119 Hours in Shanghai

Back to Mainland China! I’ve not been here since my incredible trip from Moscow to Beijing and the Great Wall back in…

I was applying for a visa-free visit or up to 144 hours and had to show four or five people the onward flight information and then I was issued a transit visa. It went pretty smoothly and I was luckily the only foreigner in the queue so it was much quicker than it could have been!!

Shanghai immediately surprised me by not having any ATMs in the airport Terminal 1 building and then not having any at the metro station either! The ticket machines bizarrely only accept UnionPay or WeChat pay. So I had to take myself to the Mercure Hotel and ask for the nearest ATM (which only issues 100¥ notes and the machine doesn’t accept above 50¥) but anyway. I was on my way around 11pm.

A reasonably long journey on Line 10 to East Nanjing Road cost 4¥ (£0.46) which seems like a good start!

Just like in Beijing, the metro has some animated screens as you go through some of the tunnels. You can do this but you can’t get on board with contactless payment? Come on Shanghai!

I had a mega relaxing day on Saturday and just went out in the evening for a long walk around the Nanjing pedestrian area. I went for a coffee at the Sky Dome on top of the Radisson Blu hotel. The view from the 47th floor went between rainy and foggy but I could still enjoy the lights of Shanghai.

I visited some great markets including the First Food Hall. There are loads of goodies for sale here and it’s worth a trip.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry so I ended up buying a pot noodle for dinner and took it back to the hostel. It cost 8.5¥ (£1)

As I walked along the Nanjing pedestrian street towards the People’s Square metro station, a few groups of people were dancing but there was also a man doing Tai chi with a sword, which was a little unnerving.

I noticed that the sound of coughing is everywhere and people are hacking up phlegm left, right and centre, which is pretty gross.

I got off the metro at Changjian Road South and didn’t realise squire how far away the museum of glass was. It really really isn’t a touristy area and after a couple of miles I really began to doubt that the location on MAPS.ME was correct but that was ok.

But then in the distance I saw a brown road sign that said Museum of Glass! I reached it and caused chaos at the enquiries desk by presenting my Klook 3-day pass voucher (despite it being only in Chinese and me having to memorize which set of characters was the right ones. Then the woman scanned and suddenly all was sorted and my ticket was printed.

The museum, unsurprisingly, has tonnes of glass, but rather stupidly, all of the information boards are see-through glass so it’s practically impossible to read most of them with all the glaring lights. It’s interesting though.

There is an interactive exhibition with many uses for glass and breakthroughs facilitated by it – for example the dual layered Dewar flask which became Thermos and the fibres which became fibre optics.

I quite like how I just don’t “get” some art installations. This one is called “My Archeology” and a woman is making glass sculptures and then burying them wondering if one day they will be uncovered and described as art or archeological finds.

You can still dream in the dark

Overall it was pretty cool and I’m glad it was included in the pass. As I was sitting down in the foyer planning my next move a cute little girl came over to inspect me and she was so excited when I said hello that she was literally jumping up and down! Too cute.

I walked another few kilometres to the Tonghe Xincun station so that I only had one change to reach Ocean World on the west of the city.

Apparently my ticket included the Beluga show so I took the land train shuttle to get there and just hoped it wasn’t too horrible for the animals.

There’s a living art centre on the way in, which is a set of tiny aquariums full of some of the most beautiful reef fish. There are definitely too many fish in the tanks, especially for the more territorial ones. They have a tank packed full of yellow boxfish, my favourite fish. The lionfish are swimming around like a whirlwind because they don’t have anywhere to perch. I went through to the Beluga arena after that for the 2:30 show.

I just hope it stops them wanting to eat whales.

There were two belugas and two trainers. During the show there were lots of advertisements and videos showing conservation and the woman demonstrated brushing the whale’s teeth.

I walked back around the lake to the aquarium and spent about an hour there.

In the rainforest section I came face to face with an Arapaime which I caught a glimpse of in the Amazon in April last year. Wowzas that is a beast! I think I’m glad I didn’t know what it looked like when I saw its fin.

Amazonian Arapaima

They also had huge electric eels in a tank with pretty rays and a funky fish called a Bigmouth Featherback.

The seahorse exhibition only has seahorses bred in captivity and there are lots of signs to say not to buy products containing seahorses and other endangered creatures. So that’s better than I expected.

The aquarium has lots of things in it and again, the most remarkable thing is that everything is swimming around when they would be resting in the wild. The finale is the enormous tank at the end that is full of sharks, rays, turtles and big fish. There could be 9-10 species of shark. I’ve never seen so many in one place before. They’ve got a large shark ray, which I’ve never seen before. Also, white tip and black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks and another big species with lots of spiky teeth, a humped back and a small dorsal fin – could be a fat silky shark but that humped back doesn’t look right to me.

I took the metro and then walked to Yuyuan Garden, not twigging that it closed at 5pm but it wasn’t bad timing really as all the lights were on in the beautiful traditional neighbourhood surrounding it. I spent quite a while wandering around and checking out the local crafts, buying some paper-cut artwork. I got some street food as I was going around.

The skyline of Shanghai was lit up beautifully as I walked back to the metro to head back to my hostel.

