Friday, October 15, 2010

China Part Two: Shanghai & Expo 2010

This is our second night in Shanghai. We ended up booking a flight from Beijing on Air China for $181 per person. We decided to save money by taking the subway and train to get to the airport yesterday. That worked out okay, but the hostel staff did not give us good directions to the nearest subway station (just some arm motions) and we ended up walking farther than necessary and then had to transfer twice to catch the airport express train. Still, we had allowed plenty of time to get to the airport so we weren’t stressed and, in fact, we fairly impressed by the efficiency of the subways and train as well as good signage in English. One minor exception was that there was no explanation of which terminal to get off at for domestic vs. international departures but luckily when I asked someone else on the train they told us the correct terminal.

The flight almost didn't happen; a mechanical delay had us sitting at the airport for an extra 6 hours. We were scheduled to depart at 13:55. After hanging out in the boarding area for at least an hour with no explanation in English as to what was happening, we finally went up the Air China lounge which I entered free with my Priority Pass. They were a little more helpful there and promised to make announcements if there were any further updates. After about an hour I rechecked the desk and they suggested we could pay to upgrade to first class on another flight to Shanghai as there were no more economy seats available for the rest of the day. I was not interested in paying more money plus there was no guarantee our bags would be transferred. However, due to the layout of the lounge check-in area, I was able to “smuggle” Greg in unnoticed around that same time, so we both enjoyed some free food & beer while we debated our options. They finally announced boarding at 8pm. There was never any explanation of the cause for the delay, not that I really wanted to know, especially since we were flying on the previously broken aircraft.
"honorary" member of Air China's First Class Lounge at PEK
We didn't land in Shanghai until about 10:45pm and didn't get to our hostel until around midnight. The one "positive" thing is there's a new law in China that if your flight is delayed for more than four hours then you get a CASH reimbursement on the spot of 400CNY per person. That's $60 each and our tickets were only $181 each so I can't complain too much. Although instead of being able to take the cheaper public transport from the airport to our hostel, we had to take a taxi because it was so late and everything had stopped running. So that cost us an extra $20.

One more note about the Beijing airport. They had free wifi throughout the airport, but in order to use it you had to scan your passport or identity card at a special kiosk and were given a specific user id & password. This granted you 5 free hours of internet access. Never can complain about free wifi! They also had special drinking water machines throughout the terminal so you can refill your water bottle (with cold or hot water).

We spent our first full day (today) in Shanghai continuing our China research. After a few hours of planning this morning, we ventured out to the hostel-recommended travel agency to book some train tickets. Unfortunately this did not go very well, as the woman who was working the train ticket desk only spoke a little bit of English and did not seem very inclined to help us. We tried to get as much information as we could about train times, availability and prices, but decided not to purchase any tickets because of possible kinks in our itinerary.

We had spotted a Watson’s (drugstore) while looking for the ticket agency so, after several failed attempts to find a way down to its basement location, we walked into the adjoining Radisson hotel and an employee walked us to the stairwell without hesitation. Always nice to get good directions! We shopped for a few supplies then decided to eat our “main” meal of the day (after having our usual instant noodles for breakfast) at Burger King. That’s right; it was easy and we were a bit mentally fatigued from the challenges of travel planning! We savored every bite of our bacon & cheese Whoppers, fries & Cokes.
the American chains are well-represented in Shanghai
As we had already walked along the west side of People’s Square on the way to the ticket agency earlier, we decided to cross the north end and walk along the east side back to our hostel. We stopped in a small convenience store and bought our instant noodles for tomorrow’s breakfast and a couple of beers then roamed around the small street near our hostel to have a look at the pet markets before retiring to our room to drink the beer. While we continued trying to map out a viable itinerary for our remaining time in China we also did a load of laundry.

My first impression of Shanghai is of a modern city with only small pockets of the “old” city remaining. I know they spent millions to clean up the city for the this year’s World Expo and it shows. Even in the small area we covered on foot today we encountered tons of Chinese tourists, many carrying Expo souvenirs. After seeing all the hype, plus a little research online and the discovery that ticket prices are only about US$24, we are planning to go to the Expo tomorrow.

