A boat trip on the Huangpu River

For my last night in Shanghai I decided to do a river tour. It was quite an experience. First I went to the ticket office by the riverside. There were three women there, all highly animated and, to be honest, a little on the wired, frantic side, it seemed to me. They said the next cruise would leave at 8.30pm, which at the time was 40 minutes away so I figured there was no great rush, and took myself off for a little walk to people-watch awhile. This was a mistake, because when I returned, just after 8pm, that cruise was no longer available and I had to settled for the 9pm departure. Then it turned out that a 9pm boat departure meant an 8.15pm queuing time as it apparently takes 45 minutes to get everyone on to the boat. That explains why the women had seemed so stressed and hurried when I first went into the office and they wanted to sell me the 8.30pm ticket. I’d obviously have had to rush if I’d wanted to be on that boat. They probably explained this to me as soon as I walked in the office, but seeing as it would have been in Chinese, I didn’t understand it.

No matter. I was the first in the queue for the 8.15 departure. It turned out to be the first of many queues that night, and each of those queues was accompanied by such a bristling, bustling, excited sense of anticipation. “Man, we are so excited to be going on this tour!” is what I imagined they were all saying to each other.

One of our queues to get on the boat

First we had to line up along the wall of the ticket office, and have out tickets checked. Then a man with a little flag walked us across the road, and led us to a big coach. We climbed aboard, and were driven about ten minutes down the road, to what turned out to be the main Shanghai docks. We were dropped off at a street corner, everyone squeezed their way impatiently off the bus, and made another line. The same people kept pushing their way to the front of each line. The same excited energy filled the air. The man with the tour guide flag made an announcement to everyone, then he approached me (the only whitey in the group) and surreptitiously showed me a handwritten note. “Keep going straight ahead. We will board the boat at Dock 5”, it said. I had to laugh, because it was all so thoroughly organised, and so contained, and yet this was a group that simply didn’t want to be contained.

When we were let through the final barrier everyone ran – RAN –  to get on the boat. “Don’t run, don’t run,” the boat attendants said feebly (in Chinese – I assume this is what they said), but no-one paid any attention to them. They all ran up the gangplank, and ran up the first flight of stairs and ran through the opulent chandeliered dining room:

and ran up the next flight of stairs (despite this notice warning again specific types of walking):

then at the top they flung themselves at the barriers and started to exclaim at the sight of the Pudong and the Bund all lit up, and got out their cameras.

One of the photo opportunities

Once at the top there was nowhere else to run to. If you wanted to enjoy the cruise from a plum position (for example, on the birds nest upper deck, or sitting in chairs around the bow of the boat, you had to pay the attendant money. No extra tickets were issued, it was purely cash in hand. It all looked a bit unofficial and not very communist.

Then again, maybe a black market in premium views is very communist. In any case, I stayed with the proletariat and watched them photograph each other against the illuminated changing backdrop of lit-up skyscrapers (Pudong) and lit-up Art Deco (Bund).

There were chairs set out on the main deck but it turned out that if you wanted to sit in these you had to buy something from the cafe. Nobody wanted to buy anything – we were all too damn excited about being on this boat!

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