Two Months in Asia: Shanghai is the Sci-Fi utopia I’ve always wanted pt. 1

Thursday 22nd May

We made our way to the airport in the morning for our flight to Shanghai. I’d heard nothing but good things about Shanghai so was pretty excited to finally be heading off there. The flight didn’t exactly go swimmingly as we were delayed by two hours without any reason given. Having flown again since, this seems to be pretty much par for the course when it comes to internal flights in China. Once we actually got to flying everything was great. The approach to Shanghai flew us over the entire city and looped round to Pudong airport in the brand new swanky part of town.

A panorama showing the Bund as well as the impressive financial buildings across the river

From the airport we had the privilege to be able to use one of the high-speed maglev trains to take us to the metro. If you’re unfamiliar with these trains, they levitate above the ground using extremely powerful magnets which are also used to propel the train along the tracks. It’s quite spooky seeing a train float into the station with nothing underneath. Riding the train was pretty excellent/terrifying. It’s basically a concept train to show off how well the technology can work which meant they deliberately put loads of steep banking corners into the track so you’re tipped sideways about 30-40 degrees while travelling at 300 kph. The tech is very cool and is supposed to much more energy efficient than standard trains. They’re trying to get wide spread adoption of the technology but the start-up costs must be pretty mad!

Next we hopped on the metro to our hostel across town. We caught our first glimpses of the futuristic metropolis as it rushed past the windows. So many brightly lit sky scrapers and enormous billboards. We reached our hostel with a severe hankering for western food, specifically KFC. It wasn’t our fault, they have adverts for it on literally everything. Charles was the only one that put up an argument so we agreed that we’d get some “proper” food in town. After dropping our stuff at the hostel we made our way down the road and found a massive shopping centre. We wandered about inside until we found a restaurant on the top floor that looked OK. This seemed to be a pretty classy establishment so I felt a bit out of place in my smelly travelling clothes. We’d showed up quite late in the day which may have been another reason that the staff were so curt with us. It felt like they didn’t really want us there but we were so hungry we didn’t care. We scoffed down some of the best food we’ve had in China and made a swift exit before we’d really eaten enough to fill us up.

On the way back we finally got our KFC. At the time it was excellent. However, the next day Mike and I felt pretty terrible and we had to assume this was the culprit. Served us right for eating western food in China I suppose! Out of all the questionable food I’ve eaten since travelling around here, the only thing to make me ill has been that KFC. I’ll never eat there again!

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Friday 23rd May

The next day we went into Shanghai proper. Our day started at the Bund, the oldest part of Shanghai with buildings from the early 20th century including the first HSBC headquarters. These buildings are all very grand with elaborate mosaic designs inside which you’re sadly not allowed to photograph. The Bund itself lies along the river which separates the old and new parts of Shanghai. Along the old side is a sprawling promenade with a spectacular view of the new side, Pudong. The skyline is so vast and impressive that it’s difficult to put into words so I’ve attached some photos. We just sat looking at that for a bit feeling very small.

Oddly, there were loads (and I mean loads) of couples having wedding photos taken. I can understand why as it’s such a picturesque place but there were literally a couple every 15 metres at one point. We also had the delight of someone else asking to have their photo taken with us here too. None of us really mind this as it’s much less rude than people trying to sneakily take photos while they think we aren’t looking. It’s kind of strange being such a spectacle. We’ve figured out that these people are probably Chinese tourists from more remote parts of China where they don’t get many western tourists, so for a lot of people we’re the first white people they’ve ever seen. There have been a lot of open-mouthed stares and kids shouting and pointing. Very strange but very funny.

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An awesome view of the city from the Urban Planning museum.

Next we ventured into the west side of Shanghai (the older bit) to grab some lunch. On the way we found Peoples Square: the Shanghai equivalent of Hyde Park containing several museums, some weirdly out of place fairground rides and a series of winding forest trails. Flanking the park were the obligatory ridiculous sky scrapers and massive shopping centres (one of which we got very lost in for no particular reason). Once we’d had some lunch (excellent dumplings and some properly gross noodles that the other two loved for some reason) we made our way to the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum.

This museum contains Shanghai’s plans for development over the next 6 years. It’s also dedicated to how much Shanghai has grown over the recent years. For instance, it was basically a small fishing village about 100 years ago with major development only occurring since the 80’s. It’s now bigger, more populated and more advanced than most cities on the planet. It’s certainly the most futuristic city I’ve ever been to. They’re even planning to remove the use of cars from the main city and replace them with high speed trains and trams to reduce pollution. Most cities come up with ridiculous ideas for what they’d like to do in the future but Shanghai can actually carry them out.

The Shanghai Urban Planning Museum in central Shanghai

For me, what makes Shanghai such an incredible place is that it feels like they have the power to achieve pretty much anything they want. They certainly have the money and the ideas to be able to make the place into something lightyears ahead of everywhere else. Except for the pressurised tubes transporting people around town in seconds it’s pretty much a sci-fi utopia already. Of all the places in China I’ve been, this is certainly one I wouldn’t mind living in one day.

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