After our supremely comfortable Virgin Atlantic flights to Shanghai both No 1 Son and I were WIDE AWAKE and fuelled by nonstop food, drinks and movies; we hadn’t slept at all, and arriving in Shanghai China in broad daylight meant that we couldn’t really go to bed, either. With hindsight, it would have been better to sleep on the plane because it might have prepared us a bit better for what lay ahead. Because although I’d been to Asia many times this was No 1 Son’s first ever visit, and for both of us Shanghai China was a TOTAL culture shock.
Not just because of the countless apartment blocks that greet you as you enter the city (obviously no such thing as planning permission or right to light in Shanghai), along with the Blade Runner-esque skyline which is both awe-inspiring and, being honest, intimidating and slightly scary at the same time, particularly when there are dark clouds gathering above it; but because even though you know China is the most densely populated country in the world it’s still overwhelming to suddenly discover yourself among so many people, all at once – and we live in London.
Just a simple thing like walking along The Bund (the main road that runs along the river in the heart of Shanghai – a bit like the Embankment) can take forever because there are so many people.
It’s also a bit weird having no access to social media all of a sudden. The majority of Chinese people in Shanghai we saw were all completely Westernised, they were glued to their mobile phones 24/7. So suddenly finding yourself barred from using twitter or Facebook or Instagram was a stark reminder that we were in a country where the Government still censors its people on a grand scale. Even in Vietnam and Russia you can get access to social media.
Our hotel, the Fairmont Shanghai Peace Hotel, was a luxurious retreat from the craziness outside (I’ll have to write a whole post on this wonderful hotel) but of course we were there to experience as much of Shanghai as we could before boarding Quantum of the Seas for our cruise to Japan.
A definite highlight of our visit to Shanghai, China was a took a trip on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which is probably one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had in Asia. It only costs 70 yuan for two, so well worth it for the experience. Basically a little train takes you through the tunnel, under water, and as you travel there’s a psychedelic light show, with commentary telling you about the earth’s geology. For some reason this was all in English, so it must have been a total mystery to the Chinese. Here’s a video I made which gives you an idea of what it’s like- it’s brilliant for kids:
When you arrive on the other side, Pudong, you’re in the financial hub of Shanghai, China; surrounded by the most spectacular skyscrapers with walkways, as well as malls rammed with designer shops including Cartier and Louis Vuitton and the biggest Disney store we’d ever seen – people actually queue to get in to it, behind barriers. There is ALOT of wealth in Shanghai.
We decided not to spend the 200 yuan going up the Shanghai World Financial Centre – you get a pretty idea of the size and scale of Shanghai when you go on the walkways, but here it is along with the Shanghai Tower which is now the tallest building in China.
That evening we went for a walk around the People’s Park. Like Hong Kong and Singapore, it’s at night that Shanghai really looks spectacular – the lights are very pretty. People come from all over China just to stop and stare at the lights (and take photos on their mobiles of course). I got told off by a policeman for standing on a wall to take this shot (as did lots of other people), which was a bit of a shock.
Our overall impression of Shanghai China is that it’s actually a very cool, family friendly city and at night (still warm and sticky) it’s really quite spectacular. There’s a buzz in the air (and I don’t mean the crickets, which are very loud). As ever when you’re travelling you have to remember not to judge by first impressions and while it may not be love at first sight I think Shanghai is the kind of city you can definitely fall for. As an introduction to Asia for No 1 Son it was definitely a total assault on the senses – which made the contrast with Japan even more marked.