Shanghai and Tong Li

(Pardon the repost – the last version was a little garbled…. and this was actually written a couple of weeks ago: am a little slow with the ‘Post’ button)

We’ve just had three days away from the kids in Shanghai. It’s been fantastic – but as I write (in Pudong Airport departure gate #8, waiting our boarding call) I have to say it will be really nice to see to see Zac and Zara again. We missed those guys – but Helen (Reid’s mum) has been keeping us updated via txts on how they are, and the only crises seemed to be when the DVD didn’t work (momentarily).

Anyhoo (now onboard the flight back up to Beijing)… we left on Tuesday morning, taking the car to the airport as the snow had caused all taxis to evaporate. In Shanghai we checked straight into the unbelievably fabulous Jia Hotel (Home Hotel) and started our tourist experience as we meant to go on, with lunch and a wee kip. A little later we managed to struggle down to the fairly underwhelming Shanghai Museum of Modern Art (a once-great building now looking a little tired, with content to match), and a brisk walk around the People’s Park and some shops… then back to the hotel to defrost and a glass of wine.

Then dinner. At the famous and much lauded M on the Bund, which (in summer) offers dinner on a terrace with incredible views over the Bund, the barges plying the river and the madhouse lights of Pudong. In winter, these things can been seen a little less dramatically from the warmth of the dining room. So – view: great. Dinner? Not so much. It ended up being another one of those incredibly expensive but not-that-terrific Western restaurants in China, where the size of the bill makes you think of how many times you could have eaten better at Logan Brown for a third of the price.

Wednesday… by about 11 we managed to extract ourselves from the lovely Jia to walk across to Tai Kung Lu, off which runs a network of twisty crowded lanes lined with shops and places to eat. It’s changed a lot since we went there last (with Marion and Mum in 2008) – the shops have got more touristy, I think, but that didn’t stop us buying some shoes for Zac and a dress for Zara (and eating a lovely lunch). Then back to the hotel for another snooze.

That evening we took the metro to Pudong, and had a drink at Cloud 9, in Jinmao tower. It’s quite high. First you take a lift to the 54th floor (ears popping all the way), where guests at the Hyatt inside the hotel can check in. You then take another lift to the 85th floor, where guests can eat at a cafe. You then take yet another lift to the 87th floor where you can have an expensive drink and try and convince your craptacular camera to do justice to the stunning view (I ‘enjoyed’ the lifts so much I had to have two drinks to help me back down).

We then had dinner at Hamilton House, which had been recommended by the Wallpaper Guide, and also by visiting Wellingtonians who said it was like the Matterhorn. It isn’t.

And today… was all about trains. We took the metro to the Shanghai Railway Station, where we got a really tiny taste of what railways stations all over China must be like during Chinese New Year (when everyone trains back to their home village). Thousands of people constantly flowed in all directions like migrating birds. After a couple of false starts, we managed to buy two ‘soft seat’ tickets to Suzhou and joined the hordes flooding toward Waiting Room #4, where we all bunched around the departure gate like expectant lemmings. Eventually the gate was opened and we all pushed our way down the stairs and onto the flash train, which ticked on to Suzhou at 200 kph quietly and efficiently. Once in Suzhou Reid practised her Chinese on the ticketing staff and got us sorted for the return, and we hired a bloke and his van to take us to Tongli, the Venice of the Orient.

Tongli is beautiful. It’s an 1000 year-old town laced with canals on the edge of a lake, populated by about 25,000 people who have managed to turn their town into a tourist destination without completely wreaking it. Reid bought a pair of boots for Zac off an ancient old cackling crone and we a great time strolled around the canals looking at houses that were building during the Qing dynasty. It must be awful during the summer rush, but in winter it is quiet and rather peaceful. We bought three paper-cut pictures as souvenirs from the Park of Eternal Solitude, then headed back to Shanghai by van, 200 kph train and metro to get our bags from the hotel.

Another metro trip later we transferred onto the MagLev, Shanghai’s white elephant of a bullet train. This wheel-less beast goes 30kms from a metro stop in Shanghai to Pudong International Airport, and can do it in 7 minutes at speeds up to 450 kph. For us, it took a more leisurely pace – about 300 kph. In Japan they’ve managed to get one up to 500 kph, and say they could go faster than airplanes if they could build one in a tunnel without any air in it.

Anyway, the Shanghai MagLev is a little useless since it doesn’t really go anywhere, and was really built to encourage the Chinese to install more of them – perhaps putting one in from Shanghai to Beijing. Unfortunately China went for a conventional fast train for that route, and they’re now having problems expanding the existing one, since the locals are worried the magnetic radiation can cause sickness.

Still, from a tourist point of view it was terrific, and that brings me to now, an hour into the return flight. Around me several exhausted guys have fallen asleep, snoring like beached walruses. I’m slightly worried I can’t remember where the car is parked. Or even if we will land at the terminal the car is at. And Reid is reading this rather dull and verbose missive with an impenetrable expression, so I may stop now. We seem to be descending through a snow-storm anyway.

Here are some photos….