I spent the last 24 hours in Shanghai. No matter how eloquent, descriptive or powerful the language I use impacts you, it pales in comparison to the actual experience. I know this about travel. It was something I dreamed about long before I was old enough (and financially stable enough) to actually make those excursions reality, but I never tire of the lessons I learn when engaging new cultures and new civilizations! As I write this, the opening monologue of “Star Trek” is playing on the video in my mind, “…to boldly go where no one (man) has gone before.” Even though many have made these trips, for me each unique destination comes fraught with its own lovely frustrations, its own distinct character and a host of insights.
Shanghai is an amazing city. At once, it is cosmopolitan and modern. Around the next corner it is distinctly Chinese. At the city center, the Pearl Tower and the Bund draw millions of visitors a week. For our trip, during this week’s National Holiday, there were millions of visitors in Shanghai, and most of them seemed to be where we wanted to go!
But that is part of the flavor of China. This is a land encumbered by human presence. From the subway to the Bund Tunnel, people are everywhere. Yet, the masses move with relative ease, and around every corner there are respites from the crowds if you know where to look.
I was warned about the population density. From my perspective, it is no worse than NYC or Chicago during rush hour, the most notable exception being the subway. Masses of people move onto and off those trains with a singular mission, and it is somewhat frightening to realize one might not make it off the train because of the people-mass you have to engage between you and the door of the train!
Regardless, this is part of the Chinese travel experience and with a bit of preparation it was easy to handle. As to the actual experience, I was in awe with the architecture of the city! The Pearl Tower was magnificent, as were the other architectural wonders of the area! We spent a couple of hours there, had an amazing lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then made our way across the river to the Bund. This is another shopping area, complete with thousands of locals and tourists! From there, we made our way over to the French Concession.
A haven for expats, the French Concession was once French territory and operated under its own laws, as an embassy or consulate does. Today however, it is a beautiful respite from the gleaming malls and skyscrapers for anyone who wants to spend an afternoon or evening enjoying a great glass of wine, cold beer or exquisite meal. It is also an enclave for discriminating shoppers. Nestled among tree-lined streets, the pace is decidedly slower and the culture much more diversified. Here one can find Irish Pubs next to Mexican Restaurants, Asian Spas across from contemporary art studios, and sidewalks begging to be walked.
We settled in at one of the best watering holes: Abbey Road. The drinks were great, moderately priced, and the food was good. We had mostly appetizers, but along with the great service (English-speaking, I might add) made for a beautiful ending to our one-day Shanghai overview.
I’d like to be more specific on some aspects, but will save that for later. This was an overview trip. I wanted to experience the high-speed rail service, transfers by subway and bus, and see where I want to spend time. I will say, that we in America are missing out from not having access to quality, high-speed trains. Zipping along at 300 kph, the trip from Wuxi to Shanghai took less than an hour. The train was comfortable, easy to use, and quick! This was one of the most impressive parts of the trip. Getting to Shanghai was so easy, and very inexpensive. Unlike most airports, the train stations were geared for massive amounts of people and traffic flowed on and off the trains in easy fashion!
Not everything was perfect. We did get lost a couple of times: but isn’t that part of the adventure? Getting lost, then rebooting and working through it is part of the lure of travel! Water seemed to be scarce and was pricey, and toilets even more so! All in all, it was an amazing day, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
I want to apologize to my nephew, Ben. I stole the title of this blog from a quote of his I lifted from Facebook. I promise to give him credit for his intellectual property, and due consideration for any monetary values he ascribes to his work. Regardless, I couldn’t resist. His statement was never more applicable than this day: “Why would I want to watch a movie, when I can live one?”
As always, be kind to one another. Send questions or comments when you can or feel compelled. As we “…seek out new life and new civilizations” let us be conjoined together in this enterprise! 😉