I was really looking forward to returning to China and especially entering through Shanghai by boat as many did so in the past. It was better than I could have hoped for, I assumed the ferry would drop us off somewhere near the outskirts, maybe as far from the centre as Pudong International Airport which I arrived at a year and a half ago. I was grateful to be wrong as we sailed up the Huangpu River for over an hour, under a bridge in full view of the famous Pearl TV tower. We disembarked opposite the TV tower and only a 20 minute walk away from the Bund – the river edge full of old European style buildings, each littered with numerous bright red Chinese flags.
It was mixed feelings leaving the Chinese owned boat. After making friends and attempting conversations with many of the Japanese and Chinese on board, including a night of karaoke singing our hearts out to Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis and Beatles songs, it had become a really nice temporary home. At the last second the Japanese man Mischa slept next to in the communal economy room gave us his card with his details in case we had any problems in Shanghai, because “governments don’t always help”. He was returning to his Shanghai home and his Chinese wife while another Japanese man visits regularly and gives handmade keyrings promoting friendship with positive messages for the Chinese people he meets here, he kindly gave us one each too.
Waving goodbye to the Chinese mother and daughter fascinated by our travels through Japan, we stepped into Shanghai and slowly but surely we began to remember how to cope in China.
Unfortunately I will not remember Shanghai in such a positive way due to two things: difficult China Mobile staff and a dodgy hostel/guesthouse.
Internet is oh so useful for directions and getting around Chinese cities using buses. First stop was to top up our China Mobile SIM. In Ha’erbin the pay monthly SIM contract we agreed was 50RMB first month and then 35RMB the following months – or so we thought.
The little metre-wide shop advertising China Mobile offered to top up (recharge as they say here) our phone for a higher price. They didn’t understand the contract I handed to them and couldn’t help when we said we bought the phone in Ha’erbin. Different provinces have different rates, despite us never having a problem in the many northern provinces we travelled through.
Round the corner was a big official China Mobile shop. Walking in and handing over 35RMB they frowned when I repeated Ha’erbin but nonetheless topped up the phone and the internet worked again – woop! It was a temporary woop.
Three days later the internet stops working and we walk into another China Mobile to be confronted with a English speaker and the most frustrating conversation in China so far. There is something funny about Shanghai and mobile rates, and despite having our contract they didn’t care and insisted we had to pay a Shanghai price for internet that wouldn’t work outside of Shanghai – not helpful. Initially they would not allow or tell us anything as our number was in debt, at -1.2RMB (14p). Eventually we put on 50RMB for pay as you go and now have to be careful with the internet usage. So much for the contract we signed and waited patiently for 45 minutes for. My first trip to Shanghai was for a conference with work in March 2016 and time was spent wandering the mobile companies with a friend to get her a new SIM card – it had been extremely difficult for her then too even as a Chinese citizen.
The second problem in Shanghai was the hostel-not-hostel. It was in an old area down a sub lane off a street and along an alleyway in an old three storey building. With no name or sign on the door, we tentatively knocked with families around us watching. No answer. A man from down the street walks up with a smile, pulls open the window and reaches in for a key to unlock the door and puts us inside closing the door on us and putting the key back. Hmm, we thought with nervous looks. Five minutes later the owner appears. He owns the house and had put bunk beds into two spare bedrooms and popped himself on booking.com, but my bed was missing. He said he would build one for me. I had to double check his English on that one, but yes later on that evening, a lot later than I would have liked to go to bed, I helped him with another guest to construct a bunk bed. Turns out the police had been round recently and told him he had too many beds in one room and took some down. I proceeded to attempt to sleep while Russian girls argued with Chinese girls in broken English and the aircon turned off and the remote “missing”, meaning someone was hiding it. After a horrible hot nights half sleep I moved into the “male” dorm where another girl had done the same the night before.
