendars and daily essentials. The character represented the opulence and wealth of China’s biggest city.
And then came Mao Zedong’s reign much later in the century. Evidence of information control started appearing. Here is a poster displaying one of his speeches. You can see that between the first and second edition, the politician on the far right is swapped out. The whereabouts of the one who disappeared on the poster is unknown.
And here is some anti-Western propaganda.
Posters which opposed certain ideologies also extended to political systems. This particular poster supports the defence of socialism against Capitalist extremists.
Some of the progressive stances taken by the Chinese government were actually quite surprising. This is a poster supporting African Americans and their movement to gain more rights in the US.
The most common type of poster was one of Mao being compared with figures such as Marx, Lenin and Stalin.
The posters also showed the ideologies of these men being carried out with success. Ones like this aimed to create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” whereby people would see the images of those doing their duties with happiness and therefore do the same. Here is an image of some wealthy people from the city going out to the farms, only to eventually become peasants.
Perhaps the ones I found most interesting were the posters which successfully combined beauty with Communism. Look at this poster which advertises one of the only ballets shown during Mao’s era.
The gift shop of the museum was one of the most impressive I have ever seen. You could buy original copies of Mao’s red book of quotations as well as of many of the posters.
Following an hour at the poster centre, I began my walk to Changshu Road metro station. I was messaging two friends, Florian and Louis, along the way. They suggested that we all go out to dinner together, and after telling them that I was in the French Concession area, they decided that it was a good idea to come and join me. As a result, I spent the next few hours walking through the streets of my favourite part of Shanghai. It never gets old, and there’s always another laneway that I find.
I always find the clothing boutiques and bars to be the most impressive parts of this district.
This particular bar, which happens to be on the same street as Paul and Soph’s apartment, hosts a chess club every Thursday.
I noticed that one of the heritage listed sites was called the “Midget Apartment”.
Winding their way through the streets of the French Concession are yellow school busses from international preschools and primary schools. A real sign of the thriving expat community in the area.
We ate dinner just off Yongkang Lu, the famous bar street of Shanghai. I ate a Shepherd’s Pie (long time since I last had that meal). Just behind our bar table was a poster which rated up there with the propaganda ones for me.
After the meal we took a proper stroll down Yongkang Lu. I had been told that this street was completely closed off by police just a few months ago, but I thought that surely due to its international reputation that some bars would have survived. It seemed not to be the case. It was a ghost town.
Apparently before the police came through and shut everything down, the mostly expat-filled bars spilled way out into the centre of the street so that no cars could drive down.
Day 188 (14th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
Today I’ll see Dan, and as such I spent much of the morning distracted by the excitement of his arrival.
The only particularly exciting bit of class was when our intensive reading teacher brought in some mooncakes. Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival – the second most significant festival in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This day, which is also celebrated by Koreans and Vietnamese people, is a harvest festival scheduled to be on the same night as the full moon. It commemorates the values of gathering, thanksgiving and praying. What the Mid-Autumn Festival is best known for, however, is the traditional consumption of yuebing, or “mooncakes”. These round pastries are an art form as much as they are a food, and the filling can consist of anything from red bean paste to meat.
After class I smashed through my last two hours of tutoring for the week and went to buy another campus recharge card. I had unwittingly left my departure to pick up Dan until the last minute. That wasn’t helped by the congested metro line heading out to Pudong Airport.
Luckily, Shanghai offers a Maglev to drastically reduce the travel time to the airport.
I ended up making it to the airport with good time to see Dan come waddling out of the arrivals hall. Seeing some Qantas pilots and a flight full of Aussies walk through the gates was refreshing.
It was very surreal to have Dan step foot into Shanghai for his week here. I couldn’t think of a better reason to skip uni!
Our brief catching up was interrupted by the very first part of our itinerary – the Maglev journey into Shanghai. The train was running at just over 300km/h at this time of night and not a single wheel touches the tracks. Despite having experienced it before, it was just as rewarding experiencing it again with someone else who hasn’t seen it for themselves. I get to relive the initial amazement. I think that will be a common theme for the next week.
After disembarking the Maglev we switched to a metro to go to Nanjing East Road. I felt bad for Dan – he was struggling under the weight of the unnecessarily large amount of my gear that he was muling over from Australia for me. His stoicism insisted that I not share too much of the load. Luckily, though, the metro ride was over before too long.
