The plan for my last full day in China was a fast train to Shanghai from Hangzhou, then a day bike tour of Shanghai followed by dinner with Maggie and a local friend of Maggie. Unfortunately the day was wet and grey but I enjoyed riding around Shanghai’s busy streets.
The day started early, 5.50 am, ten minutes before my alarm was due. My train leaves at 7am, I allowed 30 minutes to get to the station. There is a 15 minute walk and a need to buy breakfast on the way, so maybe a little tight. Although I had purchased the ticket, walked the route the day before and saved its location on my phone map (maps.me).
Currently on the high speed train to Shanghai with my da boa (take away) breakfast. The passenger next to me is not very talkative. All went well except I mixed up the gate number with my carriage number and I arrive to find an empty lounge and a locked gate, I was worried for a few minutes until I realised my mistake. My gate was next door. I was on the train with 10 minutes to spare. I am glad I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm.
The train to Shanghai was very fast and smooth, a million miles away from the local train I had taken a few days before to Lishui. The local train did give me much more contact with locals, although I exchanged cards with a nice lady next to me (not the sleeping student). I managed to work out she lived with her parents and had one child. We both looked at our cards as curiosities. She was going to work.
On exiting the high speed train I now had to navigate to a metro station. I did not even know if there was a metro station at this station. I prepare well enough before hand, i.e. I knew I needed to get to a certain metro station, and work out the details as I go. At this point I decided I needed some help, so I spotted a western person (much easier in Shanghai), a well dressed blond German lady going to work it seemed. She ignored me for a while, I realised this was a coping mechanism to deflect local attention. Once she recognised I was western she immediately offered to take me to the subway ticket machine and in the process of showing me how it worked, bought my ticket for me! As we were on the same metro train we had a chat about working in China and my holiday.
Working in China is a bit of a dream of mine. My German helper is a HR manager in a large company and deflated my dream a bit. Getting time for a holiday like mine is rare and she finds Chinese workers frustrating in two ways.
1. They have no initiative/big picture thinking, they need to be given step by step instructions, multiple tasks needed to be stipulated with deadlines progressively through a single day. I assume this is as a result of very rote education system. This seems to support what I have read previously where the government is trying to broaden the school curriculum and encourage more lateral thinking. The trouble is the general population want to stick with what they are familiar with.
2. I mentioned briefly my theory about the education system making or breaking students and asked about the stars (those made). She agreed there are some stars in the work force but even these people leave on the dot of 4.30 pm no mater how much urgent work is pending.
She mentioned there are “rules”, as in it is OK to drop all work at 4.30pm and leave but how dare she leave at 4pm on a Friday even though she had worked late every other night covering for them leaving at 4.30.
On exiting the subway I now had to find Moa Ming road and since I was at a transfer station and there were road works everywhere, it was not clear where this road was. So I again asked for help, in Mandarin this time and was able to arrive at the tour meeting place about five minutes before anyone else. Talk about perfect timing. I had booked a day long cycling tour of Shanghai online as a way to see the maximum with minimum fuss. I was very pleased I was able to arrive on time with all of the travelling involved.
Being a rainy week day meant it was a small tour group, i.e. just me. My guide was a lovely lady named June (not July), a project co-ordinator for setting up Chemical factories, she was waiting for her next project.
Having a tour group of 1 meant it was a bit more expensive but what a opportunity! Throughout the day I asked many questions, I learnt that there are strict environment controls and regulations for New and Upgrades to existing chemical factories. Plus the regulations are changing and getting more strict all the time. I got the impression existing factories are another story.
June was lovely, as it was raining I was given a complementary rain poncho, trouble was it was not sized for a large western man, I was worried I would tear the poncho to pieces as I was putting it on. June noticed this and immediately offered to swap with me and so I had the privilage of wearing her much larger and more sturdy poncho while June spent the day in my mine.
We had lunch and afternoon tea together after stopping at the best egg tart bakery in Shanghai. It did taste smooth, warm and sweet, very hao chi (tasty).
We also discussed religion, ethics and control of society. It seems we had similar ideas, although June has a slightly more spiritual angle to our shared non religious beliefs.
I told June about my trip, by the way June has excellent English, she studied Chinese Literature at Uni. She was impressed with my trip but easily topped me when she told me about her 35 day bicycle ride she did with uni friends to Mongolia.
I did get one complement about my riding and how I was handling the traffic with ease, “oh you are braver than me”.
We rode to a number of central Shanghai tourists spots, and even an extra one not usually on the tour, because I showed so much interest in China/Politics, June took me to the Birthplace of the Modern China and the Communist Party of China exhibition, it was free entry but you do have to go in one door for a ticket, out to the street again, then hand the ticket in at the next door. Job making? It was a very interesting destination, maybe for keen locals more than westerners.
