21 May 2016
Travel from Beijing to Shanghai and some musings about my China observations and experiences so far.
Today I fly to Shanghai and although my flight isn’t until 1.30pm, there really isn’t any time to do anything in the morning except repack my bags for the flight and have breakfast. I have heard so many conflicting stories about how long it will take to get to the airport and how far in advance of my flight I have to be there that I decide that I will just head out in plenty of time and then relax when I get there.
The Saturday morning traffic turns out to be lighter than many expected and we make good time. I am absolutely in awe of professional drivers in Beijing: there are 6 million cars and congested roads would be an understatement. Although it is fairly chaotic with people weaving across the lanes all over the place, it seems much more sedate and orderly than I have experienced elsewhere. With the exception of the odd accident and breakdown, the traffic mostly keeps moving and drivers are pretty tolerant of the constant lane changing. I never felt unsafe and my taxi driver was amused when I put my seat belt on.
The trip takes about an hour and costs the princely sum of 117 yuan (about NZ$30). As it turns out I am far too early but I need a good deal of time to walk the huge departure hall to find my check-in counter. Thankfully they are happy to check me in this early. I was also glad to be going through security when there wasn’t a big queue. I had already been swabbed for explosives as I entered the airport and had separated my liquids and gels, but they wanted me to take out my camera, iPad, electric cables and battery packs for separate inspection. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go into the Air China business lounge as I wasn’t a Gold member but I found a coffee shop, ordered a Green Tea Latte (interesting) and wrote up my journal while I waited for the flight.
Then on a walk around the terminal I amuse myself in a convenience store taking pictures and trying to work out what things were, and amazing at some of the beautiful artworks adorning bottles of drinks. I tried some cucumber flavoured potato chips and some sort of citrus green tea based drink, and got a packet of the preserved plums that I remember fondly from my childhood in Malaysia.
My flight to Shanghai experiences lots of turbulence but is otherwise uneventful. I observe again what must be a national skill in China: the ability to sleep whenever there is an opportunity, no matter where you are or seemingly under what conditions. Even with the turbulence, the sound of snoring soon resonates around the plane. After my village trip yesterday it was interesting to read in the in-flight magazine a feature on how property management is organised in a range of different countries – this is a new thing that Chinese people are figuring out in their rapidly changing city lives.
When I arrive in Shanghai I have a complementary arrival transfer and as promised I am greeted with a sign bearing my name as I exit. My driver is a very tall spotty youth dressed entirely in black and wearing his cap backwards – I suspect he was in fact a lot older than he first appeared. He was a good driver and very helpful and, despite the pouring rain and busy traffic, deposited me at my hotel within an hour.
All of the familiar car brands are represented in China, particularly the upmarket Audis, Lexus, Range Rover, Jeep, Mercedes etc. All the taxis I saw were Volkswagen. But there are also a number of unfamiliar brands. A Chinese national I met at the conference commented that when he had returned from several years overseas, he had been surprised to discover that China was now making its own cars.
I remembered too that yesterday Jerry had told me that when he was at school, they had started learning English at about age 13 but that it was using very much the old way of learning focusing on writing and grammar. Now students start learning English at a younger age (about age 9) and the focus is on speaking and listening – with much more practical results. Although the Chinese language is based on the same set of characters, there is no guidance on how they should be spoken and the pronunciation can vary quite considerably from region to region making communication difficult at times. Despite there being so many billions of Chinese speakers, I wonder whether English might become more of a common language for them all.
As we drive along the expressways from the airport, the outer city looks and feels very much like Beijing with lots of tall towers stretching up into the murky gloom. There are still lots of trees and greenery along the roads but no roses here. As we get closer to the city centre the architecture seems to be more of a blend of European and Chinese – reflecting the city’s long history of being a trading port and having a range of foreign residents.
My hotel is the Kingtown Plaza Hotel, tucked away in a little backstreet but very close to the main central area. When I check in they confirm that I will be staying here for 6 nights and there is no mention that I will have to move room after 3 nights to share with another person once the tour starts so I am quietly optimistic that I might be lucky and get a room to myself despite not having paid a single supplement – time will tell.
It is still hosing down with rain so I decide against exploring beyond the hotel this evening and run across the road to the very conveniently located Swatow Sisters Restaurant for dinner. There are fresh fish and other seafood displayed in the front, along with lobsters and turtles in fish tanks waiting to be chosen. There is also a huge menu with a large number of decidedly unappetising sounding dishes. Being by myself and not particularly hungry I chose a fairly boring fried pho (noodles) dish but it was just what I needed with lots of vegetables – plenty of time to be more adventurous when we can share a variety of dishes.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is for still more rain, so I retire to my room to rethink my plans – maybe something indoors …
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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