14 July 2010

Back in Shanghai

It was more than 6 years since I was last in Shanghai.  You could see big changes were underway back then, and today they can be seen, but as far as I can tell, it is still nowhere near the end.  Construction may not dominate the skyscape as much as it did back then, but that is probably simply due to much of it being concealed by other massive buildings.

Pudong, the new (in 2003) district in Shanghai, had completely matured, now appeared like Hong Kong when viewed from the other side of the Hangpu river.  The subway has expanded from two lines to twelve lines, and will be 22 by 2020.  That’s fucking scary, especially when you consider how hard it is for Ireland to even try and build a couple in Dublin.

While there I met up with a mate called James Ryan, who I’d met 6 years previously in a neighbouring city called Hangzhou.  I also met my next door neighbour from back home in Derry, Karl McErlean, for a few minutes (he was too busy with some important business deal to do with clothes to spend much more time).  James loaded Audrey and I with loads of souvenirs (thanks), Audrey particularly loved the Irish wolfhound toy dogs (but our backpacks were now at their heaviest).  We tried sending one back home through China Post, but they refused, due to security concerns (might it have rabies and bitten someone?).

We picked up a copy of one of the Chinese English language papers while there.  I have never read articles that were more devoid of any actual useful information, completely sanitised.  I knew they wouldn’t be great at reporting on what the Chinese government did, but it extended to even vehicle reviews.  One example of Chinese “critical” reporting on the new Mercedes C-class:

“As a trendy vehicle suited for everyday use as well as leisure travel, the C-Class Estate has foldable back seats that can make room for up to 1,500 liters [sic] of storage space, enough for four golf bags.”

Not a single word of criticism, it read exactly like advertising bumf (top gear wouldn’t be in it).  Maybe I’m being harsh, the car might actually be perfect, although it is a Mercedes, so I doubt it.

Also watching the Chinese English language news, when talking about inflation on the Chinese economy, the ‘expert’ economist they had on to discuss the situation with the Australian (for some reason) newscaster, he spent the whole time simply saying, “the ECB, Fed and Bank of England are to blame for keeping interest rates artificially low”, and nothing else.  No mention of Chinese economic policy or yuan revaluation at all.  Why take any share of the blame, when you can blame others.

I picked up a couple of books in Shanghai, at a dodgy little bookshop with a few English language titles.  Best thing about it was they sold the (knock-off) books by weight.  20 yuan for 1 kg.  I got 'The Catcher In The Rye' and 'Super-freakonomics', all for the princely sum of £1.30.

We found another restaurant where we ended up going to three times (like Matrioska in Krasnoryarsk), cheap and tasty food, you can't beat that combination.  The most interesting thing about it was that they wouldn't accept any tips from us.  Which was very refreshing, coming from Europe.  They came running after us as we left the restaurant telling us we'd forgotten our money and insisted we take it back.  All they requested is that we come back again (so we did, twice).  There were a few other places in China that also insisted on no tips.  Maybe they seen it as somewhat corrupt, like a backhander (pity their politicians couldn't learn something from them).

The place was phenomenally busy while we were there, due to their being a World Expo on, but I’ll go into that later.  After hours of trying to sort out trains for our next destination (many train lines in the direction we wanted to go were being affected by flooding, seems like the Chinese can’t completely overcome mother nature), we managed to get tickets to a place called Xiamen, on the south east coast.