Friday, May 02, 2008

A trip to China.

Longer ago than I'll admit here, I took a trip to Shanghai for 4 days, and subsequently uploaded pictures to blogspot but never actually made a post out of them. Well, as I often tell my students when they wander in sheepishly in the middle of class, better late than never!

My trip to Shanghai was entirely impromptu, the result of having 5 days off in a row and a friend there I wanted to visit. So, I went to Shanghai without knowing almost anything about the city, and was immediately struck by a few things, especially as they compare to Bangkok.

First, the city is HUGE. Wikipedia puts the population at over 18 million, and because the city is concentrated and organized it feels like its population is that high. Spending time downtown, walking on crowded streets surrounded by skyscrapers, the city felt 5 times bigger than the sprawling disorganization that is Bangkok, instead of just double it.

Second, there are bicyles everywhere, while in Bangkok almost no one uses them to get around. (And for good reason- sidewalks are narrow if there even are any, streets are narrow and crowded, Bangkok isn't on a grid, and it's too hot anyway).

What's more, there were people walking everywhere. Of course people also walk in Bangkok, but primarily as means to getting to or from a bus stop or train station, and go through great lengths to avoid it. But in Shanghai, it seemed more the norm and also (relatively speaking) was exponentially more pleasant to walk. I lucked out and experienced weather between about 50 and 70F, and greatly enjoyed wandering around the city for hours by foot.

The most surprising thing to me about Shanghai was how modern, clean, and organized the city is. In other words, there is actual city planning, a concept that does not exist at all in Bangkok. There are wide streets, good sidewalks, nice public squares and parks, and an expansive subway/commuter train system. It reminded me of a much larger Singapore, though not quite so planned.

Many parts of the city are very pretty, again contrasting heavily with Bangkok.

There sure are a lot of Chinese people, though. Shanghai is crowded! For all it's traffic, lack of standing in lines and general chaos, Bangkok never feels as "people crowded" to me as Shanghai did. It's definitely a push-or-be-pushed kind of place at times.

The Oriental Pearl in Pudong (the very recently developed area of Shanghai on the east side of the river) is one of Shanghai's most famous landmarks... and it was exactly what it looks like. A massive, ugly purple tower that tourists flock to because, well, it's a massive, ugly purple tower.

Pudong itself is fascinating though, as almost everything you see in this skyline has been developed in the last ten years. China, despite it's many (many) problems, is developing at an astonishing rate.

The highlight of my trip was going to West Lake for the day. Located in the city of Hangzhou, about a 2 hour train ride from Shanghai, West Lake is sort of a national park area centered around a large lake. It was a fairly touristy area, full of families visiting for the afternoon, but beautiful and peaceful nonetheless.

We actually started the day in a nearby tea village, which was somewhat touristy but interesting and beautiful, requiring a taxi ride up a windy road lined with trees.

We (that's my friend Ned, to whom I must apologize for this picture) had lunch and tea at this little cafe run out of a families home.

The road leading up from the lake to the tea village.

After lunch we wandered back down the hill, hiking down through some fields and past traditional Chinese style temples and other buildings. Again though let me restate the touristy nature of the area, lest you think I travelled anywhere half as exotic as some of this might look. (I mean, just a few miles from this, Ned and I had a snack at a KFC.) But it was still beautiful.

The lake itself really was a stunning sight, and we managed to catch the sun setting there before we went back into town.

Even the last few minutes of my trip were fun because I got to ride on the Maglev, the world's fastest train. See the km/hour figure above? The train runs from southeastern Shanghai directly to the airport, and is capable of exceeding 430km/h. Actually though, cool as it is, this is a great example of what happens with a communist government spending the people's money. This train only goes between this one station and the airport, and the ride takes 7 minutes. The Maglev barely has time to accelerate before it must slow down again. Thus the train could easily have been built using a normal high speed system and still get to the airport in like 10 minutes and not have cost $1.33 billion US.

But then, China couldn't say "LOOK WORLD! I HAVE FASTEST TRAIN!"

Oh and there's even a VIP section, which costs double the regular fare, because nothing says VIP like sitting in a slightly more comfortable chair for 7 minutes.


Blogger timfclark said...

I met five or six other students and a professor in grad school who were all from Shanghai. They talked a lot about the ring roads encircling the city, and how they worked even more poorly than ours. It was a traffic engineering class though. . .if only I'd known to ask about the purple tower.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Emmeline said...

You forgot the mention my favorite part about the city: great pastries. It was divided into concessions at some point? And one of them was French so there are great Asian takes on French pastries :)

8:34 PM  

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