Archive for the ‘Shanghai’ Tag

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!

Shoes, skyscrapers, shops and subways

I spent my second day in Shanghai exploring further. I set off first to find the Train Ticket Office, located (according to the staff at my hotel) in the pedestrian shopping mall on Nanjing Road East, where it intersects with Central Zheijiang Road. Walk out of the hotel to the main road, turn right, then turn into the third street on the left, then keep walking until you get to Nanjing and look for a little window in a wall somewhere. Armed with the words “train ticket office” written down in Chinese, I got going.

Central Zheijiang St proved to be a great street, filled with interesting local shops. I wandered into a shoe shop and came out with new sandals. The woman guessed my size exactly (and was suitably pleased with herself). They were so comfortable, I wore them the whole day with not a blister to complain of!

In the distance of this street loomed an impressive gold building. A Chinese business built a ‘gold’ skyscraper in Melbourne’s Docklands. It is distinctive as it has a boat shape as its roofline, but even in the glow of sunset, that building never looks gold and I imagine it is a constant disappointment to the people that commissioned it, given the auspicious nature of gold. This golden skyscraper in Shanghai, however, is gold no matter what the sun is doing:

My eyes are constantly gazing upwards, marveling at the beautiful Art Deco architecture. I was struck by the Gotham City quality of one building – it reminded me of the Russell St Police Headquarters in Melbourne (these days a block of apartments). The Train Ticket Office turned out to be a window at the front of this building.

Next I took the metro to South Shaanxi Road, and walked from there into the French Concession district, a leafy residential/embassy area where plane trees cover the streets with lush green canopies. I enjoyed being out of the sun’s reach for a while. There are lots of interesting shops, galleries and cafes in this area. However, I stopped for lunch in a canteen-style coffee shop where the only English I could see was in a NO SMOKING sign, and the words PUSH and PULL on the door. The food was plentiful and all on display. I could point to what I wanted, and was delighted with my selection – broccoli, eggplants, mushrooms, some cabbage (I think) and rice. Finally a more balanced proportion of the five food groups. And for a bargain price.

While I was eating, it suddenly started to rain. How serendipitous, I thought – not only have found such a great place to eat, but to have found it and be eating right when the downpour started!

Next I went to the Taikang Road arts precinct, which was packed with visitors. It’s an interesting array of shops selling silk scarves, hand crafts, paintings and photographs, leather goods. I stopped for coffee at Kommune, where I paid nearly twice the cost of my lunch for an iced coffee. Everything balances up in the end, doesn’t it? Kommune has reproductions of Mao-era propaganda posters on its walls, and I particularly loved seeing the Mao figurines in the fishtank.

I exited the arts precinct and within just a few footsteps found I had left the French Concession district behind me.

I walked to the nearest Metro station (which wasn’t that near), navigating my way through an interchange without incident. In some of the trains they have TV screens and I particularly like it when they show a program about the DOs and DON’Ts of using the Shanghai metro system. The program is hosted by a handsome man with an endearing dimple in his right cheek and a flirty smile. I could imagine him in an ad for Mac products – cheeky, smart, little bit playful and arch. Yesterday’s program showed impatient business men doing things like pulling the Emergency cord, or trying to force the doors open, with a great big red X slamming down on top of the image. Then they show a similar man sighing, and making a call on a mobile phone – big green TICK for him. The key message here? If you are running late, or miss your stop, don’t try and disrupt the entire train service, make a call and tell whoever you’re meeting that you’ll be a bit late.

Today’s episode was about finding unattended luggage. A group of teenage girls is walking along the platform. One trips over a small black wheelie bag. Oh! she says, and she and her friends gather around the bag and open it up (presumably to find out who it belongs to). WRONG! says Dimple Man. In the next scene we see the same group of girls walking with two men in uniforms and pointing out the bag. The two men approach the bag and cover it with a blanket. RIGHT! says Dimple Man. Sweetheart.

There is another ad in this vein which is a cartoon. A sullen, round-shouldered character is lugging a kind of sack over his shoulder. He avoids the bag screening x-ray machine that everyone is supposed to put their bags through when entering the Metro system. (“For everyone’s safety” the signs on the machines remind us). There is a woman (with better posture) who has a smart red-and-white tote bag, and she puts it through the machine. Then the security guards go up to the round-shouldered person and ask to see his bag. They empty the contents out and – I’m not sure what it’s supposed to contain, but I think they find items for making bombs. And then they take the man away and he looks even more sullen and hang-dog than ever.

I enjoy this existence where I can’t speak the language. I am reduced to deciphering and guessing, and filling in the gaps from my own imagination. It’s what my students at Language School have to do all the time, of course. Here I get to do it while being entertained by a completely different style of visual communication, which amuses me no end.


I am in China this week and next, here for the ISME [International Society of Music Educators] biennial conference. First I will be at the Community Music Activity Commission, which meets this coming week in Hangzhou, then in Beijing the following week for the main International Congress. I’m presenting papers at both events, looking at the strategies I’ve developed for developing creative music and composition in ESL classrooms. Hangzhou is only 2 hours by train from Shanghai, so I decided to arrive a few days early and be a tourist.

Yesterday I walked around the Bund, found my bearings somewhat and admired the heritage architecture. There were many, many local tourists (as in, Chinese, not foreigners) who were suitably agog at the sights. The view across the river to the newer Pudong district is filled with space-age skyscrapers. I kept passing groups of out-of-towners resting in the shade, their shoes off. But you won’t see them in the photo below – I feel rude if I point my camera at specific people. I liked the red flags at the top of this building – in the afternoon sun they had a sharpness to them which the photo below doesn’t really do justice to.

I was trying to find the train ticket office to buy my Hangzhou ticket in advance, but after a couple of hours of wandering (and wondering) it was still eluding me. I found myself in East Nanjing St, which is the big shopping mecca, filled with people. This building is home to Jeans West, and hopefully gives you an idea of the number of people who were out shopping on a Saturday afternoon:

I wandered into some alleyways. Lots of these have signs at the entrance, suggesting there are businesses and shops inside that members of the public can go to. The couple that I walked through had blue and green plastic exercise equipment near either entrance, a kind of home-gym opportunity to encourage people to keep fit, presumably. There were chalkboards with what seemed to be community service announcements on them, accompanied by colourful cartoon drawings. They were written in chalk, and could have been rubbed off at anytime. This one explains (I think) that if people are engaging in obnoxious behaviour, sensible citizens should go and get someone in authority to sort it out.

This last set of pictures were more for children, reminding them to do helpful things like pick up rubbish and put it in the bin.

Certainly Shanghai is a very clean city, with the footpaths and roads clear of rubbish. Unlike Paris, which will forever retain the Premier Prix in my mind for street filth. There, I had to keep my eyes on the road because of the steaming mounds of dog poo that seemed to be deposited every hundred metres or so. Here, happily, it is safe to gaze upwards at the beautiful buildings and wander without sidestepping.