The month-long journey was to end here in the big city of Shanghai, before flying back to my base in Melbourne. I did not get to writing about it because I needed to sort out my mixed emotions first. But let’s get to that…
As I completely underestimated the ticket queuing time in Nanjing (see previous post on the topic), I had to change my evening plans on this Sunday. I was supposed to leave Nanjing in the mid/late afternoon, to arrive in Shanghai in the evening for a meal with my colleague. She had arrived in Shanghai about a month earlier and I was supposed to inherit her company-paid serviced apartment for a couple of nights.
I woke up to the view of high-rising apartments and offices through the frosty window of the serviced apartment. Monday. I got to go to work. After 4 weeks on the road, this week I was to be working remotely with my Melbourne-based team from the Shanghai office of the agency. Thanks to Google Map and the data SIM card, it was a breeze getting to the office.
Getting a good quality street food was a little tricky here. There were many eating places, thanks to the large population, but some of them cook more quick n’ dirty kind of stuff. Being allergic to MSG, I needed to be careful about what I eat and where. Melbourne is a pretty bad place when it comes to cheap Vietnamese and Chinese food – shocking to see a number of restaurants that cook with MSG, that makes my skin burn and stomach twist up! Still, my nose worked well around here and the places I had a good gut feeling about turned out to be good, meaning, cheap, authentic and not chemical-fielled. Like this one just half a block from the office. A HK-food restaurant in a big office building my colleagues took me for lunch the next day turned out to be twice as expensive and half as good, takes forever to cook (I ended up asking for my meal to be packed for take away) – and had plenty of MSG in it. I kinda had a guess when the menu was presented but…
After staying a couple of nights at the serviced apartment my friend had rented previously but expired just a few days after my arrival, I went to find one, cheaper and plainer but close to office and stations.
It is just a regular high rising apartment. It has a security at the foyer – need a pass to enter after hours. The reception for the ‘serviced apartment business’ would actually be one of the units in apartment somewhere like 10th floor or wherever the address indicates, and they’d give you a key and pass upon registration. Agoda, an online accommodation booking site my colleague told me about, helped me a lot in finding a cheap accommodation in Asia. They even list backpacker-type places. Perfect for us budget travellers!
That’s the room for me for the rest of the week. It is a studio with decent bed, aircon unit, TV, fridge, couch, and of course, a small kitchen and shower. Quite comfortable and you have the privacy. It is often used by expats and business visitors who may stay for a couple of weeks.
I went street shooting, as now I am finally in a city where people would walk at night, too.
I took the opportunity to catch up with some of friends who reside in this city. Estelle and James visited Melbourne not long ago while we were working in the same agency. They treated me to some real good food. Thanks guys! Next one is on me – no argument there!
James, the model, showing off the typical mask provided to office workers. The air was filled with smog and some people would insist on wearing one of those to go out. I had a few in my bag by the end of the trip… I did not wear it, but if you live here, you might consider the damage it may do to your lungs over time…
Good friends of mine know I would be delighted for a good coffee and chocolate cake…
Then the morning comes, and it’s time to head off to work… so I pulled out my camera for a bit of street shooting again…
Leaving office as Melbourne goes after hours, I headed to the art district, known as “M50” that my friend recommended showing her Lonely Planet city guide. M50 seems to be a block of land, with buildings of various scale, all devoted to art industry, be it design studio, architect’s office, interior shop, galleries and art shops. It reminded me on the Can Factory place my friend took me to in Guangzhou, but much smaller scale.
Above: Can Factory of Guangzhou
Below: Images from M50
There were not many visitors at this late afternoon of a week night. There are some people who obviously looked like the locals, or those who worked here. Down the dark collider came a rather loud music of what I took as Tom Waits. The music was coming from one of the gallery/shop. Inside I found a series of paintings on the wall, loud players playing the music, but not the owner. Having a browse, this man appeared. Boo turned out to be a friendly gentleman, whose wife is also an artist (painter). He told me about the kind of art he’s passionate about, about some Japanese artists I cannot remember who/what it was about, and was happy to pose for a portrait.
Inside an interior-shop, a trendy shop that you would find in stylish part of Japanese modern cities, with soft, indirect lighting and many organic materials, I met Kibi, who is a charming girl working here after finishing her study of art. We ended up standing around talking a lot about the beautiful lighting in the shop, how products are presented for great visual presentation, and about working in art as an artist or as a business person. Not that I had a great experience but she was full of enthusiasm as a young graduate and I admired her courage and desire to have her own art-related business. I am sure I’ll be hearing of her success in a not so distant future.