The bicycle tour I went on listed the following sights:
Tianzifang (Taikang Road)
Antique Market on Dongtai Road
Shanghai Old Streets
Ok, so my memory is as follows:
The French Concession could have done with a bit of tourist polish, I was taken to a lòngtáng (Shanghai Hutong), I felt like I was being taken into peoples houses (and I was), the kitchen area I was shown was very greasy/depressing. There were about 5 single light bulbs in a line, each family paid the electricity for that bulb, it was their part of the kitchen. These were once plush 3 story family homes for one well off family, now one family per room.
We went to the cricket and bird market, parts of the market was overwhelmed by the sound of the crickets. There are hundreds of crickets in tiny boxes, being trained, I assumed irritated to become aggressive. There was a small bird sitting out in the open with a leash around its neck. The masses of wriggly lavie for feeding birds freaked out June. My overall impression of the market was it seemed cruel.
The arts district seemed very nice, not as big as 798 in Beijing but more cosy and easier to get around. Will definitely take Trudi Anderson back there one day.
The Antique Market was very disappointing, it will be knocked down within two years, everything is planned out at least that far ahead. It seemed they were almost wanting to give their stuff away. Definitely winding down, many stalls had already moved on.
We rode through many old/slum(?) areas that were being demolished and you could see the new and old side by side.
As we rode to the Bund (briefly, better to return at night), I was amused that we rode through the most bustling, messy, old area of Shanghai that I had seen up to that point as my gateway to see the shining flashy new.
Unusually June has a brother, younger, who already has a child, so there is no pressure to get married and have children, June was happy to say. The one child policy has lots of special rules, for example previously if both parents are one child they were permitted to have two children, then the policy changed that if one of the parents are a one child, then the couple can have two. Nowadays everyone can have two children.
I am not sure how June’s parents escaped the forced abortion, but she did mention something about her parents running away.
One of the tour destinations is a park where on the weekend it is packed with parents holding up their children’s education/qualifications looking for a partner. It was deserted on our rainy mid day ride. June happily replied to me question that her parents are not into that sort of thing for her.
After the ride, June helped me locate my Chinese Business person hotel and we worked out the metro line to catch. In fact June (not July) walked me to the subway entry. June had a straightness/confidence when she walked, I confirmed she also like walking/trekking. June was from some part of China I was unfamiliar with but I guess there are mountains involved.
Dinner in Shanghai on my last night in China, Maggie and I met up with her friend who lives locally. Maggie had come to Shanghai during the day to fly to Taipei the next day for a holiday with her boyfriend.
We have a native Shanghaier (well someone who lived in the city at least), to be the boss on where to eat and go. We went to a restaurant in the main walking street (that I had not seen before) that served classic/old style Shanghai dishes. A great choice, although I skipped the Jelly fish and Gluten dishes, the others were great and not too hot, “bu la”. The boss lady chose the dishes to give us a taste of Shanghai.
We then strolled down the main walking street and I learnt a new word (well reintroduced), “yong”, as in Bu yong, xie xie. When hassled to buy rubbish because I am western I can say “No need, thank you”. This works a treat because as soon as you show some fluency with Mandarin they assume you are local and leave you alone. It worked a treat, especially if you say it with a slight annoyance in your voice. It was useful the next day leaving Hangzhou train station as well.
We were heading towards the Bund, an obvious choice by the Boss lady. During the evening, Mia, the boss lady, had taken to heart my desire to improve my Mandarin on this trip and started setting me challenges. For example the group photo I have included required me to request a stranger to take the photo without using sign language. So the sentence is “Hello, question, can you take my picture, OK? “Ni hao, qingwen, Bung wo pai zhao, hao ma”. It took a bit of practice but I managed it.
Next was a writing test at the war memorial, I admitted I am not learning written mandarin, but I did point out one character I do know “ren” and then a few more were familiar, I managed at 75% for my first ever written mandarin test.
I felt a bit intimated by Boss lady Mia, but I think she would accelerate anyones learning.
All through this trip I have been asking people what their thoughts were about the last Peoples congress meeting where the sole topic was “The rule of law” with Chinese characteristics. It seems they have plans to improve, make more transparent the Justice system. Mia said she had not seen/read anything about this. I asked if people are not interested in politics and the answer was, yes of course they are interested but to what affect, what can they do/change? I mentioned some villages have successfully protested against corrupt mayors and party officials, so it is not a total waste of time.
That evening back at my Chinese businessman hotel, I noticed a card had been pushed under my door. It was for prostitutes I assume from the pictures. As an observation, this was the first contact I had this whole trip with the sex industry. I don’t know if China has a much smaller industry compared to other countries or just I was away from the popular tourist areas. I considered ringing the number to practise my Mandarin but decided against it.