The day certainly started early enough with a 5:30am alarm.
We had a flight booked at 8am from Xi’an to Shanghai. As ever with a flight, we worked out our schedule backwards. Even though we only had hand luggage we figured an hour at the airport to be safe, half an hour in a taxi getting there, and half an hour to find a taxi at that time in the morning. That meant leaving the apartment at 6am. So I set my alarm for 5:30am, allowing just enough time for a shower and turning off all the electrical stuff in the apartment. But before 6am is not the most wakeful time of day for me, and as I write this in my hostel in Qingdao I wonder if I remembered to close all the windows.
We found a taxi and I negotiated a price to the airport. Actually, while I say I negotiated a price, there was no negotiation involved. Nick had said he managed to haggle a taxi down to ¥120 to go the airport. That was my benchmark. I had to try and get it for ¥120 or less. The driver’s opening price was ¥100. I was so astonished at the low price I just said yeah, ok, hao de!
We arrived at the airport at 6:50am and proceeded to the electronic check-in. It was as painless as it should be, but isn’t, everywhere else. Enter your passport number, choose a seat, print your boarding pass. Done. We headed to go through security and were directed towards the VIP security lane with a red carpet. Me and Tass certainly didn’t look like VIP passengers, but maybe they put the English speaking staff on the VIP line and when it’s quiet in the morning it’s less hassle to have English speaking travellers use the VIP line. Who knows. Anyway, UK airport security could learn a thing or two from Xi’an airport’s VIP security check. Efficient, prompt, no hassle, no nitpicking over bags 5cm too big.
With an hour to the flight we decided to get a coffee. We headed into Segafredo. The Chinese waitress greeted us in Italian. “Buongiorno!” she said with a pretty good Italian accent. “Buongiorno, come stai?” I responded, but that seemed to flummox her. “Uno cafe latte per favore” I followed with. Nothing. It seemed I was going to have to do this in Chinese. “Wo xiang yao yi bei cafe latte huh yi bei cafe americano”. Progress! The coffee’s were ¥40 apiece, so Tass paid to even out me paying for the taxi. Drinking our coffee we discussed how much longer Chinese society can continue so economically unequal. With our taxi driver’s fare for a 40km journey he could just about buy two coffees.
After the coffee we headed to the gate and found we’d be sharing our plane with a load of stereotypical Americans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I just hoped I wouldn’t be squashed in next to one of them. Apologies to all of my normal-sized American friends, but this group, every one of them, were clinically obese.
Arriving in Shanghai I immediately noticed the humidity. When I last visited at the end of April, Shanghai had been lovely and warm and I don’t remember noticing any humidity. This time, it felt like stepping into a hot rain shower, just without the rain. It was oppressively hot and humid. I could probably have survived without drinking if I could swallow the air.
In the terminal we searched for the left luggage deposit so Tass could leave his bag to collect for his flight that evening instead of lugging it around all day. I had no such benefit. I planned on staying in a hostel for the night before taking the train to Qingdao the next day, so had to lug my backpack around Shanghai for half a day, with the added annoyance of the straps irritating the sunburn on my neck and shoulders.
With everything sorted, we bought our tickets for the MagLev train that goes part way into Shanghai. We were a few seats away from the Americans we shared the flight with, who whooped and hollered as the train reached its maximum speed on that run of 300km/h. Me and Tass sighed in disdain, commenting that we’d both been faster on the Eurostar, TGV, ICE, AVE and various other high speed trains in Europe that were both quieter and smoother.
Continuing our journey to Pudong, we once again did the trick of going to the hotel lobby on the 56th floor of the JinMao tower to look at the view for free instead of paying the exorbitant price to go to the official viewing gallery. The viewing gallery, at the top of the building, would have been pointless anyway in the cloud. Exiting the wonderfully air-conditioned JinMao tower, Tass commented that going outside was like entering the tropical glasshouses at Kew Gardens. That’s exactly how it felt. Going outside in Shanghai in the summer feels like going inside an artificially hot and humid environment in London. With the dull dank sky and the close air it feels like a you’re in a dome. Any minute you expect to see the Chinese Truman Burbank come around the corner.
After Pudong we headed to People’s Square so Tass could go to the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and I could go and check in to my hostel and drop off my bag. The hostel, the Mingtown Etour International Youth Hostel, was fantastic, with friendly staff, a lovely courtyard, nice rooms and clean bathrooms. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I’m disappointed I only got to spend one night there!
I met Tass an hour or so later and we went to the Bund. As Tass said that a section of the urban planning exhibition had talked about the Bund and it recently being done up with a bit of waterfront redevelopment, he was anxious to see it in person. As we seemed to spend a lot of time during my degree talking about waterfront developments as the initial step in wider urban redevelopment, me and Tass were looking at it from a completely different perspective to everyone else.
From the Bund we headed to the Old Town area, with Disney-fied old buildings. When I was in Shanghai last time I also found a really run down area near the old town, so I took Tass through that on our way back to a Starbucks for a coffee. Again we talked about the inequality in Chinese society. In sight of people living in shacks are the gleaming towers of Pudong. At 7pm we met my friend Neil to go to Blue Frog for a nice burger, and at 8 Tass had to leave for the airport, so me and Neil stayed for another drink to catch up properly ourselves. Finally, it was time for me to head to my hostel and Neil to head home.
At the hostel I met some lovely Dutch girls on holiday, and some French guys who have been studying in Beijing for a few months. I forgot how much I enjoy the fleeting friendships made for a day or two in hostels when travelling. But with a 9:30am train the next morning, and needing to leave the hostel at 8am at the latest to make it, I reluctantly retired to bed much earlier than most other backpackers.