I met up with yet another former colleague. HK and I used to work together while my short assignment in Singapore years back. He is now running a business that takes him to Shanghai quite frequently. He happened to be in the same town when I was there for a week, so we picked a night to meet for dinner. Good to see you, my friend!
One of the places you just have to visit while in Shanghai is here, The Bund. It shows Shanghai as being one of the grand cities of the world, with a beautiful Western buildings and now the massive modern skyline on the facing shore.
I was just standing at this intersection near the Bund when a couple of Chinese young people came talking to me. I ended up following them into a tea house, and to make the long story short, it was a well choreographed con of making me spend more than what was on the price list. It was not illegal, I suppose, in a way that the price was listed, and I could have said no, but there was a twist, psychological one, that made me pay for other people in the end.
When I shared the story to local friends and other expats the next day, they were all like ‘Oh, no way you should follow a stranger’… Well, I get what you mean. In Melbourne, I may just dismiss people like that. But when you are travelling, the only way to meet people is to talk to them. In Bali I talked a lot to workers in wet market (did I tell you I love the markets?), so much that the bike park attendant (an uncle) took me to their staff cafe upstairs in the dark part of the market, offered me a glass of coke, which I took gladly. Maybe it was one of the things (other than eating in a local diner where a mother lay a baby right next to her cooking board) that gave me the ‘Bali belly’. But I had a great experience. Being conned into pure financial loss and the show that was genuine was a bit disappointing. Getting into a metred taxi that would turn off the metre just before parking in front of the station and ask me to pay a random amount, that’s a bit unfortunate, too. But that’s travelling. At the end of the day, though, if you can afford, spare it. In Islamic country I may be asked to spare some money every time I chat with people or photograph them. Maybe I should pick up shooting without looking through the finder, like some street photographers do. But I am such a straight-talking kind of guy. I love the human contact and I would like to remain a respectable, human-respecting citizen of the earth who humbly visit other people’s homes (ie. their cities, their market, their shop…). Maybe I will be a little more cautious in China, especially after travelling a friendly and trusting country like Thailand. But I will not stop talking to strangers and I wish I could help others a bit more in the future, too.
My friend Estelle took it as a personal embarrassment that her city should treat her friend like this, and treated me to classic Shanghai meal, the kind of nice dining she’d had with her family growing up. It was all beautifully presented, delicately flavoured, wonderful meal!
The weekend is here, to check out a few more spots before my departure. Jade Buddha Temple was just near the apartment I was staying. But this morning I decided to pay the 20 or 30 RMB to check out. Actually, they also have a dining hall (which is open to public on the side street-facing entrance), and they offered simple meals like noodle soup and porrige at bargain price. It was very tasty too!
Buddhism in China look very different from Thailand. The word ‘high culture’ crosses my mind. It is more established, more decorated, more elaborate. In some ways, it is closer to the Buddhism seen in Japan, well, this shouldn’t surprise me as Japanese went to the Continent (China) over 1,000 years ago to learn their culture.
Saturday morning, my friends took me out of the city, to an old town called Zhao jia lou, that shows what Shanghai used to look like in historical old town.
It is quite a photogenic place. But that was not all… It held a famous, queue-making, dumpling place. Love it!!
Just walking around the back street criss-crossing, we met a couple who came to buy some veges and the banboo tray. They were happy to pose for my shot.
The knee-height blue line on the buildings in the back was actually quite artistic.
Then we found this chapel…
It was a beautiful little outing. Thank you so much, James & Estelle!
After James headed out to work, Estelle took me to another kind of my favourite… Fenyang Road was a place of good-ole Shanghai, with many shops selling and repairing musical instruments, hand-crafted shoes and bags, and some classy interior shops and cafes. Then the white house, the old European mansion that you can imagine those balls would have taken place in the ages when the wealthy gathered in this jade of China.
Then there was one more surprise for me… after having a meal with her friend, Estelle took me on a river cruise in a VIP cabin, thanks to her friend whose family runs the cruise.
One last friend to catch up, for the first time since our last catch up in Shanghai during my last and only visit here, is my school friend CW. Now based here, with his wife expecting to bring more happiness to his young family, we have known each other since studying in Perth… 20 years ago. Boy, time does fly!
It was not like a direct experience you get in a low-boundary place like Chiang Mai. It has a lot more expensive things, more modern money things, and with it sometimes you find those people who try to take advantage of you. I probably couldn’t live in Shanghai because it looks like it is a bit too much energy going on here. But if you took your time and looked around, maybe spoke to a few people working here and there during their break or bought them a drink, then I think it is just another city of friendly people, waiting to welcome you into their home.