Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Shanghai day two

Tuesday 19th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Kings and Queens – Thirty Seconds to Mars

Weather: Much like yesterday; not too hot and not too cold. A deep blue sky appeared with fluffy white clouds … great for photos.

I just can't seem to sleep-in any more. Much to the annoyance of my room mates, I found myself wide awake at 7am; I tried to get ready as quietly as possible but I still managed to wake the other two. I found myself heading into town at 7:30am; on the one hand this was good as it would allow a full day of sightseeing, on the other I would have to battle with the morning rush. Once at the underground station I let the first train go as it was rammed with people. The next train was only moments away however, as it whizzed past me eventually coming to a stop, it looked like a carbon-copy of the previous train with Chinese faces pressed against the glass. I squeezed on, thankful that I was only going two stops. Once at the terminus everyone piled off in a chaotic fashion. Chinese people were pushing, shoving and running ... all of them trying to squeeze onto one narrow escalator. I, on the other hand, used the stairs as they were practically empty; as I walked past people, travelling on the escalator to my right, I realised that the Chinese were pretty lazy. I interchanged onto another packed train and headed towards 'The Peoples Square'.

I could feel the biting wind as I approached the exit of the underground. Once I'd zipped up my coat, and put my woolly hat on, I went for a wander to see what I could find. First thing I noticed was a modern-art memorial, with a soldier holding a dying comrade within his arms. With Shanghai's skyscrapers filling the background the whole piece made a rather good photo; I took several shots, from different angles, before heading to the 'People's Park'. The park was surprisingly large with several different areas. It took longer than I expected to walk through the park, trying not to bump into any old Chinese person performing their fitness routines (It's nice to see the retired have chosen to hold their fitness classes right in the middle of rush hour … typical). After side-stepping some old Chinese woman, wearing a red outfit who was 'in the zone', I made it to the water gardens. They were beautiful and once again, with Shanghai's skyscrapers as a background, many photos were taken.

I left the park and headed to 'The People's Square' (notice a theme in the names?) or more commonly known as 'Renmin Square'. More, well kept, gardens surrounded the main stone-slabbed square with the 'Urban Planning Exhibition Hall' on one side, and the 'Shanghai Museum' on the other. After looking around the grounds I entered the 'Shanghai Museum' where security was tight. I had to empty my pockets, have my bag scanned and identify my bottle of sun cream. The tourist behind me had to drink some water, from his bottle, to show that it wasn't any other liquid. After all this hassle it was nice to find that the museum was free to enter; I therefore headed to the first floor leaving the ground floors exhibits for when I leave.

The first floor mainly dealt with Chinese porcelain. Even though it was hard to see where you were walking, the exhibits were well lit; there was little written information but many artefacts. Unlike the Vietnamese, and Laos, museums each artefact was unique and interesting; even though the porcelain exhibits mainly focused on cups, food bowls and wine containers it also had many porcelain figurines, some of which were coloured. I moved quickly through the exhibit stopping only when a piece interested me. Once I'd finished I headed up the escalator to floor two. This floor mainly focused on Chinese writing. Many scrolls were laid out within large glass cabinets either in portrait, or landscape, positions depending on which way the writing flowed. Just like the porcelain exhibit these scrolls came from all around China and you could tell the differences between each province. Once out I headed into a small exhibition room with many paintings from the Ming dynasty; putting my face against the glass you could see the level of work required for such pieces. Given how old these exhibits were it was very impressive. Afterwards I continued forever upwards.

The third floor consisted of small exhibition rooms, one of which focused on China's ethnic minorities. One large glass cabinet was dedicated to each minority group; this exhibition gave a good perspective of how diverse, and large, China is with its northern minority groups dressed in firs and it's southern groups dressed in thinner clothing. There was also a large display consisting of ancient masks from Tibet and Guizhou. Moving on I went into a small room dedicated to 'seals throughout the ages' which was as dull as it sounded. Some of the seals were works of art, however these were few and far between; the majority of seals on display were tiny … so small it was hard to see what imprint they left. I moved quickly and into the currency museum. This room wasn't as boring as it sounded; it went through all the different types of currency used, from beads to printed notes. There were short TV documentaries showing how coins were made and what they were worth.

I had reached the top of the museum; it was around 11am and so it was time for 'elevenses'. I went into the museums cafeteria relieved to be sitting down for a short while. I looked at their cake selection and wasn't impressed. I decided to abandon 'elevenses' and started to head down to the first floor, much to the disappointment of my feet ... and my tummy. The ground floor had two exhibits; the first one had stone sculptures in focusing on Buddhism and ancient Chinese people. The second, rather larger exhibition room, was dedicated to bronze possessions from house-hold objects to large bells. My feet hurt and I was hungry; I whizzed around these exhibits before leaving the museum heading for lunch. My guidebook stated that the 'Shanghai museum' is 'one of the cities highlights' and I would have to agree; the museum was well laid out, the building was beautiful (with it's marble floors, glass roof and a beautiful 'criss crossing' marble staircase) and the exhibits were well lit. Once lunch had been eaten I crossed the road to the 'Urban Planning Exhibition Hall', which cost thirty Yuan (£3) to enter. Again security was tight. I looked at the small model of Shanghai's financial district before taking the escalator up to the first floor. This floor held photos of Shanghai's past; I glanced at them momentarily before moving up to level two.

