I have been living in China just short a year now. Most of my travels have been in the Yunnan Province. I just returned from a few weeks on the other side of China. So I think it best to break up my blog into two parts. First Shanghai and then Beijing.
When foreigners travel to the US, they mostly go directly to NYC, then to LA and Las Vegas. When they return home, they have seen “America” and many end up with a bit distorted view of the USA. Well I kind of did the same thing… only in reverse. My experiences in rural China have been my first introduction to China. This contrast to American culture can be quite different to Chinese lifestyle. Kunming is a small city of about 3 million people. But out of the 55 minority cultures found in China, Kunming is very unique in that it has 25 of these minorities living here. Needless to say it makes this city very culturally diverse environment. So whereas Kunming is a small sized city, it is mostly made up of very traditional people with a very old cultural heritage. In short, arriving in Shanghai was a real eye opener for me. You could compare it to growing up in Little Rock, then going to NYC for this first time. *pic Shanghai Day, Nite
Speaking of NYC, you New Yorkers would feel right at home in Shanghai. The pace of the city, people’s attitudes and prices compare to that of NYC. So in a nutshell, Shanghai people possess that “New York state of mind”. People here operate on overdrive 24/7. Always in a hurry even if they aren’t going anywhere specific. They take this pace to the extreme. It is not unusual to see people actually running from place to place. I used the subway quite a lot here. It is a new system, very efficient and clean. It is easy to use and for 3 yuan you can travel and transfer all you like. Shanghai has done a great job building this system. Now enter the Chinese……. Talk about your Chinese fire drill! It is truly as if there is a fire going on. People are operating in panic mode down there. Pushing, running amok, running from car to car is the order of the day. When the train pulls up and the doors open, you literally fight your way into and out of the door. All at the same time. There is no order to the mayhem. As a result while 10 people are trying to get out, 10 are hellbound to get in. So everyone takes longer to transfer because people start a shoving match at the door. This always happens, even if the train is not busy! It is like some kind of a game. You can imagine the confusion when it is real crowded. Also there is no distinction between young and old. You push and block all people. Once you are on this train it’s everyman for himself. Old people will have to stand while a couple of teenagers remain seated. I got looks of confusion when I would let elderly people have my seat on the rare occasion I even had a seat. Once inside you are presented with the cell phone syndrome culture. This is a very curious activity amongst the Chinese. There is not a person in China without a cell phone. Old and young, rich and poor… no matter. This has to be the highest consumer market in the world by far. Hell, after 2 days here I went out and bought a new one! Well actually it was for my wife, her’s was on it’s last legs. Anyway this activity is not exclusive to Shanghai, but here it is very noticeable. First you have the “user”. In this mode people talk on their phone by actually yelling very loudly. At first you think they are just very angry, but quickly you realize this is the normal way you talk on a phone here. It think they believe they are talking through an invisible string phone. Someone 20 feet away can be heard very clearly. Now at any given time maybe 10 people in the train car is on the phone…. Yelling! Then there is the “puncher”. If you are not talking on your phone, you must otherwise be punching it at lightening speeds. The thumb is the preferred digit. It moves easily at 300 punches a minute. Never stopping long enough for the user to actually read whatever information is flying across the screen. I cannot read the Chinese script on the phones, but I carefully observed this up close. The screens were changing so fast I could not focus on the first word. I have no idea what this is all about. I like to believe they are actually executing some function, but I cannot imagine what that could be. I remember reading a news story that in China many people have carpal tunnel syndrome in their thumbs. It is actually a chronic disease in China. I can certainly understand why. I also noticed that there were a fair number of people that had a phone for each hand. These must be the “master punchers”. These people (mostly girls) were able to punch both cells at the same time, shifting their heads as if watching a tennis tournament. I was awestruck to see them at work. And finally there is the “my phone is NOT a phone” person. These people sit quietly, connected by headphones to their cells, watching movies, playing games, or MP3’s, tuning out all the chaos around them. I saw one guy that had a small joystick wired to his phone as he played games. The cell phone is always carried in your hand. Rarely is it in a pocket or purse. It also is adorned with decorations like strings of beads, key chained stuffed animals, jewelry hanging down and jingling as they use their phones.
The Shanghai people are great dressers. They have good fashion sense here. I might add that I found that many Shanghai women were beautiful. I think the highest number than anywhere I have been in China. The city by contrast to many in China was very clean and it’s architecture amazing.*pic The Bund The JinMao tower stands as the tallest building in China. I think also in Asia. *pic Jinmao Tower. This is a real shopping city. Fantastic department stores everywhere. Silks and tailored suits are the real bargins here. Nan Jing Rd *pic Shangahi shopping, Xigahui, Meile, Atlantic Shopping Center are must stops for shopping. The Yuan market is also worth a look. Prices in Shanghai are comparable to travel in the US…….expensive for China standards. Starbucks, western restaurants, American fast food are everywhere. Most Chinese speak English here as well so no problems in this department. The people here are basically not very helpful to you. They almost border on rude which was a surprise to me. The nightlife is quite lively in Shanghai. Many bars and nightclubs of all descriptions can be found here. Acrobatic shows, theater and opera are some of the best in the world.
I broke up my travel to Shanghai by going to Hangzhou for a few days. 1.5 hours by train and you arrive in this small city that sits on a beautiful lake (Westlake). This picturesque city is full of Chinese history. The Leifeng Pagoda is beautiful overlooking Westlake. I think if you go to Shanghai you should plan a few days here. You won’t be disappointed.
Returning to Shanghai I also took a day trip to Shizhou. It is like a small Venice. Very old buildings built of carved wood sit along a central canal. Interesting to see but I would categorize this attraction as strictly optional. It is 1.5 hours by bus from Shanghai.
Shanghai is the financial center of China. In hindsight I wish I planned a few more days than I spent there, but I wanted to move on the Beijing where I earmarked a week’s stay. All in all just remember that visiting Shanghai is unique to China and do not come away thinking you’ve just seen China by your experience in Shanghai.