I hear the inside of the China Pavilion is very nice, but I wouldn't know as we couldn't get in!
We took subway line 8 from People‘s Square six stops to Yaohua Road then walked about 10 minutes to the Expo entrance. From there we mapped out some of the things we wanted to see then started walking on the elevated pedestrian walkway. First we went to the Iran Pavilion per Greg‘s request and only waited in line about 15 minutes; displays were mostly touting Iran’s technical developments (dams, nuclear reactors, medical devices) plus some arts (carpet-making, painting). Greg wanted to go to the Iraq Pavilion next but it didn’t seem to exist; ie was not in the location indicated on the Expo map. We then took the free ferry to the other side of the Huangpu River to see the “cases” where cities could promote tourism (as opposed to country pavilions). After walking to the back part of the expo, we decided to eat lunch at the Alsace rooftop beer garden. Next we went to the Xian region case which featured a 5 minute movie (all digital) and climbed around a Chinese gate-type structure with no obvious purpose. We walked a short distance to the Ningbo case which featured a lot of photos, animal & outdoor sounds via loudspeaker, and a butterfly garden where all the butterflies seemed to have flown away or were dead. I wanted to go into the nearby tent city but the lines were too long. So we walked to the Osaka case and watched another 5 minute video timeline projected as a “360 degree experience.”
an interesting video installation for Osaka, Japan
We took a free bus to the China Railway Pavilion where we watched yet another propaganda-ish video promoting the high speed rail lines throughout the country. They actually had ticket vending machines on the lower level of the building were you could buy train tickets from Shanghai as far as Nanjing. Next up was the Wudang Martial Arts Show at 5pm which was fairly entertaining although the Chinese tourists got bored with it pretty quickly. We caught another ferry back across the river to the European section of the expo. Here we encountered major crowds and long lines once again. We decided to walk around the all-outdoor Netherlands Pavilion because there was no wait. It was actually a pretty good representation of the country’s highlights. As the lines were too long at all the European pavilions we decided to check out the USA Pavilion which was also quite popular but they shuttled people through in a fairly organized, if herd-type mentality, with only about a 10 minute wait between groups. The whole “experience” was a series of three videos intending to show America at its best (community involvement, environmental protection, living your dreams, acceptance of all beliefs, equal opportunity, etc.).
The last section featured advertising by all of the big corporate sponsors and a large “souvenir” shop. We then walked to Europe Square and caught a few minutes of the Rock from Bavaria “Haindling” band before eating a budget dinner in a Chinese food court. As there were no bus stops in the direction we needed to go to catch the subway, we had to walk all the way back to Yaohua Road station and join the masses heading home.

I personally was disappointed with the Expo because I would have liked to tour more pavilions but the lines were too long (at least a 1 hour wait and sometimes several hours) or the sites too crowded to truly enjoy. Still, it was certainly interesting to walk around the Expo site, which is massive! As noted above, they do have free public transport (powered by hydrogen) within the site, however the bus stops were so widely spaced apart in some areas that they weren’t helpful. Also, the map shows “sightseeing bus” stops, but the only other passenger vehicles we saw were smaller golf cart-types and it wasn’t clear if they were free or even how to catch a ride on one. The ferries, however, were very useful except all the Asian tourists would literally run onto the boat to get the best spot on the outdoor deck for the less than 10 minute ride across the river. Also, we had hoped to eat dinner at the Czech Pavilion but prices were higher than expected; entrees were minimum 150CNY. Lunch at the beer garden was not cheap either: draft Budweiser was 30CNY, a glass of Alsatian pinot gris was 85CNY and a large Alsatian pizza was 80CNY. But it sure was tasty!!!

Happy National Day, China!
a young holiday celebrant
We spent the entire day on foot, walking down Nanjing East street to the Bund. Everywhere was packed with Chinese tourists, so many that we could hardly move! Also the weather has turned hazy & humid so it is not as enjoyable as the previous two days. We did manage to book some of our train tickets from the CITS office on the Bund but could not book them all because it must be within 10 days of travel and it was 11 days from our overnight Guilin to Guangzhou journey. As Greg & I both observed, there are always these “hangers on” in the ticket offices. At CITS, one guy was asleep on his desk, one guy was working (the guy who issued our tickets), and a handful of other guys were just hanging out with no obvious purpose.
there were a gazillion Chinese tourists in Shanghai!
We continued walking along the Bund and actually passed the main street I intended to turn on to head inward towards old town. Once we backtracked to Fuxing Road, the walk got much more interesting as we were clearly in the equivalent of Beijing’s hutongs: laundry hanging everywhere, all sorts of closet-sized shops, various obstacles blocking the sidewalk… As we crossed into the “old street” area we encountered the masses once again. It was almost impossible to enjoy the sights, sounds & smells of the old town because there were so many people. We wanted to stop and have a drink somewhere, but didn’t spot a bar. We eventually walked all the way back to the People’s Square area and bought Japanese-style pork cutlet on rice bowls from an upscale basement-level supermarket to take back to our hostel for dinner.
this is how we felt after a long day of walking and battling the crowds

*** China Parts Three, Four, Five, etc. coming soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment