A day in Shanghai

What an exciting city Shanghai is! We didn’t spend long there, but we hope we can go back again in January and explore some more. Our hostel, Rock&Wood, was probably our most luxurious yet. It had a lovely bar and common area, and excellent muesli for breakfast! After showering post night train, we tucked into our muesli and scrambled eggs and got talking to a young English couple who had just arrived in China for a two week holiday travelling round with a friend who was working over here. We got on well and decided to spend the day together exploring, as their friend wasn’t due to arrive until the following day. Max was studying for PhD in particle physics and Sophie was in her final year of training to be a doctor. It was great hearing about how they had got into their various fields – neither had done A levels; they got into universities through different routes, which is so refreshing and exactly what I think education should be all about. More options, more ways to do things – this way I think people have more of a chance to find out what they really enjoy, rather than following the treadmill and doing what is expected of you. For longer distances, Sophie needs to use a wheelchair, and they had one that folded up neatly so you could take it in a taxi. It struck me that most cities are not really equipped for people in wheelchairs. Few subway stations have wheelchair access, which is a real shame, as once you are down the stairs, it would be very easy to board the trains and get about the city.

Our first stop was the flower and insect market. I have never seen anything quite like this. It was an indoor market, and you could tell you were nearby from the chorus of chirping crickets that greeted you as you rounded the corner! We never quite established why, but there were large numbers of stalls selling crickets in Perspex containers. They weren’t for feeding to lizards and suchlike as they were sold individually, and there were even stalls selling tiny weeny ceramic dishes for putting their food and water in. So our conclusion was that people buy them as pets. Or perhaps they are good luck charms? Some crickets were very large with a handsome iridescent sheen; others were vanishingly small – maybe 3mm long. You could also buy elaborate boxes to keep them in. The Perspex ones were only for display purposes so you could see what you were getting – once you purchased one, it would be put into a cardboard tube with cloth over the end. You could tell who had bought crickets from the chirping noises coming from their pockets!

There weren’t really many flowers in the market, but there were plenty of other animals and birds. It was strange mixture of the fascinating and the upsetting. There were dishes of water full of baby terrapins, walls of tiny cages containing beautiful song birds, and also some little birds sat on perches outside of cages with colourful string around their necks to stop them flying away. There was a crate of kittens, cages of rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters and tanks of fish. One stall had three big dishes of large goldfish on the floor. One had jumped out and was flapping in a dry bowl nearby – I pointed it out and a man who was passing grabbed a net and popped it back in the water. The cages were all small and pokey and there was a cacophony of noise, but at least they were all kept clean and the animals looked quite healthy, though I imagine they don’t have a very nice life. I hope the turnover is quick and they get to go to nice homes, but I realise that is probably wishful thinking for the majority.

Once out of the press of crowds at the market, we sought out some lunch. We had planned to go to a famous dumpling restaurant, but it was too famous! The queues were far too long to make it worth our while, not being dumpling connoisseurs, so we got ours from a neighbouring shop with no queue and they were perfectly nice and probably cheaper. We browsed some stalls in a shopping precinct which seemed to have perfectly balanced the old town style with the modern shopping arcade, before catching the ferry across the river to Pudong. From the boat we had a reasonably good view of the buildings along the riverbanks (worth it for 20p anyway!); those in Pudong form the famous skyline that you see at the Bund. There are some pretty grand skyscrapers, and one particularly audacious one called the Pearl building with bright pink mirrored spherical protrusions. We probably had the best view on our way to the dock from an elegantly sweeping bridge that crossed a large roundabout. Shanghai seems much trendier and more modern than Beijing; this part certainly has a somewhat futuristic feel to it.

In the evening we took a stroll around the 19th Century French Concession. This is an area of tree lined boulevards and elegant manor houses and has an old European air to it. We had planned to have a drink in a bar there, but they were horrendously expensive and we couldn’t justify the expenditure!

Back at the hostel, we packed and unpacked our bags, weighing everything multiple times so that we could board our flight the next day with no problems. We needn’t have worried though, as the Juneyao staff were refreshingly laidback – nothing like Ryanair! Dinner on the plane was interesting – I wouldn’t go so far as to say nice, but it was edible. The red bean juice that came in a carton with the meal however, was disgusting. Why on earth would someone want to drink that? It was like the sludge you drain off a can of kidney beans. Our flight was pretty uneventful (we didn’t go to the wrong airport for starters, so that always helps!) and we had a lovely smooth touch down in Osaka, Japan that evening.

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