Tonight we stayed at Blue Mountain Youth Hostel at The Bund. I decided that we should stay in a hostel for the first night rather than my guesthouse because it made the visa registration process much easier. All aliens are meant to register with a police station within 24 hours of their arrival unless they are staying at a hotel in which case they register on behalf of them. Since my hotel only accepts guests with student visas (officially, at least), it meant that I would have to go with Dan to register at the same police station that the mugging investigation had occurred at. To avoid having to come into contact with those police again, and also to break up our trip back to the other side of the city, I figured that it was a good opportunity for us to stay near The Bund.
The hostel itself was decent quality, albeit slightly small (as are most hostels in China, though). Its location made up for it. It was positioned on Shaanxi Road just off Nanjing East Road and a short walk from The Bund. We only needed a few minutes in the hostel before we were off and exploring. One of the main junctions of Nanjing Road was only a few hundred metres away.
Stores were already beginning to prep their mooncakes for the festival tomorrow.
It took Dan some time to take in the chaos of all the flashing lights. But before long, he got to work. He was here on a mission: to buy a laser. It was no less than five minutes before we had tracked someone down.
Down from ¥250 to ¥50… 80% off. That’s a good start.
In just a few more minutes Dan had acquired yet another gimmick which will surely collect dust at the bottom of one of his drawers: a light-up paper slingshot. Here it is in action.
One of the other top priorities on Dan’s list was to discern the difference between Australian and American McDonald’s. I figured it was best that we tick this one off the list on the first night.
Following the meal, we dawdled down Nanjing Road with full stomachs. I did my best as a tour guide by explaining the basic facts and figures which I knew of the place. We passed the locations of some of Shanghai’s first department stores and the famous Peace Hotel before arriving at the spectacular Bund. This place takes my breath away every time. Every. Time. No view in the world hits me as hard as this one does. Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour comes close, but it’s no Shanghai.
And the golden buildings of the old British Embassy and Bund behind us.
I couldn’t have been happier that Dan had the exact same reaction as me. It’s nice when you can see someone else taking as much joy out of something as you are.
I figured that Dan’s arrival called for a big celebration. After all, I wanted a close friend to accompany me out on the transition back to nightlife normality after the past week, and I figured that tonight would be as good of a night as ever.
Leaflets had been placed under my hotel door for the past two weeks advertising an international student university party for all the Shanghai universities at a club called Propaganda in Hongkou. Most people were going to it, so I thought that it would be a good idea to tag along (with much more vigilance this time). Shanghai nightlife, as you’ve probably worked out, is insane. And I mean that in the true sense of the word, not its modern concoction. It is insane. Every time you go out, there is something completely unfamiliar and odd that it makes the experience very, very memorable (whether that be in a good or a bad way). Tonight was no different. Just look at the menu of selection which gets sent out to all of the international students by just one of the “club promoters” on a daily basis.
The bars and clubs compete to see who can give out the most free drinks. I’m yet to work out the business model. Surely these clubs don’t bank on the fact that kids will return to their establishment on a paying night after enjoying a big night there when it was free. Or maybe the free drinks are so watered down or fake that they still make a profit off the extra things that people drunkenly purchase from them? Or maybe they’re involved in muggings like in my case and keep part of the profits? Whatever it is, they must make money somehow, and I’m yet to work out exactly how it is.
Either way, before Dan and I went out we established the ground rules:
- No free drinks (unless they come directly from a bottle)
- Don’t let go of your drink
- Always watch your drink being poured
- No ice (to stop tummy bugs)
After accepting those boundaries, we rocked up to Propaganda. In the long line to get in, we took advantage of China’s lax attitude to public drinking and cracked open the first Tsingtao of the trip. It was great to catch up with Dan over all the missed news – career advancements, uni progress, Ben and Tone going skiing. Everything’s on the up. Upon reaching the front of the line we stepped into the interior of the smoke-filled Propaganda club where, sure enough, every drink was free until midnight.
The bar opened up into a huge area which was dense with Americans and Europeans all bouncing on a stage to some sort of live rapper… “the voice of a generation”, as Dan called him. I had a lot of fun as Dan shook his head in disbelief at what was going on around him: drinking games played with dice, a crowd from dozens of countries, a sweaty mosh pit more akin to a festival than a club. I could tell that he thought it was different.