If you love models of cities then you'll love this museum. Located on the second floor was a tennis court sized model of how Shanghai will hopefully look in 2020. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline with small back streets, and alleyways, demolished. I particularly liked the fact that they had used transparent plastic to show buildings that hadn't yet been built. I moved up to the other levels of the museum seeing more models of transport hubs, airports and smaller segments of the city. This is how I see museums looking like in the future; each floor separated into small, memory manageable, chunks with models and TV screens playing the dominant role. The fifth floor was dedicated as a lookout with a small restaurant attached. As the viewing platform looked away from the river front I didn't stay long; I viewed the photos of the expo buildings (the British one looked fab) before heading down the many escalators and out of the building. Even though I had only spent thirty minutes within this exhibition it had been worth it.

The time was 2pm and I had only completed 'The Peoples Square' area. I was running behind schedule. I walked south and into the old city. Whereas most of Shanghai seems to be spacious this area reminded me of Hanoi's old quarter; the roads were congested, the streets were narrow therefore walking on the road became necessary. My target was the 'Yu Yan' gardens, one of Shanghai's most visited attractions. Due to this being a confined area I got lost a few times before I stumbled upon a small 'China Town'. I realised what people meant when they say 'fake China'; standing in front of me were beautiful Chinese buildings that you could obviously tell were new and built for tourists. As I looked at the road signs in front of me, and then back at my guidebook's map, I noticed that I would have to go through this 'Chinese theme park' to reach the gardens; I read the passage, within my guidebook, about the area and I agreed when it said that it 'looked like a western China town'.

I walked down the fake cobbled streets, with the fake Chinese buildings surrounding me, looking into the shop windows selling fake Chinese souvenirs. The hordes of Chinese tourists were horrendous; I almost gave up trying to find an entrance to the gardens when, in the far right hand corner, I found a sign stating 'Yu Yan gardens straight ahead'. I paid the forty Yuan (£4) entrance fee and entered; the place was packed and you could see why. In between the huge rock walls lay small openings in which sat many Chinese gardens, or buildings. A large river acted as the heart of the gardens; on this river stood a tea house with a wooden bridge leading to it. I spent a little time walking this way and that, trying to escape the crowds and find my own part of the gardens to view, admire and above all, sit in peace. Alas it wasn't going to happen so I left the gardens and head north; my new target was the underground station that would take me to Shanghai's financial district.

Once at said underground station I looked at my map. If I took the line heading east I would get to the Oriental Pearl Tower within fifteen minutes, if I took the line heading west I would get back to my hostel within thirty minutes. Looking at my watch I noticed that the time was 3:30pm and, honestly, it was too late to start exploring another area of the city. Also I had started to become tired; I know when I'm getting tired as I start to get annoyed. As I walked to the station I cursed within my head asking “... why can't these people understand what a red light means...”. Also, whilst annoyed, I came to the conclusion that the best thing for China would be to colonise it to a European nation for a while; hopefully then the people would learn a few manners, drive properly and stop spitting. As you can tell I was very tired and this was my ultimate reason why I decided to head west and back to the hostel.

Once on the train I was a little gutted that I hadn't completed my list of sights for the day. I decided, once back, that I would sort out my onward travel arrangements, freeing up tomorrow for more sightseeing. Handily my hostel performs a train ticket booking service for the reasonable fee of £3.50. Within China you cannot book train tickets anywhere else other than at the train station; therefore this fee would cover a member of the hostel going to the train station (which is two underground stops away) translating my request and purchasing my train ticket without me having to move. I told the receptionist when I wanted to go, where I wanted to go and what type of seat I wanted. She passed this information onto another employee who went out. Afterwards I sat down, flicked through my photos of today and read my emails. I hadn't even uploaded my first photo when the receptionist came to me to say that the trains to X'ian, for Thursday, were fully booked. Fully booked! I enquired about Friday; she rang the hostel employee, still at the train station, and she confirmed that Friday was okay. Reluctantly I extended my stay here for another day before sitting back at my computer to reserve some accommodation within X'ian.

Half an hour had passed when the girl came back into the hostel with my ticket in her hand. I would be departing at 6pm, on Friday, and arriving at 3pm the following day. There were faster trains but they were all booked. The receptionist explained that trains should be booked three days in advance … but how do I know how long I want to spend within a place? To add further complications the first week in May is classed as a 'Holiday week' when every Chinese person is on the move. Considering China has the worlds largest population this means that the trains sell out very quickly. Just when it couldn't get any worse my Chinese visa needs extending within that week and I've been told that offices close for part of the holiday. Great; it looks as though I will need to do a bit of forward planning.

I sat back in my chair. First things first, tomorrow I'll head to the financial district and have a look around before visiting the sex museum; I may also head back to the Expo area. This will leave Friday to either visit a place out of Shanghai, recommended by the hostel receptionist, or plan the May holiday week. I can feel my 'worry-o-meter' making a return.

Well another week within China has been and gone. I may not have travelled too much but what a week; Hong Kong, Shanghai and the Formula One. As predicted my average has risen to £40.39 per day. Considering that this includes an F1 ticket (£109) and a flight (£90) I think that's pretty good. Now that I've found out about instant noodles I hope to knock that average down over the next week or so.

Apart from the spitting, the pushing, the inability to wait at a red light and the fact that the Chinese eat with their mouth open the people are great. Once you get a Chinese person on their own they are polite and will try to help you as best they can; once in a busy city it seems to be every man, woman and child for themselves (I've seen young men knock old women out of the way to claim a seat on a underground). Just a few basic manners and things would be a lot more tolerable.

Toodle Pip!

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