A Trip to the Largest City in the World

We had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai, China two weeks ago.  Just a few days in a huge, beautiful city with 15 million other people.  (If you have ever been to a poorly attended event, anywhere in the world, and wondered where all the people are, I think they’re in Shanghai.  They’re probably on the Bund or Nanjing Road, if not one of the 400,000 a day visiting the World Expo.)  I tried to take pictures of the walls of people approaching us, but I’m not sure we could do it justice.  Wow!

Shanghai literally means “above the sea”, and it sits on the Huangpu River.  It has been called the Paris of the East.  It is home to some of the tallest buildings in the world on an ever expanding skyline.  The Shanghai World Financial Center was built in 2008 and is currently the 3rd tallest in the world (official height).  The observation deck (94th of 101 floors) is partially outdoors.  I get a little queasy thinking about looking down, but Tim has the idea to stay in the hotel sometime (79th through 93rd floor).  The skyline is pretty incredible.  Most noticeable might be the Oriental Pearl TV Tower with two large spheres.  It is 468m high while the Financial Center is 498m. 

Our first tourist attraction was the Maglev.  This is a magnetic levitation train that will take you 30km from the airport to the city in 8 minutes.  We topped out at 431 km/h (268mph) and never felt a thing.

Since Tim was traveling there for a little work, we spent a little time with Anna, from his team.  Anna, her Western name, is from the Jilin province, north of here.  We had an interesting conversation at breakfast one day.  I remarked to her that we can usually tell the general nationality of Westerners.  They dress in particular ways.  Glasses, shoes, accessories can give it away, even before you hear the accent.  Many talk about the white athletic shoes of Americans, but that’s not so easy anymore.  It has become more subtle.  Heck, in this case, seeing what people choose from the breakfast buffet can give it away.  Anna was surprised because, wait for it, we all look alike.  We smiled, and I asked her if she can tell the difference between Asian cultures.  She had the same methods we do; dress, mannerisms, accessories.  And we all laughed about our special talents abroad.

While Tim and Anna were off to meetings, I had signed up for a shopping tour with a Shanghai expat.  In the emails back and forth, I saw the somewhat pretentious, yet welcoming, phrase – “Meet at the Starbucks at the Ritz Carlton.”  So I was off for a day of souvenirs and Christmas gift decisions.  After a fantastic conversation with the taxi driver, who regaled me with his five words of English and repeatedly told me that America is great and Shanghai is the greatest city in China, we pulled in passed the white Lamborghini, and I was greeted by the Ritz doorman.  Then there I was in Starbucks.  If the air conditioning had been cranked just a few degrees cooler, I would have mistaken it for the Starbucks in Five Points.  Same coffee, same smell, same pastries, same beautiful glazed donut.  I found Emily from South Dakota and the New Jersey family that had also signed up.

The tour included a stop at the fabric market, where you can have a leather jacket made to fit for 800 yuan, or a cashmere-wool one for 500.  That’s ~$120 and $75 respectively.  And the quality, you may wonder?  I saw suit examples that would have passed for Chanel and Armani. Gorgeous stitching, perfect buttons, and they will deliver to your hotel in 36-48 hours.  Later, we stopped at a silk factory, where I’m not sure they do anything more than sell, but the “factory” set up is good for tourists.  We saw the life of a silk worm, from egg to blanket or blouse.  We visited souvenir shops, a pottery studio, a fantastic place for lunch, and, last but not least, a pearl market, where I was happy to pick out my own imperfect strand of freshwater pearls.  It took the shop lady 10 minutes to string them for me and add a clasp.  Eighty yuan ($12) and a few smaller purchases later, I was done for the day, on my way back to the Ritz Carlton with the tour.  Little did I know the business of getting a taxi at 6pm in Shanghai would be a tourist experience all by itself.

So I walked this fancy street, intrigued and drawn by the names and labels.  I had never walked by a Tiffany store.  I took a beat to smile at the little blue boxes from afar, at which point a nice man offered to sell me Chanel No. 5.  He opened his official-looking black plastic bag, and I saw the perfectly packaged No. 5, along with many others.  I hoped they weren’t fakes, but had just fallen off a truck at customs.  Interesting.  I went back to the taxi search, and after several offers from the unofficial moto-taxis, I finally got one near the subway station.

On Saturday, Tim led us on a great walking tour of the old French Concession area, plus stops at the Xintiandi and a little more shopping.  Who can resist the little supermarkets catering to expats, or a shop called Madame Mao’s Dowry?   With some internet research, Tim had found a hole in the wall joint serving called El Gato Verde.  Mmm, burritos and guacamole on a side street in Shanghai.  So good!  We napped the late afternoon away at the hotel, then spent the evening on the Bund and Nanjing Road, where an astronomical number of people also chose to go on Saturday night.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRicRZVihxA Wow!

Shanghai is an amazing city.  Just check out the photos.  Next stop on the Adventure Tour – the Qingdao International Beer Festival!! Stay tuned.

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I started this blog in 2010 as we prepared to move to Shenyang China. Since coming back to the US in 2015, my writing has been less consistent. Trying to find a voice here...