Afterwards, we moved on to Fusion. Fusion is one of Shanghai’s more modern establishments, and its at the top of the Xintiandi shopping mall. The area is trendy and wealthy. It’s a clean break from some of the grimier parts of Hongkou. Dan followed along as I showed him how the locals like to celebrate the first night of a long weekend: drinking on the tables outside convenience stores, bantering down the always-open but deserted corridors of shopping malls and then ending with a dance on the top floor. It’s all still very foreign to me. I don’t think I’ll be enjoying this for too many more years of my life.
Day 189 (15th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
The first job in the morning was to move from the Blue Mountain hostel to the SISU Guesthouse. It involved a trip through the subway tunnels before we eventually arrived. I was glad that Dan was impressed by the hotel. His favourite part, as is mine, was the ice cold air-con which was there to greet us in my room. Shanghai has been very humid over the past few days, and our sweat-stained pants were sticking to our skin by the time we arrived at the hotel.
We left our bags in the room and headed out for the day’s work: bank, fake markets and groceries. It was a pretty bland itinerary (trust me, the days get more interesting), but I designed it as such because I accurately predicted Dan’s addiction to the art of bargaining.
But first: brunch. I pushed Dan for his first foray into local Chinese food with a meal of beef stir fry, potato strips and fried rice. A tame start, I thought. Dan handled it well as did his stomach, so I was confident with moving forward in the next stage of Chinese cuisine when it came time for the next meal.
Dan had come at the perfect time, because with his arrival I could be sent an emergency financial care package which could be withdrawn from his account while I wait for my bank cards to arrive. Just like on my first few days in Shanghai, Westpac’s annoying withdrawal limits got in the way and forced us to plan another return later in the trip.
The AP Plaza is home to Shanghai’s biggest fake market.
Located around the Shanghai Science & Technology Park metro station, this collection of stalls stocks everything from Hugo Boss suits to novelty iPhone cases. The sellers make their money off of unsuspecting tourists who foolishly pay for more than the products are worth. Bargaining is the main sport at these places. It’s a skill to fight off the perception of immorality and to realise that arguing over the price is embedded in Chinese culture and is their way of doing business. At the AP Plaza, naming 10% of the quoted price as your first bid is a rule of thumb. Then, it’s all about getting the final price to as close to that number as possible.
Within minutes of entering, Dan was hounding every shop keeper. Just look at this kid’s face. It was his spiritual home.
Off we went to experiment every new gadget the sellers shoved in our faces. We tested lasers, electric current lighters, listening spy devices and even tasers.
Only once it was evening and raining did we leave the markets. With bags full of gifts, souvenirs, clothing and gadgets, it seemed like we had our holiday’s shopping done on the first day.
Being the Mid-Autumn Festival, I insisted that we took a train back to Nanjing Road East in an effort to track down some of Shanghai’s more famous mooncakes.
Upon arrival, we realised that it was far too rainy and that our flimsy umbrella wouldn’t do an adequate job. As a result, we decided to go to the Hongkou Carrefour to pick up the mooncakes instead. While there, we got a bit distracted in buying some groceries for the coming week. Dan was pretty impressed with the industrial bottle-sized portions of alcohol which were being sold. Rest assured that we didn’t buy any.
I managed to get my hands on an assortment of different mooncakes at Carrefour. Finding the other things we needed and looking for the exit proved to be chaotic and tiring, making the eventual return to the hotel all the more sweet.
Day 190 (16th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
One of my most fond memories of visiting Shanghai for the first time in early 2010 was driving hours out of the city into a small water town. These towns, some of which have more than 1000 years of history, are set along winding canals which dot the map in the region surrounding Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Much of the itinerary which I organised for Dan and I was based around showing Dan all of the essentials of China whilst still seeing them in a new way for myself. As such, I set out to organise an excursion to a water town which I hadn’t yet seen.
The one which had been recommended to us by the hostel two days earlier was Zhujiajiao. I didn’t question the choice much until a quick Google search on the morning of the trip revealed that it is the most popular and commercial of the water towns due to its close proximity to Shanghai. Being a long weekend, I didn’t want to risk being caught in the same suffocating crowds as when the Riverview group visited a water town earlier in the year.
As a result, we quickly adjusted our plans and elected to go to XiTang water town. Both of us made sure that we were stocked up on snacks for the two hour long distance bus ride.
The driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We quickly found our bearings and walked towards the water town.