It wasn’t a great start to being back in China, and I’ll be honest, it was very tempting to give up and say let’s just go to the US now. But, patience is something you learn in China though not by choice. Having a great last night in Shanghai with a new friend and moving on to the city of Nanjing, I’m more than happy to be in China again. Not sure I’ll ever get used to the terrible toilets though.
Being tourists on a budget
After a month in the same place, and being lazy in Osaka, it was a little hard to get back into tourist mode. In the back of our minds is the constant knowledge of our savings being depleted, and in Japan we went over the expected budget, and then the newly revised budget, more than once… Shanghai is not the best place for budget travelling but there are some free things to do.
We walked the Bund at night to see the famous skyline, what felt like a million people around us and managed to leave just as a massive thunderstorm hit at the end of a “feels like” 40 degree day.
Another day we decided to go up a tower for a view of the city but didn’t want to fork out over £10 each (that’s around 7 bowls of noodles!) So we took some advice from our Colombian room mate. The bottle opener has the glass walk way at floor 100. At floor 97, the Park Hyatt hotel has a bar and a restaurant. Trying to pretend like we belong, we walked through the hotel entrance and took the lift up going at two floors a second. We glimpsed the menu – eek. It was very quiet so we simply asked if we could take some photos and the friendly staff said yes, of course.
The Shanghai Museum in People’s Square is very impressive and contains four floors of sculptures, coins, seals, art, calligraphy, minority outfits and more. Back in 2016 I spent a whole afternoon exploring this free museum. This time was just over an hour picking and choosing what Mischa wanted to see, including being mesmerised by the longest queue for the temporary British Museum exhibit – we decided we didn’t need to queue for that.
The money we save on not going to some touristy temples or up towers gets happily spent on real beer. Daga Brew Pub was a temporary haven, a roof terrace surrounded by trees and three nearly pints from Chinese breweries for 100RMB. That’s almost £4 a pint, but worth it for real (non lager) beer. Delicious.
Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre
This museum was recommended by a fellow workawayer in Japan and it was fascinating. The private museum is located in the basement of a block of flats. The security guard at the entrance to the blocks was very familiar with westerners, immediately coming to us with directions and a smile when we looked a little confused as to where we were. The price is 25RMB and the museum displays propaganda posters from around the mid 1930’s to the 1990’s, showing the country’s change in view and needs throughout the decades. We spotted the Union Jack several times on posters from 1958 promoting the idea to surpass Britain’s economy by 1972 during the Great Leap Forward.
Mischa’s New Phone
You may have heard, Mischa broke his second phone of the trip! The first fell out of his pocket while cleaning a shower in Busan, the replacement second hand Samsung (can only buy South Korean or Apple phones there) had a car door shut on it as it also fell out of his pocket while cleaning in Japan – perfect timing. Not being able to afford a third phone in Japan we waited til China for promised cheap Huawei devices. For two thirds the price of mine, he got a brand new Honor phone as good as mine (and his first phone) bought on the day it was released.
Zhujiajie, a water town
Craving some countryside we jumped on a bus from near the People’s Square for over an hour at 12RMB each to the water town of Zhujiajie. Admittedly we knew it would be super commercial and touristy but it was still nice to be somewhere outside the main city and it was beautiful to walk along the canals and across the bridges. Kezhi garden was a great surprise. At 20RMB each, we wandered in and spent nearly an hour exploring this large garden with its differently built and tended areas.
A Reminder of Home
With the negative start in Shanghai it was perfect to finish our trip with meeting a student who spent the last two years in Sheffield. She had just returned to Shanghai a couple of days before us and we had a great time drinking new tea, eating new food and chatting about China, Sheffield and life. This again brought up the ultimate question we’ve had this whole trip – do we return to Sheffield or somewhere else? We have plenty of time to decide. Thank you Bei for a lovely evening! 🙂
Yes, this post is lacking photos… they will be added once we are somewhere with better internet, hopefully next week! 🙂