I stopped at Hungri Jiachangcai on South Shanxi Road to get some BBQ skewers to round off my street food dinner.

My first stop this morning was to try and get more info about my 24 hour pass for the hop on hop off bus but I ended up in the most circular conversation so I gave up and walked to the metro, where I found a tourist map which mentioned the bus company I needed!

It’s not raining this morning so I’m going to start with the towers in the financial district.

The Shanghai World Financial Centre is one of the tallest buildings in Shanghai with great views over the whole city. My 3-day Pass includes the 95th and 100th floor Sky Walks (both indoors). The elevator moves at 8 metres per second so you reach 474 metres incredibly quickly. And when you get there, wow!

As I went down to the 94th floor to catch the main elevator down to the lobby, I decided to see how much the Aquarium Art exhibition would cost. It was 40¥ and I figured I would only be here once so I paid and went it. It is bizarre!! I can’t believe what people have done to goldfish. There are all sorts of crazy breeds. The Celestial goldfish has its eyes facing upwards, there are some with enormous sacks under their eyes so they bobble up and down when they swim. There are more still with pompoms on their faces. I liked fish anyway without them being adapted like this. Again there’s too many to a tank but it certainly does have an artistic impact.

Now, I’m not sure how to describe this except as one of the best surprises of my trip – I just sat on a heated toilet seat in the bathroom of the Shanghai World Financial Centre!

My next stop was the Observation Deck of the “World Famous” Jinmao Tower. The views were amazing! There is just a constant flow of boats down the river and it’s easy to see from here. An Australian couple gave me some information about the bus tour and showed me the map so now I’m sorted.

I hopped on the bus outside Jinmao Tower, though the driver doesn’t have a map or a headset or speak English but hey. It’s raining now so I’m glad to get a ride to the dock for the scenic boat tour. We took the Nanpu Suspension Bridge over the Huangpu River and then along to the dockside.

A uniformed woman got on to give me my 24 hour ticket as we reached the dock and then I went to collect my “free” boat ride ticket and only had 15 minutes to wait before I boarded my hour-long scenic cruise past all the amazing skyscrapers of Shanghai.

I took the bus to Yuyuan Garden and enjoyed the peace and quiet of this secluded gem. I overheard a guide telling a woman from Washington about the garden and he made me chuckle a few times especially when he asked if she knew that Buddhism was a religion.

The guide did explain how the owner got away with having a dragon adorning a wall though – when the emperor’s minion asked, the owner said that he thought it was ok because his dragon only had three toes rather than the usual five.

The rocks are beautiful, perhaps even more so in the rain. Entry is usually 30¥ but was also included in my pass.

After the garden I decided to make the most of being in this area outside of peak time – I had a late lunch at Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant; famed for both its food and its queues!

I couldn’t choose between a few so I tried to get 6 mixed flavours and spent a good while in “discussion” about it only for the waitress to go away and get somebody else who just said “no mix”. I ended up ordering the pork buns 38¥ and the spicy pork and crab 48¥ thinking that 12 buns might mean I had half left to take away. They are actually quite small (not tiny) so they made a good meal washed down with some jasmine tea.

Oriental Pearl
I took the metro to an area called Xintiandi so that I could have a meander through the streets until the next station. One station later I emerged in what I thought was the correct area for the Hard Rock Cafe, over an hour of walking around later and I found out that the place shut down last year. It’s difficult to join any WiFi networks without a Chinese SIM card so when I managed to get on at Starbucks, I messaged Kat, who is now back in Sydney, and she googled it for me.

As I reached the West Nanjing Road metro station I found one of the nicest bubble tea places I’ve ever been to – they sell “wheels of bread” with fillings and it’s basically a shaped pancake and you can fill it with bubble milk tea!! It only cost 5¥ too which is great.

I went back to the hostel, fairly defeated, and ended up meeting two nice ladies and getting chatting about things to do in Shanghai. I was still feeling really ill so I had another early night.

I walked through People’s Square station to reach the Shanghai Museum and I realise that I should make a correction to my earlier statement about a lack of ATMs – there are ATMs in every station I have been to except the one at the airport (where I would say it is most important to have one). I’ve not been charged fees to withdraw either, which makes things much easier. Lots of places only accept UnionPay, AliPay or WeChat Pay.

It’s also sometimes easier to navigate underground through the metro stations because there are far more signs than on the surface.

The Shanghai Museum is free to enter and has four floors. It’s probably worth setting aside up to half a day for it if you can so that you can take breaks and sit down. I was on a mission today so I didn’t want to spend ages there. I saw everything that I wanted to though.

I started with the pottery, which in English we called china because of its heritage. There were hundreds of beautiful pieces, particularly from the Ming and Qing Dynasties but also some are much older, including this pot from the Majiayao Culture from 2600-2300 BC.

There’s a large area dedicated to the work that I think is most well-known – the underglaze blue with white and blue patterns. The style looks like it’s glowing.

There is even a room with scale models of the kilns! I think that puts it in perspective well because it’s easy to forget that many of these incredible works of art were made in the hills close to rivers, with the process being carried out start to finish away from anything we would now recognise as technology. It’s even more amazing now.