Already Dan noticed the increased number of people doing double takes when they looked at him. They weren’t the only ones doing double takes, though. We had the exact same reaction to this underwater basketball court.
Located in Zhejiang Province, Xitang place dates back as far as 770BC.
In one of China’s most important periods of history, the Warring States Period (476BC – 221BC), Xitang was of strategic importance on the boundary of the Wu and Yue states.
What impressed us more than Xitang’s history was its tranquility. The houses and the river held each other in a perfect equilibrium. The actual buildings of the town are mostly from the Ming and Qing dynasties which lasted from the 1300’s to the 1900’s.
Bushwalking Asian style.
The other strength of this town was its obscure foods. It was a little too much at points for Dan (and me, at times), and our lunch wasn’t as the picture had promised, but we still tasted a number of weird and wonderful things.
To make lunch a little better, we had this little guy staring up at us from under the table.
One of the highlight foods of the day came when we were searching for the deceptively uncommon spring roll. Instead, we found a crispy white roll with warm taro on the inside.
The view which accompanied it was unbeatable.
Xitang is also famous for its over 100 opulent bridges which arch their way over the river beneath. Dan and I began to get a bit artsy with our photographs to satisfy the increasingly insatiable demand of parents.
Xitang also retained evidence of a past population which was devoted to religion and respect for royalty. Inside it, museums showed remnants of temples and parades, with some performers even hanging gongs by hooks in their skin.
The bus back made for a well-deserved rejuvenation before a big concert in the evening. About a month ago, Dan messaged me ecstatically with a link to his find: a DJ Snake concert in Shanghai during his stay. I do like my electronic music and always appreciate an opportunity to hone in the dancing skills, and so I jumped at the opportunity. The concert was at MYST Club, venue renowned for its pricy drinks. As a result, we decided to enjoy a small party of our own in the room and at the “Stairs Bar”, the SISU group which meets on the porch stairs every evening to socialise.
Arriving at the club for the DJ’s scheduled start of 10:30pm, we quickly realised that we would be in for a long wait.
We spent the time walking around the venue and trying to befriend people on tables. We quickly realised that we were in the presence of the most uptight, obnoxious group of people we had ever come across. Each table had one security guard looking after it. A few attempts at trying to strike up conversation with anyone at any of the tables was quickly met with some yelling by the security to move away. We were confused as to what was going on. Eventually, we found a table where the guests told the security guard that we were allowed to speak to them.
“Why is no one speaking to us?” Dan asked one of the guys at the table, who turned out to be a Chinese-American student from LA.
“Well, we’ve all paid a lot of money for these tables. We don’t want anybody taking drinks.” he said in his thick, fake American accent.
“How much did this table cost you?” Dan asked, confused.
“70,000 yuan.” he replied in a boastful tone.
That’s AU$14000. For a crate of champagne and a DJ Snake concert. That had better have been the best night of their lives. The worst part was that no one at any of the tables was socialising. They were sitting back on WeChat on their phones with crates of Don Perignon in front of them. Disgusted, I snapped this photo and was almost kicked out for that reason alone.
Dan and I quickly moved in to the audience in the hope of finding a crowd who would gel with us more. We never really found it bar a few people. It was a long wait until DJ Snake turned up just after 2:00am. Luckily, though, his performance made up for it. We were having the time of our lives directly in front of the smoke machines. Dan even stretched out his phone to the DJ and had him take a Snapchat video of the whole crowd.
We managed to get our way home through Uber at the end of what was a very fun night.
Day 191 (17th of September, 2016) – Shanghai, China
In the morning, I woke up and almost had a heart attack when I realised what was going on. Outside, the sound of an air-raid siren was blaring through the city. I shot up out of bed and looked outside of the window only to see people walking completely as normal. Dan woke up too and was worried about whether we should do anything. A quick internet search made me realise that it was just a city-wide test of the public warning system. It certainly worked.
Right when I thought my brief cardiac arrest had come to an end, I took note of the time: 10:20am. Our train to Beijing left at 10:00am. I had set alarms for 7:00am and 7:05am on my phone the night before but both Dan and I had slept through them. A brief outburst of frustration was met with a level-headed reassessment of our plan. There was nothing we could do about the missed train – we had lost the tickets. It was also too late for today to be a viable day to go to Beijing. Instead, I rebooked a train for early tomorrow morning and shifted the existing return booking from Sunday evening to Monday evening. Even though it set us back a bit, it actually resulted in us having a few more hours in Beijing. That can only be good.
