Ahhh, China. The land where even the beautiful people think it is socially acceptable to hack up the contents of their throat loudly and spit it out. How this can ever be construed as anything other than just the most revolting act on earth is beyond me. I’m sure all the evil looks and revolted faces I’m pulling in all directions won’t change the habits of the biggest nation in the world but I’m trying to do my bit!
Nonetheless, I’m here in Shanghai! On Sunday morning we left the kids in the totally capable and trustworthy hands of my parents and jetted 800 miles from Hong Kong to Shanghai. My first visit to real China proper.
Months and months ago, my parents said that if Dan needed to go on a business trip whilst they were visiting us in Hong Kong in December then we should leave the kids with them and I should go with. We were so lucky to get such a natural, loving offer like that it would simply be rude to turn it down! My mum rolled her eyes when I presented her with 6 pages of typed notes to help her and my dad through the 4 days. I told her to read it through and let me know if any of it was unnecessary and I’d take it out – needless to say I ended up adding more!
We landed at lunchtime on Sunday giving us a free half day to sightsee. Dan has been to Shanghai a lot since we’ve moved to Hong Kong but always during the week and never with any time to see anything other than the inside of his office and various restaurants. From the airport, we took the Maglev into the city. The Maglev is the fastest train in the world. It is raised from the track and kind of floats magnetically (Magnetic Levitation = Maglev) We reached a speed of 301km per hour at the fastest point and in 9 minutes we had travelled over 30km – interesting, for some! But at least I can now say ‘been there, done that!’
Our hotel is the Grand Hyatt. The hotel reception is on the 54th floor and rises spectacularly up to floor 87. We are in the relatively cheap seats on lowly floor 59. There is something very weird and a bit unsettling going to sleep at night at such an altitude. Best not to think about it.
So Sunday afternoon, we did a Big Bus Tour – a great way to see a city, and Dan and I have done many of these over the years. We love a Big Bus Tour. The weather is absolutely freezing, well below 10 degrees. Sadly my big puffy English winter coat is safely in storage in England and I only have a lighter coat that is still too heavy for a Hong Kong winter but in Shanghai it’s definitely not enough! I now haven’t been able to feel my face, nose or ears for 24 hours, a feeling I haven’t experienced for a long time! But the tour gave us a good feel for the city, just a shame it was so cold, grey and drizzly – I was hoping for a clearer day in the morning!
For dinner we went to a restaurant that came highly recommended by almost all of Dan’s colleagues, a restaurant famous for it’s crispy duck. Yum, nothing like Chinese duck, I could eat it every day, well maybe I’d alternate duck & sushi….
On the menu, and on all tables we could see was the clear speciality – crispy duck skin – and I was delighted to see it seemed to come with the pancakes, cucumber, sauce etc that we know and love. There was also crispy duck as well as crispy duck skin on the menu and desperate to stick to my diet I was keen to order meat instead of skin. Fat on a plate really isn’t ideal for a diet! We tried to ask if we could have the crispy duck instead but none of the staff spoke English. We were sent a waiter that they deemed to be their English speaker but he was just a teenager who stammered and stuttered and didn’t really get much English out so we gave up and just went for the duck skin. I think he was basically trying to tell us that no we couldn’t have the crispy duck, we have to have the duck skin as that’s what everyone has and everyone comes for. It was very nice and did come with a bit of meat attached so the diet damage wasn’t too bad, I hope! The other dishes we ordered were a bit hit & miss and one didn’t come at all. Shame, I was looking forward to ‘prawn balls with a hundred corners’ – I only ordered them to see what they would look like! I think the meal was over quicker than the time it has taken me to type this as we were done in about an hour. We asked the staff at the door if we could get a taxi, to which they responded by opening the doors and hollering out into the darkness of the quiet street we were on. I found this stupidly funny and got the giggles but whatever they said obviously worked because out of nowhere appeared a taxi!
Monday morning and Dan disappeared off to work at 7am leaving me all alone in a strange big city in the middle of China, really not daunting at all. After my leisurely ‘breakfast for one’ which I ended as soon as the guy on the table in front of me started loudly hacking up, I spent a weepy hour back in our room watching the Strictly Come Dancing results and the first hour of BBC Sports Personality of the Year before deciding that I must get out!
My plan was to hop back on a Big Bus Tour. There are 3 different routes to take. We did one yesterday and as our tickets were valid for 24 hours, I could still use it for most of today so planned to see one of the other routes. My plan was simple. Tell the concierge where I wanted to go, get him to write it in Chinese on a card for the taxi driver, go down 54 floors, present the card to the doorman who called over a taxi, showed him my destination and I was on my way. Simple. Well it was until the taxi driver pulled over in an area I didn’t recognise as the same place we’d got the bus from the day before. But he waved his arm as if to indicate that I just needed to walk to the end of the block and I’d be in the right place. Not being fluent in Chinese just yet, I couldn’t even come close to saying, “This doesn’t look like where you were asked to take me, please could you keep driving til you get there, kind sir,” so I did what any Brit would do, paid the driver and got out of the taxi.
I have now learnt 2 things today.
The first is that Shanghai taxi drivers will rarely drop you where you have asked to go. Most will drop you wherever they want that is convenient to them. Last night too, the driver dropped us at least 2 blocks from the actual restaurant.
The second is that I am now confident that I can be dumped at any point on earth and as long as I have my iPhone on me, the Maps app (oh, how I love you so so much) will help me get wherever I need to go.
That taxi driver dropped me a 40 minute walk away from where I asked for! And that’s not a ‘dumb tourist walking round in circles’ 40 minutes, it’s a proper 40 minute walk, a good mile or so from where I needed to be, where I had to roam streets I had never roamed in my life! By the time I got to the Big Bus Tour stop, I was completely numb from cold and was about to embark on an hour bus ride in the open air. Fabulous. Still I’d come all this way, I was going to see it through if it killed me, which it very nearly did. Turns out green pedestrian lights don’t mean it’s safe to cross. Red traffic lights do not mean that the cars will stop. And pavements are apparently also for bikes and motorbikes.
An hour later I was done, had seen a little more of Shanghai, would have perhaps hopped on and off and mooched about various destinations as you are meant to do on these things had I not been so cold and cross. But I just did the tour and got a cab back to the sanctury of the hotel – well, obviously not exactly to the hotel, that would be too easy.