Then I visited the Chinese painting gallery and the calligraphy gallery. Both were very impressive. The works are beautiful, particularly the long, elegant scrolls with script and sketches mixed together. It’s very busy with people reading the poetry whereas I can only appreciate its aesthetic so I didn’t spend very long in here.

The Chinese Seal Gallery has 500 seals made from different materials and spanning hundreds of years. There are so many different types! And the writing on some is unbelievably intricate.

Upstairs, on the fourth floor is an exhibition with costumes of different ethnic groups, which I think is quite galling considering the current Chinese attack on the Uyghur way of life in the West of China. Up here there is also a huge coin collection from China’s history but also from along the Great Silk Road. I learned that before the minted coins that we currently know, there were strangely shaped cast bars of metal used as currency (alongside other tradeable goods).

I also visited the Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery which houses 300 pieces stretching back to neolithic times. I actually liked it less than I expected but I think it was just too busy for me. The jade is nice though and some of the carving is truly spectacular.

On the ground floor is the Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery. There are hundreds of statues and castings dating from Bronze Age. There is an excellent set of cases at the end which explains very well the different manufacturing processes including lost wax (you can take the girl out of engineering…)

For my last day in Shanghai I spent some time relaxing and packing and now I am taking the metro to the French Concession area of Shanghai to see the Propaganda Art Poster Museum.

At metro station Changshu Road I began my walk through this area. It’s not too dissimilar to Xintiandi except that some of the shop names are in French and there are classy coffee shops combined with minimalist design stores.

I walked in the rain for about 15 minutes until I reached a sign which said that the PPAC Museum was in Building 4. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this really strange – it’s in the middle of a housing estate. The museum is in the basement of building 4. I felt a little trepidation actually as I walked down the stairs, suddenly unsure if this isn’t really what I signed up for. But sure enough, when I reached the basement, a middle-aged Chinese man greeted me, showed me where to put my umbrella and asked for 25¥ entry fee.

The museum is really intriguing and it goes through nearly three decades of Chinese state-sponsored propaganda posters created to inform or persuade the masses in one way or another.

The first section is fascinating – three generations of the “same” poster showing the ceremony of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, produced in 1953, 1956 and 1972 and guess what?! Most of the officials presiding are the same, but not all… First Gao Gang disappears from a prominent position on the right and then another person swaps for somebody else who was “there”.

I had forgotten quite how strong the anti-American and anti-Western sentiment would be, even for things that China weren’t involved in (Cuba and Dominica for example).

I also learned a tiny bit about some key periods in China’s relatively recent history, which makes me want to know more (easier once I regain access to the internet).

This art centre is definitely worth a visit, and while you’re here, don’t forget to set aside some time to relax in Sunflour Bakery/Cafe, which has got to be the nicest place to eat in the French Concession. I ordered a chicken baguette and a large coffee and paid 84¥ (with my MasterCard!) and when it arrived it came with a small bowl of delicious pumpkin soup and a salad as well!

I spent some time relaxing and enjoying the cafe before walking to the Shanghai Library, one of the biggest in the world.

I got onto the metro to work out how to reach Nanpu Bridge station and then paid 4¥ to get there to visit the Power Station of Art exhibition.

I ended up getting completely lost and disoriented in that area of Shanghai and realising that I wasn’t going to find the exhibition before it closed. It was interesting to walk through the alleys (rather than the normal streets); this is where people live with lots of front doors and plants down tiny streets and it’s very pleasant (except for the rain). I was quite close to another metro station so I decided to head for a coffee somewhere central to warm up, as my nose is now running and I don’t want my cold to flare up again before I fly tonight.

I went back to the hostel and was happy to find Teresa and Katrina sitting in a snug. We had a beer to celebrate my last night here and then I had to dash to the airport.

I made it with one minute to spare before the Maglev train left and at 9pm on the dot we vibrated into action and casually accelerated to 150km/h within one minute. 230km/h within 90 seconds and then we felt like we really picked up speed hitting 300km/h after exactly two minutes! I don’t know how far it is to the airport but it can’t take long at this speed!

The ticket only cost 40¥ with an airline ticket, 50¥ without.

This is awesome, when it turns, it tilts right over!! We can see the floor and the sky. We are slowing down after 5 and a half minutes!

The ride only took just over 7 minutes and I’m so glad I got the chance to ride on a Maglev train. This is a demonstrator line but I can’t wait to hear about more of them because they should be everywhere.

I was in quite a hurry because I was a bit late but actually there wasn’t any issue and I arrived at the gate with some time to spare. So that’s that really, a 10 hour flight to Istanbul followed by a shorter flight to London.

It’s a clear night over much of Kazakhstan, where we are now, and I can see lights below us.

I’m going to write this because I found it really funny. A few hours into the flight I started feeling really sick and my tummy hurts loads. Everyone is asleep so I climbed on the arm rests to get out to the bathroom and it turns out it was all caused by an incredibly spicy burger that I had at the airport because I wasn’t hungry until just before we boarded. I can’t believe how spicy it was and I paid the price. Haha. Damned Burger King!

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