Shanghai… what a city! It is definitely not what I expected and that’s not always a bad thing. I arrived here expecting to see something completely different and in many ways it is very similar to being back in Europe. It’s like Europe gone crazy! I was there for barely 24 hours but I have a lot to tell so pull up a chair and join me!
I got to Shanghai at 3 pm after a 12 hours flight from Rome. I flew with China Eastern which is not a bad company. The plane was OK and we each had our own little VOD screen. The guy sitting next to me however was a nightmare. He had no sense of personal space and kept digging his elbow into my side. This was the beginning of my contacts with the Chinese and I can tell you he was more the norm than the exception. More on this later.
We landed at Shanghai airport around 3 pm. I was a little nervous as I was planning on getting in using the new transit visa that China has established in Jan of this year. The idea is that if you are staying for less than 72 hours you don’t need to get a visa beforehand, all you need is to prove that you have a confirmed flight that is leaving in the next 3 days. With my usual lack of preparedness, I had forgotten to print out my flight information and all I had was an email in Italian on my phone that showed my flight info. Turns out everything went smoothly. I had more trouble getting them to accept that I was the hairy big-bearded guy that appears in my passport photo than getting my visa stamped.
My friend Michael was waiting patiently for me at the airport. The flight was delayed and the visa took a good while but he still greeted me with a big smile, handed me a transport card and we headed towards the MAGLEV train. This wonderful piece of engineering takes you straight from Shanghai airport to the outskirts of Shanghai at 300km/h. After the train we took a taxi which ended up being more expensive than expected as the taxi drivers said they couldn’t use the meter on Sundays. Who knew the Chinese we so religious! 😛
Michael’s apartment is amazing! It has a fantastic view over Shanghai and a really comfy couch for vagabonds like me to sleep on. I had a shower and put on a load of laundry and then we left to have dinner with my work colleagues. Dinner was great and consisted of a neverending stream of plates delivered to our table. They were all placed on a rotating centrepiece that you could spin to get to the food you wanted. This was fun and also a bit stressful as you had to be fast in serving your food or someone would spin the table and you would miss your chance!
We then went for drinks in a very western part of town (we went to the paulaner brewery!) and then we said our goodbyes. Michael took me for the last one to an expat hangout called I love Shanghai. The place is really cool and I would highly recommend it to anyone in Shanghai that wants to meet some English speaking people. We stayed until midnight and toasted in Paddy’s day and then went home where I slept like a drugged baby!
The next morning I got up at 9 and headed out to see Shanghai. As some of you know, I have a tendency to get scammed on the first day of my trips and you’ll be happy to know that this time was no different. I met what I thought was a nice pair of Chinese tourists and we walked around People’s square for a while. They mentioned that they were going to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and asked if I cared to join them. They seemed nice enough so I went along. The tea place they took me to was rather small but nice. I got shown a price chart and, even though it was expensive (49 RMB for a tea), I thought it might be worth it to see the ceremony. I quickly realised something was up when I got a thimble of tea and then we passed on to the next one. I said that I didn’t want all the teas (there was over a dozen) and said that 2 was enough for me. The scammer got a bit upset and even said that I should live a little and spend more money. Her argument was that my flight tomorrow might disappear like the Malaysian airlines one and then what good would my money do me. I smiled and paid my bill (130 RMB or almost 16 euro for 2 thimbles of tea!). The good thing is now I’ve gotten scammed, I’m immune for the rest of the trip!
The rest of my visit was kind of uneventful unless you count my annoyance with the Chinese as an event. They seem to be extremely rude and have no sense of social awareness. They will push, shove and do whatever they feel like with no consideration for the people around them. I spoke to Michael’s roommate John about this and he said that in China calling someone out on their behaviour is simply not done. This leads me to believe that the Chinese are not rude, they’re mostly just too polite. In Europe if you acted like a dick all the time, people would call you out on it and you’d stop. In China you can act like a dick all you want as nobody will ever say anything out of politeness. In any case I found it rather aggravating.
At 4pm I proceeded to take the Metro to the MAGLEV train and got to the airport with almost no incidents. I did fall asleep on the Metro, freaked out thinking I had passed my stop and then realised after I had left the train that I was still 3 stops away! The wonders of jetlag!
The flight to Bangkok was a true nightmare. An elderly woman had a stroke on the plane so we had to make an emergency landing in Guangzhou to get her to a hospital. It was rather sad how the Chinese attitude shone here again. As she was being carried out from the airplane, all you could hear where mobile phones taking pictures left and right. We were grounded for over 4 hours and our 4 hour flight turned into a 9 hour one. Suffice it to say I was destroyed by the time I got to the hotel in Bangkok!
That’s all for now. I’ve been in Bangkok for just over 24 hours and have plenty to say in the next post. Make sure you don’t miss it!