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Travel Writing: China, Shanghai


28/09/08: Sightseeing Day

The fantastic skyline of Shanghai

The fantastic skyline of Shanghai

Our first day of sightseeing! We have a lot planned to see during these holidays, so it was great to get started.

As I had needed some time to catch up on my jet lag, we took it easy on my day of arrival. I struggled not to go to bed too early, but I probably should have, as today I only woke up by 10am.

We’re staying at my cousin Simone’s place, who lives with her family in Shanghai. What a great start to a big holiday, it’s just a good feeling to have a place to go first thing when you land up in a foreign country.

So after a day of relaxation, we felt excited to go out and about.

Obviously with the prospect of a lovely German breakfast with muesli, broetchen, jams and cheeses, we didn’t hurry too much, but enjoyed a slow start to the day.

As a result we only managed to get going close around midday, but for that the breakfast we had enjoyed would be long-lasting, saving us the time to look for lunch.

We encountered the first moment of difficulty already when it was about buying tickets for the subway. Even though we could switch the language to English, at first those automatic ticket machines were tricky to handle.

We had decided to go to People’s Square first, which had been a horse racing course before the communist government took over.

People’s Park has a speaker’s corner similar to Hyde Park, where Chinese meet and exchange views and discuss. What we could obviously not know, but statements were put down on the floor or pinned up to trees.

It’s nice for a stroll in the park and see what Chinese people do on a Sunday afternoon.

A word of warning however: There is a popular scam taking place around that area: It’s either the tea-ceremony-scam or the artist-student-scam. I had read about the artist-student-scam where an artist student sells you their work for a horrendous price. But we were unfamiliar with the tea-ceremony-scam and had difficulty detecting it at first: Seemingly randomly you get involved in a conversation with Chinese people. We had this happen to us three times and from offering help in finding directions to commenting on you / your equipment / your clothes in a flattering manner to asking you to take a picture of what looks like a group of friends, the approach varies. Once you get talking, these people turn out to be overly friendly, telling you about what there is to see and offer you to take you along to a tea ceremony. We kindly refused, thank god, as the scam is that in the end you have to pay for the tea ceremony an outrageous price.

So if Chinese people approach you, speaking fluent English and being extraordinarily friendly, beware: this is too good to be true. Most likely, the average Chinese will not speak English or only very little and they are usually not bothered about others at all.

If you want to buy Chinese art, buy it because you like it and accept that it could be fake. Negotiate the price, starting from 70% less than the initial offer.

If you want to experience a tea ceremony, go to any tea shop and ask for tasting the tea before you buy it. They will gladly invite you to experience their tea the Chinese way.

Not falling for any scam, we could enjoy People’s Square without much hassle. Amazing is the architecture around, but obviously more impressive should be the skyscrapers by the river so that’s where we headed off next.

We walked to the Bund, which is a promenade by the river with lots of touristy gimmicks on offer. We bought some nut cake, negotiating the price down substantially and a kite with a face mask printed on it. Christian had once more negotiated the price down considerably, but just when he’d bought it, he got offered the same kite for half that price by another person.

This shows you should never think in the currency you use. Chinese prices are much lower and you need to quickly start thinking in Yuan. As what might seem cheap in Pounds / Euros / Dollars is extortionate in Yuan.

We walked on in direction of Yuyuan Gardens and the scenery changed very drastically. Shanghai is very much about keeping the facade impressive and spotless, but once you look behind it, you get quite a surprise. Shanghai in particular is full of construction sites. So where you walk along the immaculate river promenade, as soon as you want to get off it you land up in chaos and dirt, as roads are not finished, pedestrian walkways non-existent and rush hour a constant phenomenon.

We stumbled upon Gucheng Park, which had nicely designed garden architecture with the famous Shanghai skyscrapers in the background.

Coming out of it, we ended directly in the old part of Shanghai, where life is happening on the street: Food, trade, meet-ups.

We walked around Yuyuan Gardens which turned out to be basically a shopping centre for souvenirs made up in the old Chinese style of architecture. I’m very interested in those dragons, as Dragon is my Chinese star sign, and there are plenty around at Yuyuan Gardens.

We didn’t make it to the actual garden, as last entry is 4.30pm and we had simply taken too easy a stroll to make it in time.

From Yuyuan Gardens we made our way back to People’s Park subway station, passing some interesting back streets, which give you an insight that not all is shiny steel and glass in Shanghai.

As the light grew darker, Shanghai became more colourful with all those advertising lights. It seems, life really starts to pick up when it comes to dinner time.

But after an eventful and adventurous day of sightseeing we were ready to go home for a nice home cooked meal.

Take a look at the photos:

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