Shanghai is amazing – 23 million people and counting… an explosion to the senses, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and vibes of this overcrowded city catch you by surprise. It is vibrant, delightful, noisy, buzzy, fast paced, and very safe (in terms of crime). The crime rate is extremely low. We had one week here, fell in love with it, and learned some rather important lessons. I have picked out the top five to share with you, to save you time in case you visit:
1. Crossing the road is a major danger – my American companion, Beth, who came sightseeing with me when Garry was working, said you need your ‘head on a swivel’ all the way across the road. A green man on a zebra crossing means absolutely nothing. And I think there is an unspoken competition to see who can carry the most on the back of a bike also, we saw four people on one moped, and another time six large boxes strapped on the back.
2. The people are extremely friendly, hospitable, welcoming and proud of their city. We were very touched by their hospitality, nothing was too much trouble, and made such a difference to our experience of the city.
3. They don’t queue – on the underground, you get propelled onto the train with the crowds and propelled off again, not always at the station you were aiming for. Beth and I flagged a taxi down one day and just as we were about to get into it, three Chinese men ran over and got into it instead – we were left standing there open-mouthed.
4. You can’t be sure of what you are eating – Dishes labelled ‘vegetarian’ sometimes have pork listed in the ingredients. Breakfast on day one was in a Chinese cafe and there was ‘steamed chicken’s feet’ and ‘braised duck head’ on the menu. I was just after a cappuccino really.
5. They don’t seem to see that many western women – I kept wondering if I had my dress accidentally tucked in my knickers or something.
With those important learnings out of the way, let me tell you a few other things about Shanghai… the air pollution is a problem here, with some people wearing masks when out and about because of the smog. Our lovely Chinese guide told us that ‘the ‘frog’ was bad today’. I bet you thought that the title of ‘Shanghai Frog’ was something we had encountered on a menu in some restaurant didn’t you? I had to smile and now of course, this is likely to stick, with us referring to ‘froggy’ days for ever …
Some Chinese words we learned:
Hello – Nihau (pronounced ‘kneehow’)
Thank you – Xiexie (pronounced ‘shareshay’)
I love you – not sure of the spelling but is pronounced ‘war – eye – knee’
And that’s it – it didn’t get us far, but pointing, smiling and nodding along with it worked wonders. The highlights for us were a trip to an active Buddhist Temple, a really special experience, and a day visiting a canal town, with the old style Chinese boats going up and down the canals between the Chinese buildings. Our guide said ‘it is like Wenice’ – again had to smile, very endearing. The Bund is magnificent, a strip of old Colonial Government buildings on one side of the Huangpu river, and on the other side of the river the skyline is futuresque – amazing contrasts – see photo above.
So we are now leaving the ‘Shanghai Frog’ and heading for the ‘Singapore Soup’ – as in the haze that is hanging over Singapore due to the Indonesian burning of the scrubland. Must go and buy a mask…