I still cannot believe that I am finally in China! I am at last in the land of my ancestors.
Pudong airport did not try to be beautiful; functionally, however, it served its purpose of ushering visitors into Shanghai and sending travelers out of China. My arrival gate was quite a long way to the immigration area, but once I arrived there, the passport check was a breeze; no questions asked. After grabbing my luggage, I went through customs, then got out to the welcoming zone filled with people who were picking up their friends and relatives. Once I went out of the airport and into the open air, four men approached me and aggressively steered my cart to go to their taxis. I barked at them and took hold of my cart. One of them cursed at me, so I decided to go back inside to ask for assistance. I wanted to know how much it would cost if I were to use a non-metered taxi, but the staff at the counter decided to escort me. With him, no one approached us. I was delivered to a legitimate taxi and off I went to Puxi, the “real” Shanghai, across the Huang Pu River. The ride would be about 40-60 minutes, costing about 150-200 Yuan, depending on the traffic.
The weather was beautiful: sunny and cool. My friend did say that travelling to China at the end of November and around the beginning of December would provide me with beautiful days like this one. Inside the taxi, I felt a draft (wind) from my right side, which at first I thought to be a hidden AC vent, but it turned out the door to my right had a hole and the air I felt was from the outside. I did not mind it because inside the taxi it was a bit warm. Along the way to Puxi, I saw many high-rise residential complex. Each complex had somewhere between 10 to 30 buildings, and each complex only employed a single design that was repeated many times. I have never seen so many housing complexes, but then again, I am now in the most populated country in the world.
The appearance of each complex varied from one complex to another: there were some that appeared very luxurious and some that looked dilapidated. They were all interspersed: there was not really one segment that was a poor area, and another that was glitzy; instead, I saw a few expensive-looking high rise buildings neighboring a seemingly mid-level priced housing, followed by a poor, run-down one, and then continued with a number of high priced buildings again; very interesting, indeed. The only common denominator was the airing of the tenants’ laundry in the balconies. Even the ones that did not have balconies would put up their clothes-line by the window for maximum solar exposure.
Once we crossed a bridge whose named I never learned, I started seeing the familiar skyscrapers of Shanghai: the Oriental Pearl tower, the JW Marriott hotel (looking like one of the towers from the Lord of the Ring’s second installment), the Jinmao Tower (the tallest structure in the city), the Four Seasons hotel, the JC Mandarin hotel, and some more. Once we got off the highway and into the surface street, suddenly I felt as if I were in Jakarta, Indonesia. The malls and the hotels had that typical Asian glitz, with each of them having shiny and glossy tiles, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and a grand entrance.
I wanted to go to the Bund on my first night here. I thought that with not too many people around at such late hours I could shoot some pictures, but the concierge told me that after 10pm, the lights that made the Bund a glorious spectacle would be turned off. So, instead, I just walked around my hotel, trying to scope the area. I ate at a restaurant that had many stalls on the sidewalk. It was called Bi Feng Tang. I ordered the neck pork (I have never had this before), vinegared chicken feet and shrimp dumpling (har-kau.) I ordered the dumplings to be safe, just in case the first two were not good. Turned out the first two were great, and the dumpling was just so-so.
Having lived for almost a year in Tokyo, it is rather a relief to be in a city like Shanghai, where the prices are very inexpensive. After the late dinner, I walked on the street of my hotel, passing different cafÃ©s and restaurants. Sometimes the chilly night and the overhanging streetcar’s cables made me feel as if I were in Berlin; and sometimes certain small shops in the area reminded me of Paris. There were many beggars, mostly women in their 50s; and they were very aggressive in pursuing people. Because of it, I felt as if I were in Jakarta, but I kept reminding myself that I was in Shanghai! A recent Asian Wall Street Journal article actually talked in length about the industry of begging that had been developing in China, where conmen employed the tactic of using disabled or deformed children.
I look forward to exploring this city that has been called the Paris of the East, and the Whore of the Orient.