This past weekend two friends and myself hopped on a train to Shanghai. We decided we were going only earlier this week, so it fairly unplanned and sporadic. This was the first time I had used the Chinese railway system and it was also my first time in Shanghai. Buying train tickets in Chinese isn’t hard—buying train tickets in China is unnecessarily complicated. If you want to do it online, you have to buy them more than five days in advance. In Kaifeng, you can only purchase tickets for trains that depart within the next five days. In Shanghai, they have a similar rule but it’s for three days. Because we weren’t able to purchase tickets back to Kaifeng before we left, when we got to Shanghai we had to purchase tickets with a 7:45AM departure time back to Kaifeng. The trains themselves weren’t too bad. We went on the soft seat fast train which got us to Shanghai in about six hours. The seats were pretty comfortable and there was a surprising amount of leg-room. Tickets were a bit steep—¥233 one way—but the slow train would have taken about eleven hours to get there. Everyone agreed the extra dollars were worth it.
We arrived Friday evening around 11:30, and had unfortunately missed the very last subway train forcing us to take a cab. This wasn’t too terrible though because he dropped us off right in front of the hostel. It was really pretty nice, particularly for the price, and the best part was that it was very clean. I won’t lie, I had my doubts about hostels in China at first, but I have certainly changed my attitude concerning them.
Saturday morning we woke up, and went to the nearest ticket office to buy our tickets back to Kaifeng, afterwards we stopped by a dumpling shop for brunch. A Shanghai specialty is Xiaolong Jiaozi, or Little Dragon Dumplings, which were on the menu so we ordered about twenty. These dumplings were the tastiest food I have yet encountered in China. They are fairly large and fried on the bottom so that they have a nice crunch to them. The inner part is filled with a pork meatball of sorts, and soup. These wonderful little devils are as difficult to eat as they are tasty. The method I found most effective to devour them was to nibble a hole in the dumpling and let it cool for a minute, suck out the soup inside and then proceed to eat it. I’ve been in China for two months now, so I’m fairly adept when it comes to handling chopsticks, and yet I dropped every other dumpling onto my plate splashing the soup all over the table.
We spent much of Saturday just wandering around the city taking in the sights. The air was incredibly smoggy—we couldn’t really feel or smell it but you could see it, or rather, you couldn’t see much because of the smog. One of my favorite things about the city was the randomly interspersed parks that cowered in between the skyscrapers. There was about one on every block and they all varied in size. There were a few very large parks in Shanghai, one of those being the Peoples’ Square which contains the musical fountain, but we never got to see it “perform”. We waited around with other Chinese tourists for about 15 minutes before deciding we wanted to leave and do something else.
That evening we went to a club, but one of our group wasn’t much of a drinker, so she requested a place where she could dance. This proved to be more of a challenge than we’d originally thought. We first went to a very popular club called Richbaby. It gave the appearance that you needed to be a rich baby to afford their beverages and they didn’t have a dance floor so we left. We then went to Mook, a club which specialized in women dancing on tables in their underwear. This place also looked really pricey and did not have a dance floor, so we left. We came to a shabbier hole-in-the-wall bar which ended up being utterly fantastic. Drinks were relatively cheap, the DJ was good, and they didn’t close until the sun came up. We stayed until about 3:30 in the morning, and I regretted some of my drink choices just a tad the next morning.
After recovering, we walked along the Bund on Sunday and bought tickets for an evening cruise on the Yangtze River. After acquiring tickets, we walked around Shanghai for a bit and eventually found ourselves at the doors of the Shanghai Art Museum. It was 3PM when we arrived, and they closed at 5, so they gave us our tickets for free. They had an exhibit for a photographer (I can’t remember the guy’s name, he was really good) and for Tibetan modern art.
When the time finally came to go to the pier for our cruise, we had some issues with the driver because he took us about three very long blocks too far. And in China, when things such as trains or boats are scheduled to leave, they often leave about 15 minutes early. We finally made it to the boat, and it was literally just in time. It was a fairly short ride, but the view and photos were amazing.
By the time Monday rolled around, we were all incredibly exhausted and ready to get back to our little Chinese city. We woke up at 6:30, and our train left at 7:45. This was not, unfortunately, anywhere near enough time to make the train. We ended up missing it, and got in line see if there was any way to get our money back for the tickets or exchange them. I’m pretty sure that were we Chinese, the woman at the window would have told us that we should have been there on time, but as foreigners in China, we get what we want. The woman at the desk merely asked for our tickets and passports, and then gave us almost all of our money back. This renewed our spirits somewhat, and when we were able to get tickets for that afternoon we were all feeling pretty good about how the situation turned out. Some authentic Dim Sum in our tummies increased that feeling tenfold about an hour later while we found our seats on the train and settled in for a long ride.
Shanghai was the sleepiest and somehow most quaint large city I have ever been to. Unlike New York, this city has a curfew. The subways stop running around 11:30 and the streets become deserted, aside from the ambling taxis whose drivers are desperate for passengers. Even while walking down the dark alley towards the hostel or coming across strangers on the street at 2 in the morning, never once did I feel uneasy or in danger. If you don’t know much Chinese, you can make your way through Shanghai easily, though dealing with the cab drivers might give you a headache or two. Many of the signs near the center of the city and the tourist traps are translated into English, and most shopkeepers and clerks know enough English to understand what you want. I was only in the city for a few days, but it made a huge impression on me. It was the first place I’d really been where East meets West and ancient meets modern—Shanghai had a bit of everything. It’s an international city, but it is definitely still very Chinese. Sometimes, in retrospect, I really question the things I’ve done so far and the choices I’ve made. But looking at my experience thus far in China and the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, I know with absolute certainty that when I accepted the scholarship to study in here, I made the best decision in my life so far.