Where East meets West and rich meets poor…

We’ve been in Shanghai for a couple of days now and discovered that it really does have a cool vibe. The river area is just unbelievable – you literally don’t know where to look, everything is lit up and flashing neon signs and adverts at you. This city is a fantastic showcase for China, and perhaps a sign of things to come for the rest of the country??

If you go down to the Bund, Pudong, People’s Square and numerous other key places in Shanghai, you wouldn’t know that you were in the Far East – it’s more akin to the US or London and it’s only when you look around and spot the Chinese signage and people that you realise where you are.

Everything here is for show and development is racing along at lightning speed. The awe-inspiring buildings we’ve seen are already being eyed up by competitors who are starting to building their own showpieces – just like the Shanghai Tower we saw from the Hyatt lobby. It’ll be interesting to see just how crazy Shanghai could get in a few years!

The flip side of Shanghai is something that we have come across in many cities durng our travels – there is again a stark contrast between the people who have ‘made’ it, and the people being left behind. In the parts of the city that we’ve just described it’s hard to picture what lies beneath the skycrapers in the back streets of Shanghai. We’ve wandered through a lot of them and been faced with poverty just like in places like India – although not quite to the same extent. The homeless, people with deformaties begging on the streets and unclean elderly people cooking their food in pots on the floor seem to come out of nowhere. But in this city, the strangest thing to see is the contrast with the wealthy, designer clad men and dolled-up women in sparkly high heels who walk past these people in the same street. They may as well belong to completely different worlds.

To soak up some more of the ‘developed’ side of Shanghai we decided that we’d spend our 3rd night here cruising down the Huangpu River (the river that runs between the Bund and Pudong) on one of the boat tours. The best time to take a cruise is at night – although impressive enough during the day, Shanghai really comes alive at night when literally everything is lit up – so we decided to spend the day exploring a bit more of the city, before we headed back to the riverside at 9.40.

Part of our ‘explorations’ included seeking out a Tesco supermarket! Apparently Shanghai has around 28 of them so we chose the one nearest to us (three stops from People’s Square on the metro) and found it in the basement floors of a shopping centre. It was massive and it was so good to see the familiar yellow stickers again! (how sad are we?).

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We bought our dinner from here as well as a few bits and bobs we’d wanted to buy for ages. I also have to mention (for the benefit of Richard’s mum), that you can buy twin tub washing machines from Shanghai Tesco – it had a whole row of them!

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You can also buy dirt cheap scooters in Tesco – we saw one for 170 quid and were very tempted to buy a couple and make our way down to Vietnam by bike!

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Another achievement for us during the day (we consider finding Tesco our first achievement!) was buying our train tickets to Hong Kong. Again, we decided to opt out of using an agency or the hostel’s service and get the tickets ourselves. We heard that there is an English-speaking ticket office at Shanghai Railway station where you can book tickets from Shanghai to pretty much anywhere so we hopped onto the metro, made our way to the office (which is right down the end of the station road) and were relieved to find that this English-speaking place does in fact exist! The man behind the counter was really helpful and we got two overnight sleepers for 80 pounds. Would have been a lot more expensive if we’d let the hostel ‘help’!

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Finally it was time to head back towards the Bund for our cruise – we had to get a bus to the ferry docks for some reason, even though it was only 10 minutes away – maybe they didn’t trust the gaggle of people who had signed up for it not to get lost on the way! We managed to get on the boat first and take up prime position on the back deck. Despite the boat captain tearing along the river at quite a high speed we had a brilliant cruise and got to see a lot more of the riverside up close, witnessing more of Shanghai’s showpieces!

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