As often has to be done in travel, I quickly rearranged all of our existing itinerary on the fly to accommodate for the unexpected roadblock. It meant that today would become the “Modern Shanghai” day. It all started on the metro there when I started running Dan through the mind-boggling facts about the city’s population, size and GDP. It was timely because we were on a metro line which runs above the city, allowing us to peer into the skyscrapers towering around us.
Dan, like me, still can’t get his head around the sheer size of Shanghai. Here is a map which shows every country in the world with a smaller population than this city.
Our first destination was the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Upon disembarking at People’s Square station, we accidentally made our way through Shanghai 1930, a funky place which exists under the square itself.
Tunnels like this are what make stations like People’s Square more impressive than most airports. It has a sort of vibe that even the most well-funded global transport hubs can’t compete against.
By the time we finally reached ground level, we spied the oh-so-rare blue sky.
Near one of the station’s 20-odd exists is the Exhibition Hall.
This hall contains my favourite museum in Shanghai. The exhibition details Shanghai’s development and focuses on the past century. It presents information in a logical, visually appealing way. Best of all, though, this museum is as much about Shanghai’s future as it is about its past.
Our favourite part of the museum was the scale model of the centre of Shanghai.
Walking around the model I was able to spot my hotel in Hongkou. It’s the bright white building just right of centre.
Just as my body’s energy started to wear thin, so did that of my eyes. I have become increasingly frustrated by this over the past few days. Despite my prescription not having changed, my eyes have become very quickly fatigued and my lenses give the perception that they are zooming in far too much. I asked a nearby glasses shop what the problem might be. They pointed to the same lens board which had been used when selling me the glasses.
“You should have bought this lens,” the optometrist said. I had been ripped off. The glasses seller sold the lower quality, much more rounded lens as the more expensive one. No wonder my eyes had been feeling so different.
I was very annoyed, especially considering the effort that I had put in to go to that specific seller because I didn’t want to let her down. I’ll be returning next week to attempt to get the lenses swapped out.
The fatigue meant that it was a perfect time to go and find lunch. I took Dan back to Jia Jia Ting Bao, the dumpling house which I so greatly enjoyed just a week earlier. I was glad that Dan enjoyed it as much as I did.
Moving out of the People’s Square area and briefly finishing off our withdrawals at a nearby ATM, Dan and I moved on to Lujiazui – the financial heart of Shanghai. This in my mind is second to The Bund in being the most mind-blowing view of the city. Let me show you the first three towers you see as you exit the station.
From left to right, those buildings are:
- Shanghai World Financial Centre – 492m
- Jin Mao Tower – 421m
- Shanghai Tower – 632m
And behind you, the Oriental Pearl Tower at 492m.
There are two ways you can interpret your position in relation to these behemoths: you can be pessimistic about your cosmic insignificance, or you can be optimistic about how you’re a part of something much bigger. I’m very confident that I fall in the second category. Looking at these buildings makes me think of a wall of soldiers standing guard. It made me incredibly excited to think that I am a part of the species who achieved the feat of building these machines.
Shanghai Tower was particularly impressive in the generous sunlight. The building’s design was never one which I entirely appreciated until now. I never knew that the building is actually completely encased in glass with what seems to be another more normal skyscraper standing on the inside.
I was in my element.
I particularly wanted to go with Dan up to the top of Shanghai Tower. Shanghai Tower has the highest observation deck in the world (even higher than in the tallest building on Earth – the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). It opened just recently and I have only ever been up the World Financial Centre, so it seemed like the prime opportunity to share this new experience with my cousin.
As we waited in line, the weather began to turn. It was perfect. The skyscrapers turned a steel black and looked more like a part of Gotham City than Shanghai.
We took advantage of my second Chinese student card to get Dan a half price ticket and arrived inside just before the raindrops started falling. On the basement floor was a museum proudly comparing the Shanghai Tower to the rest of the world’s tallest buildings. The museum included the largest 3D-printed scale model in the world.
After a brief wait, we stepped into the world’s fastest elevator. This lift, manufactured by Mitsubishi, propels people up the building at 65km/h. If it weren’t for your ears popping, you wouldn’t have even know you moved. It’s that smooth.
The views from the top were magical. You could see the blood running through Shanghai’s veins on the ring-roads below.
I’ve never seen Dan so shocked. He was on edge after a few “saved your life” pushes from me, but his fear of heights didn’t stop him from looking down as much as he could.
We used up as much time as we were willing to cut into the 1st half of the Wallabies vs Argentina game before descending down the building. I ordered a shared Uber to bring us to “The Camel”, Shanghai’s premier Australian sports bar. I quickly learned never to order a shared Uber again. The other two girls who jumped in the car were going to an out-of-the-way destination and had somehow convinced the driver to go there before ours. After realising what was going on in their conversation, I interrupted in Chinese and had the car redirected to where the first passengers (us) wanted to go. They were very embarrassed that I had understood what was going on.
The Camel had a great atmosphere and truly beat any sports bar I’ve seen in Australia. Hardly a person in the room wasn’t wearing thongs and a singlet. I only wished that there were a few Australians below the age of 40. Still yet to find a young one!
Regardless, we celebrated the win with a burger and played some darts for the next hour or so.
We ended the night by walking up and down Anfu Lu and Wulumuqi Lu, my favourite streets (so far) in the French Concession. Here, I showed Dan the influence of the expat community on Shanghai’s suburbs.
Day 192 (18th of September, 2016) – Beijing, China
Just after 5:00am we were up and Adam. We weren’t going to miss the alarm this time. After watching our Uber not check his blind spot and almost veer straight into a bus, he picked us up and took us at a snail’s pace to Shanghai Hongqiao station. This speed train station sends out multiple trains per hour bound for Beijing.
Before long we were settled into our seats. I got stuck into my mooncakes while Dan ripped open another burger. I’m going to have to push him harder on the Chinese food… He’s doing well so far, mind you. Better and better each day. The train took about five hours to reach Beijing, but the time flew much quicker than on a flight. Both of us caught a few hours of sleep and the spaciousness of the cabin meant that we could move around easier than we could on a plane.
Arriving in Beijing South station, we immediately transferred to the subway and followed the very precise instructions to reach our hostel.
Our hostel has an unusual name: “Sitting On The City Walls Courtyard House”. It is located in the NanLuoGuXiang Hutongs. In fact, the hostel is actually IN a Hutong. For those who don’t know, Hutongs are the houses which form Beijing’s oldest residential neighbourhoods. They are crowded alongside narrow alleyways suitable only for bicycles, and their grey exterior contains a courtyard and bedrooms. They are prevalent in most northern Chinese cities, but are most famous in Beijing.
Just outside the Hutong district was a community area were the elderly were playing ping pong and chess.
These were the laneways which we had to navigate through to find our accommodation.
The entrance to the hostel.
The courtyard of the hostel.
I couldn’t be happier that we booked this particular accommodation. There’s nothing more Chinese than eating dumplings and playing mahjong in a Hutong courtyard in central Beijing. The communal space of the Hutong was very tranquil. Unlike in some other hostels, people here were remarkably quiet. A trickling fountain was the only sound which could be heard above the sips of everyone drinking their green tea and beer on separate tables.
By the time we were in the hostel it was 2pm. We knew we didn’t have much time if we wanted to tick off all of Beijing’s main sites in that afternoon. Upon telling the hostel receptionist that we were only in Beijing for one and a half days, she laughed and said I wouldn’t be able to see more than one or two of the essentials. I took that as a challenge.
Within minutes we were on our first rickshaw heading towards Tiananmen Square.
The rickshaw driver dropped as off as close as he could get to Tiananmen. We had to walk down a few streets before we caught any sight of one of the world’s largest city squares. On the way, though, we found a restaurant which caught Dan’s eye. It had the atmosphere of Lee’s and the price of your local takeaway, so we jumped at it. Sure enough, it was a great meal. Probably the best meal of Dan’s visit so far, actually.
The Peking Duck was unbelievable (as expected – this is Beijing, a.k.a. Peking, after all). But I was most excited that I was able to get my hands on Zha Jiang Mian – Beijing’s famous fried noodle with soy sauce. I had asked Urwin Ming, my supervisor from Chinese Bridge, to remind me of the name of a meal which I shared with her and Angus Gilbert on our first day in Beijing. I remember that very meal from three years ago – it was that good. It was just as good today.
Just around the corner was the famous Tiananmen Gate.
And the square behind it. Apparently there are more plain-clothed officers here than there are uniformed guards.
Tiananmen Square is perhaps most infamous in the Western world for being the location of the Tiananmen Square massacre which took place following the mass pro-democracy protests of 1989. On a more positive note, Tiananmen Square is also the heart of Beijing and in some senses the heart of the country. Surrounding it is the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Just inside Tiananmen Gate is the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City served as the extravagant home to 24 of China’s emperors (14 from the Ming Dynasty and 10 from the Qing Dynasty) from 1420 until 1912.
What’s most impressive about the Forbidden City is its sheer size with 980 buildings. The buildings were mostly used for things like housing the emperor, his empress, his concubines and the ministries of China. Within these 980 buildings are 9999 rooms.
One of the most striking visual aspects of the city is the number of golden roofs. Gold, which was the official colour of Chinese emperors, covers 90% of the roofs.
One fact which I found interesting was that the giant copper cauldrons outside the main halls were filled with water year-round in case of a fire. In winter, pieces of cloth would be placed over the top and charcoal burned to make sure that the water never froze.
As you move into the back end of the palace, more of the sights become gardens rather than palaces.
Luckily, there was a metro station not too far of a walk from the back of the Forbidden City. I find Beijing to be quite a spread-out place, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when there is a metro station within walking distance.
From the Forbidden City we could go directly to the Olympic Park. Here lies Beijing’s famous “Birds Nest” national stadium and the “Water Cube”.
The Bird’s Nest stadium has a capacity of 91000 and is considered the largest enclosed space in the world. It is comprised of 36km of unwrapped steel.
I find it mind-boggling how such a seemingly random pattern can be executed with such mathematical precision. The designers really did succeed in creating a national icon. I doubt many of the other Olympic parks around the world would get many visitors as this one does eight years after the Games.
The Olympic Green is surrounded by some other very alien-looking buildings.
Amongst them all, Dan picked up yet another gimmicky toy. Its first flight wasn’t the most successful. Definitely worth the purchase, though.
The Bird’s Nest continued to amaze me when it switched on its advertising billboard at night which was under the outer steel layer.
Dan and I bought tickets to visit the inside of the Water Cube and were honestly underwhelmed with the quality of the water and the state of the structure as a whole.
It was still worth the AU$3 though (thanks to student tickets). Inside the Water Cube, we also got to watch the main video of Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. They will be the first city in the world to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Despite its relatively distant proximity from the nearest ski fields, I’ve no doubt that 2022 will be a very successful year for the Olympics. The video showed that high speed trains out to the ski fields will cross hundreds of kilometres but take less than an hour.
The evening saw us taking a stroll down Wangfujing Road – Beijing’s commercial centre.
Dan spotted a free virtual reality horror game. We waited patiently in line to experience what ended up being an amazingly immersive thriller experience. There were times when we were punching the air in front of us out of fear of what was going to jump out at us, and when we fell in-game we genuinely felt like we were falling in real life.
Just nearby Wangfujing was The Peninsula – the hotel which my family stayed at on our first visit to Beijing in 2010. I have very, very fond memories from this hotel. Vivid memories began resurfacing of Dad and I walking to a nearby KFC in a desperate attempt to find Western food after eating Eastern food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week straight. I remember the biting cold and the polluted snow, but most of all, I remember staring at the buildings towering beside me and being in absolute awe. Funny to think that I could hardly speak a word of Chinese back then.
I was very proud of Dan for braving up and stomaching a dinner of street food with me.
The Wangfujing Night Market is world-renowned for its safe, hygienic street food. We embarked on a journey to find the weirdest and best tasting snacks.
We even got to see a brief Peking Opera performance while eating.
The only food which didn’t go down well was the “chicken-beef”. It went straight from Dan’s mouth to the ground. But luckily, as of the time of writing, not a single tummy bug was contracted. And further, it wasn’t much money to spend on a delicious, delicious dinner.
Walking back to the Hutong late in the evening had us feeling like real locals. Both of us commented on just how surreal the moment was. I’ll surely be thinking back on this for many months after Dan leaves.
And, as promised, let’s see what I got through this week:
- Terminate police investigation – YES
- Obtain materials for insurance claim – NO
- Replace wallet – YES
- Re-earn 2000RMB – ALMOST
- Replace student ID card – YES
- Replace campus money card – YES
- Replace laundry card – YES
- Replace Australian bank cards – ALMOST
- Replace Chinese bank card – NO
- Replace watch – NO
- Replace glasses – YES
Pretty good scoresheet I’d say.
Until next time,