We knew something was wrong when the conductor came on board the subway car blowing his whistle and motioning everyone to get off. Standing on the platform, we tried to decipher where we were.
After locating our destination on the Metro diagram, we realized we were at least 20 stops away. While pitifully figuring out how to backtrack, a friendly woman repeatedly pointed to the platform on the other side of the terminal, and we finally realized she meant we should go there. Humping our way down the steps, under the platform, and up the other side, we waited for the subway, tired after a day of wandering on a couple of misguided adventures.
We took the Metro out to the suburbs to go shopping. We found the pearl shop, but spent too much time trying to find the discount eyeglass store, which didn’t seem to exist where it was supposed to be – like a bad episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’.
This was followed by a frustrating taxi ride back, when we explained to the driver that we wanted to return to the Metro stop. ‘METRO’ we pronounced slowly, enunciating every vowel and inflecting each syllable slightly different, while my hand produced a hopeful diving motion to indicate underground.
Mattering little, the driver finally called his friend, who also did not speak English. My wife bravely tried and miserably failed in her attempts to describe our destination, her failed conversation emphasized with a continual rolling of her eyes.
Just when we were ready to exit and try our luck with another taxi, my wife found a crumpled Metro map under the seat. Triumphantly, she leaned over the seat with the map, jabbing at the subway stop, while repeating – ‘metro, metro.’
Miraculously, the driver began exclaiming ‘Metro’, ‘Metro’, – perhaps this is how a new parent feels when your newborn says ‘momma’ or ‘daddy’ for the first time. Executing a perfect Mario Andretti U-turn in the middle of the street, he kept drumming his wheel and grinning. ‘Metro, metro’ he kept saying, as if neglecting to reiterate would cause a relapse and he would forget where he was going. In the back seat, we both marveled at the magical, neglected synapse that suddenly fired off in his brain – sometimes you just have to shake your head.
Shanghai is one of the most amazing destinations in the world. Home to thirteen million people, it is surprisingly the third largest city in the world. It boasts historical sites, world-class shopping, skyscraper punctuated skylines, top of the line (and free) museums, historic neighborhoods, a splendid waterfront promenade (Bund), and an exciting high-speed magnetic train. A curious and intriguing blend of old and new China, this is one of the most entertaining cities in the world.
If you have only one week in China, spend it here. Shanghai is the most prosperous city we have ever visited. This folks, is a boom town, with construction everywhere, a sparkling new airport, malls on every block, and festive pedestrian streets that go for miles.
All through China, you see prosperity, but in Shanghai, it is taken to a new level. Still, there were few Westerners around. In Shanghai, the great middle class of China roam the streets, affluent shoppers with money to spend.
When we looked out from our hotel room, there was ongoing construction in all directions, with dozens of skyscrapers in the process of rising in the air. Our hotel, the Sheraton Pudong, was on the East side of the Huangpu River, the newer and more modern section of Shanghai, where everything seemed to have been built within the last five years (also, conveniently located fifty feet from a metro stop).
While there are many things to do in Shanghai, number one would be shopping. There are three levels of shopping in this city. The high end, with Armani, Rolex, and Gucci all melded together in a smattering of highbrow malls. The middle, with legitimate Western name brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Timberland. Finally, the low end, locally owned, cheap malls – places where you buy fake Clark shoes, Rolex copies, and mass-produced Gucci handbags. Tucked away off the main roads, these low-end malls deal in counterfeit DVD’s, and copy and sell anything and everything.
We bought two Rolex watches for seventy bucks, a couple of Louis Vuitton bags, and a knock off pair of Clark shoes. Honestly, merchandise here is so cheap, it is probably less expensive for you to book an airline ticket to Shanghai, spend a few thousand dollars and fly home – you’ll end up with more good things at less cost than if you bought back in the states.
We purchased our Rolex from a reputable ‘dealer’ (recommended by the manager of a hotel we stayed along the way). Tracking him down took a bit of doing, but we did succeed. He led us into his secret back room which was hidden behind a rack of clothes. Here he unscrewed a section of sheetrock and we entered a small closet, where he uncovered his stash of grade ‘A’ watches locked in aluminum boxes. Knowing what to pay, we quickly got down to business and went through his surprisingly large selection, a who’s who of high-grade watches, finally settling on a nice set of gold Rolexes. Why not?
Where to begin in Shanghai? Walk along the Bund, the historic waterfront promenade that separates old colonial buildings from the Huangpu River, and which historically served as a levee against the floodwaters of the surging river. Stroll along pedestrian East Nanjing Street past every imaginable name brand shop, with many side alleys offering products from resident long-time merchants.
Relax in People’s Square, visit the wonderful Shanghai Museum, and the small but impressive Shanghai Art Museum. Ride the subway to 50 Mogershan Road, a haven for local artists living and working in converted textile factories. Take a quick trip up Jinmao Tower, the world’s twelfth tallest structure (88 stories), then ascend the new Shanghai World Financial Building (101 stories) right next door – the world’s third tallest skyscraper (featuring the highest observation deck in the world – unfortunately, closed for repairs during our visit).
Hop on the hi-tech magnetic train to the new Pudong International Airport, reaching a top speed of 260 mph in the eight minute thrill-a-minute ride. Walk at night among the neon lights along Nanjing Road and enjoy the balmy evenings with thousands of other visitors. Wander through the French Concession and window shop at the endless array of shops lining the avenues.
There is so much to see and do and breathe in Shanghai that a week is not enough time to do it justice. We absolutely loved it and were busy every single day from early morning to late at night. This is a city not to be missed.
I can still smell those barbeque pork squares, purchased from the outdoor vendor on Nanjing street, possibly my favorite food snack in all of China. In a few short years, Shanghai could be the number one city in the financial world.
Forewarned by many that traveling through China would be a frustrating experience, we would disagree, and argue instead, that with the right amount of patience, it is much easier than you think.
Just smile and keep in mind, that some days are better than others.