Travel blog

Only in China: Day 3 Shanghai Bund

There is a bar, a few tables, a pool table, and a small stage, where it looks like dreams go to die.

Up at 5.30am yippee! Backwards jet lag rules. Time to go get some noodles.

“Wo lu cha.” I add to my order. Definitely ordered green tea. Got no green tea. Must be the pronunciation. Oh well, I pop into Costa coffee on the way to the bank anyway, though at Y24 for a coffee it’s more expensive than the UK. The time of writing was two weeks after the whole: Post-Brexit pound crash and I only got Y8 to the pound.

I’m wired when I enter the bank and ask to open an account, all seems well until the teller tells me that I don’t have the right kind of visa. Fuck. I was sure that having a Chinese bank account would be better than paying the £7 per transaction fee my bank demands from me like some 16th century tax collector.

It’s ok I’ll just carry this huge bag of money around with me (roughly £3000 in cash) like a mother kangaroo, until I get mugged or spend it all on overprices coffee. Off to The Bund. This is Shanghai’s London South Bank, though the skyscrapers are far more impressive.

If you catch the giant statue of General Lord Mao, God of communism, at just the right angle, he looks over the water at the Pearl TV tower, which, at this particular angle, combines with two domed shaped glass auditoriums, to create the biggest phallic object on the planet. Well done Shanghai Town Planning, I might visit your museum later for some more future lols.

As I stroll down this surpassingly vast and open walkway, I absorb the sights and the UV rays this great city has to offer, walking endlessly without finding a bridge to cross over to Pudong. There is a tourist tunnel that you have to pay for, but it’s apparently the tackiest thing on earth, and I don’t want to do that. No I want to get sunburn and heat stroke, stubbornly walking down river. There are no bridges…looks like the jokes on me this time Town Planning.

Surely a tropical rainstorm will cool things down? What’s that, it makes it hotter? How is that possible? I’m playing ticket machine roulette at shanghai train station. There are ten or so ticket machines, but every time I get to the front of the queue, the ticket machine breaks down and I join the back of the neighbouring queue.

The poor repairman works tirelessly, jumping from machine to machine, sometimes multiple being down at once. It’s like some strange kind of arcade game, or this guy’s own personal hell. The crowds all yell at him and he shushes them. This happens five or six times before I get my ticket.

The rooftop bar at the Phoenix Hostel isn’t bad, or so it seems as the sun sets behind the spikey purple wizard tower on the high-rizon. Beer in Shanghai is expensive and the barman clearly has never poured a pint before.

“Would you like me to do it?” I ask and he is more than pleased. I pour the perfect pint and take it for myself, allowing the newly schooled gentleman to pour the one for the lady. It seems that the ladies in my room, plus several others are all going to Hainan to teach some undefined English culture to a school tomorrow. I enquire further.

“So the twenty of you are all being put up in a hotel for two weeks and you’re getting paid for teaching these kids?”

“Yea, pretty much.” explains Georgia, my sexy roommate who walks around in a bra and hot-pants all the time. Drool. She’s actually really adventurous and interesting too. Shame she’s leaving tomorrow.

“This school must be rich.” I reply.

“Well it’s a summer school, so I assume it’s for kids with rich parents who want their children to do well.” I bloody well hope so, or else this is the worst case of unsustainable voluntourism I’ve ever seen. At least it’s not as bad as Africa.

We all go for dinner down the Nanging road, which is lit up like Christmas, a mix of classy and tacky giant billboards and flashing neon. The guidebook describes it as a combination of Time Square and Oxford Street, and I’m inclined to agree, though it is much quieter (at this hour) and more spacious. The wide, smooth pedestrian pathway cuts down towards the river, splicing through ritzy department stores and, of course, an M&M World.

The one thing that I am surprised not to see however, are street performers. I thought it would be brimming with them, but there are none. How odd. Perhaps the yoke of communism has kept them off the streets. Ironically this is the one place I would actually quite like to see them. Never mind.

“Seven ladies?!” exclaims a helpful woman whom I am enlisting to find us a bar.

“Eight is the lucky number.” I wink and she laughs wholeheartedly. Unlike touts in other places, she is genuinely friendly and helpful, not asking a penny for her troubles, and leads us to a nondescript dive bar just off the main fair.

There is a bar, a few tables, a pool table, and a small stage, where it looks like dreams go to die. When we enter, the owner looks puzzled and immediately changes the giant TV screen to play an endless stream of Lady Gaga videos, presumably for our pleasure. I manage to wrangle us some shisha for free from our Senegalese interpreter. He is a cool guy who looks like he’s getting some sort of side deal in translating for us, but once again, he is genuinely helpful and asks for nothing in return.

The girls are impressed.

“Ask and ye shall receive.” (a dive bar) I say.

The girls and I converse over the loud music and our statutory one drink. I try to liven things up with some games, but they all seem set on going to bed early. Once our one drink is done I ask for the bill and of course there are a couple of minor discrepancies, but they are very apologetic about this and sort it out.

“Where the fuck did these rabbits come from?” I ask when we get back to the hostel rooftop bar. “How could I not have noticed these before?”

“Yea they’re getting a larger pen soon, apparently.” explains Brit the Machine, a party loving northern girl from our group.

“They’re so fluffy, they must be sweltering. I’m sweating just in a T-shirt.” They seem highly inappropriate pets to keep on a rooftop in a tropical country.

Let’s sum up today’s purchases:

  • Breakfast: Y20, though it was the biggest noodle soup / omelette / steamed buns ever
  • Coffee: Y24
  • A train ticket: Y3
  • Ice cream: Y24
  • Dinner: Y30
  • Tea with dinner: Y49…really?
  • A beer: Y30

There are some lessons to be learned here about relativity here. It seems anything that’s considered imported, such as coffee and beer (or Chinese tea?) is ten times the price it should be. I think Einstein would roll over in his grave if he read this.

If you find my ramblings interesting, why not follow the blog? I’ve got 120 more days of farcical comedy and adventure on the way. As always feel free to comment and share your stories. Thanks for reading.

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