I will write about some of the observations that I have made during my time in Shanghai.
I landed at Pudong Airport in the mid afternoon. Well, the first thing that caught my eyes was that the immigration card was really easy to fill in; no extra questions about bringing in animals, plants, etc.
The immigration check took some time, and so did the luggage collection. Once I stepped out of the arrival hall, however, I was greeted by a horde of people. There were just lots and lots of people lining the walk-out aisle, holding up name boards. Some of them were simply holding hotel names, I wonder who they were actually expecting. Anyway, the crowd did gave me a little surprise and it almost felt like I was a movie star, except without the flash photography.
I made my way past the crowd and went to the tourist information counter. A man approached me to try to sell his taxi service. Naturally, I ignored him as it is likely to be a scam. I then made my way towards the Maglev station. There, I bought a one way ticket for 40RMB (discounted price for passengers who landed on the same day)
It was my first ride on the Maglev train, and a rather short one at that. The train accelerated to 430km/h before decelerating to a stop shortly thereafter. I think the entire trip was less than 10mins. But wow, the ride was really smooth, and the train felt really fast. The tracks even tilted at the bends to accomodate the fast moving train.
At the Maglev station, I needed to walk to the next building to take the city metro (Longyang Road Station). It was here that I first noticed there wasn’t any lifts around. That meant taking trains in Shanghai with luggage is definitely a bad idea. Luckily, my luggage was light, so no big problems for me.
It was at Longyang Road Station that I first encountered the bad and the good of the people here. I had wanted to buy a Shanghai Public Transportation Card (as oppose to a single trip ticket), so I approached a young lady in the queue, asking if I could buy the Transportation Card if I joined the queue. To my surprise, she promptly turned away, raise her hand to cover half her face so that I can’t see her, and snorted “I don’t know”. I maintained my poker face, but in my mind, I was thinking WTF? However, in a split second, another young lady further front in the queue turned towards me and asked what I wanted to know. Ah, a kind soul! And she replied that I could indeed purchase the Transportation Card if I joined the queue.
And so I did. When my turn came, I was greeted by yet another surprise. The sale cashier told me rudely that the card was not sold there, without even looking at my face when she talked. And she ended her conversation right there. I asked where I could purchase the card. She pretended to be deaf. I asked again, and she hastily replied, “Line 7”. Line 7 was in the next building. Nay, I decided not to risk it, I’ll just get a single trip ticket.
I went to the ticketing station and read the English instructions, and slowly went about my purchase with the machine. Suddenly, someone approached from behind me, and attempted to help me insert my flimsy dollar note into the ticketing machine. At first, I rejected. But after numerous attempts and the machine still refused to accept my note, I decided to let him give it a try. He, too, took numerous attempts, flipping the note in every orientation, but he succeeded eventually. I thanked him and walked off.
This was when he sprung the trap on my unwary mind. He rushed before me and show me a nicely laminated note, written in English “I am deaf, please contribute and help” (to that effect). Again, in my mind, WTF? I was caught offguard once again. Overcame by embarrassement, and regretting accepting his help earlier, I reached for the small change and gave him a 10RMB note. On hindsight, I realized that I wasn’t very accustomed to the local currency and purchasing power yet. For it was only some time later that I calculated and realized that I might have been too generous. Sigh… Silly me.
I was lucky to board a train that was rather empty, so I had a seat. And I noticed that the seats in Shanghai don’t have “buttock shapes” delimiters. Meaning, a row of seat is simply a flat bench, without clearly demarketed seat widths. I managed to get a corner seat along one of the long benches and I began to observe how other people handle this situation. (On a later trip on the metro, I also noticed that the newer rolling stocks did have the “buttock” delimiters.)
Well, rather unsurprisingly, people entering the train simply rushed in with tenacity without giving others a chance to alight first. Once in the train cabin, they literally run to grab any empty space on the seat bench. And if there was some empty spaces between seated passengers, the incoming person will give a shout and motion the seated passengers to make way for him. Wow. Culture shock. But I can appreciate such behaviour. After all, in such a competitive and crowded society, I expect only the fiercest will survive.
I alighted at my stop, People’s Square Station and started making my way to my hotel. It was here that I noticed a middle age man ransacking a dustbin. It turned out that he was searching for drinks. I watched as he picked up every can, packet, cup of drink he could find and emptied whatever remaining contents into his mouth. I raised an eyebrow. Really? No money for water? But he looked quite able bodied as he stomped off in an agressive walk after his ‘feast’.
A little further along, I noticed this time an old lady, searching a rubbish bin. Nope, she wasn’t collecting metal tin cans. Neither did she eat or drink anything she found. In the end, she left empty handed, so I wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for. A begger? I’m not so sure.
After I checked in to my hotel, I walked outside again for dinner. I spotted a BreadTalk shop along the streets and decided to give it a try just to see if it tasted any different. There was an alfresco section just outside the shop so I decided to sit down and just people watch while I eat my bread. Unfortunately, just minutes after I sat down, I would be harrassed by a begger. He kept asking me for loose change. Well, I just pretended I couldn’t understand Mandarin. I quickly left after gobbling down my bread. So much for people watching.
Several days later, while walking along Nanjing Rd, I would be stopped by an unassuming young lady. I thought that she had wanted to ask me for directions. Nope, I was wrong, she’s a begger. And she followed me for almost the next 100 metres or so begger me to buy her food and pleading for my charity. I just ignored her and walked on, no sympathy required here.
During my stay, I had the opportunity to visit the riverside where the Oriental Pearl Tower could be seen. The riverside promenade was well renovated, spacious and clean. However, I was taken aback by just how crowded it was there on a Monday and Tuesday evening. The riverside walk just wasn’t serene at all, it was rather noisy with too much activity going on.
The last thing I will talk will be my experience with the people. Sad as it was, the fact is that there are far too many PRC in Singapore. Everywhere in Singapore, you see and hear PRC in the roles of cashier, waiter, house keeper, cleaner, sales personnel, drivers, or simply pedestrains. And it saddened me that I experienced that same familiarity in Shanghai. I did not feel the sense of travel and the sense of being in a different geographical location. It all felt just the same, as if I had never left Singapore. Nope, it wasn’t heart warming at all.
It is heart breaking.
For just this last reason alone, I will not want to visit China for a holiday. There is simply no sense of travel being in a place not that different, in more ways than one.