This morning we began with failure. We slept in and missed breakfast, and were thus quite hungry by the time we headed out to search for the public bus to Zhūjiājiǎo, an ancient canal town about an hour away.
We had some trouble finding the bus depot. Due to the language barrier, we had to rely on hand gestures when asking passers-by for directions to the station (we had its name in written Chinese). It turns out that hand gestures are also different here, which should not have been a surprise. For instance, the numbers 1 through 9 can all be signed with one hand (10 requires that you cross the index fingers of each hand). The sign for “left” consists of slapping your left arm while outstretched. And the sign for “go straight” is some bizarre action that looked more like a lethal attack than an attempt at providing directions.
Despite these problems, we soon found the bus depot. Or at least we thought we did. Having located the road down which we believed it to reside, we gave in to our hunger pangs and sought out some authentic Chinese cuisine for lunch.
It was noon by the time that we finished our lunch-slash-breakfast. We decided to forego the bus depot in favour of sauntering through Shanghai’s high-rise downtown. We never did find out whether the bus depot truly was where we believed it to be. The uncertainty still gnaws at my very core.
We cabbed across the water and arrived at a building that can only be described as being bottle-opener-shaped.
It’s actually called the Shanghai World Financial Center, and it is the tallest building in Shanghai. Much like the CN Tower in Canada, it is quite the tourist attraction. It features the Skywalk, which allows you to visit floors 97 and 100 (the top and bottom of the bottle-opener opening, respectively) and take photos of Shanghai.
On the way up to the Skywalk, tourists get to walk through an exhibit that I would describe as patriotic if it were about a nation instead of a city. One part of the exhibit had an interactive screen showing a panoramic view of the city, as seen from the Bund. On this screen there were knowledgable pandas who followed individual tourists around and helpfully provided information on the city sights in front of them.
In addition to the helpful pandas and the view, there were several exhibits that informed tourists of Shanghai’s many splendours. There were three adjacent displays comparing Shanghai to New York and Tokyo (spoilers: Shanghai is better, in every way). There was also a miniature model of the city’s downtown with track lighting set up to mimic the sun at various times of day, plus a weird Star-Trek-looking room that displayed the current height of the primary Skywalk elevator (in metres) on the ceiling. Add to this the roughly 180º (or, rather, π, or ½τ) movie screen constantly singing the praises of Shanghai’s many splendours and you get a whole lot of city-level patriotism.
In contrast to the exhibits below, the Skywalk itself did not appear to be afflicted with the intense desire to prove that Shanghai is the best place ever. This is probably because the view was absolutely breathtaking.
You may have noticed the enormous rocket-ship-shaped building right in the middle of the view from the SWFC. Curiously enough, it was not featured in any of the exhibits on the lower floors. We surmised that there is a bit of a rivalry between the two mega-buildings.
The only exhibit on the Skywalk floors was a nostalgic set of glass boxes showing old Chinese toys. This was initially very confusing, as they were displaying toys often used in China, not toys that were developed in China.
Awesomely, the exhibit included Transformers (and the text “Optimus Prime will always be our hero”). It also featured “toys for girls” (stuffed animals) and “toys for boys” (toy soldiers), which struck us as anachronistic.
At any rate, we eventually left the Skywalk and took an elevator down to the ground floor. It was there that Kat and The Missus discovered a kiosk offering free demonstrations of head- and eye-massaging devices. They enthusiastically equipped themselves with space-age headgear – Kat with the head-massager, The Missus with the eye-pummeller.
After the ladies’ invigorating massages, we moved on to the rocket ship (via a skybridge above the traffic, no less). There, we discovered that the rocket ship is actually called the Oriental Pearl Tower. As far as naming goes, Tourists: 2, Shanghai: 0.
Before heading in, Kat posed with more visiting Asian tourists (with whom the blonde foreign girl tends to be very popular).
Once inside, we rocketed (heh) up to the top of the building. We soon met an English-speaking Israeli couple: Annat and Illyan (spelling may be suspect). We chatted as we waited in lines and wandered about the observation decks. They were very nice, although Illyan was a man of opinions that were as strong as they were loud. He caused us some embarrassment with his proclamation that the Chinese were a primitive people. We have not found this to be the case, although there are certainly some startling differences between their culture and ours – for instance, parents allow children to relieve themselves in the streets (which was the subject that provoked his outburst).
Illyan also referred to the SWFC as “the bottle-opener”, so clearly some of his opinions were right on the money.
Up on the top observation level (called the “Space Module”, 350m above ground) there were a variety of plaques signed by foreign dignitaries who had visited the rocket ship and concluded that it was pretty cool. Canada’s only plaque was signed by a premier of Ontario, which confused our Israeli companions (“it’s like a prime minister, but for a province” – “why does a province need a prime minister?”).
There were two Isreali plaques, both of which had been defaced with small X-shaped scratches. The marks were placed in empty spaces on the plaques so as not to obscure the national flag or the dignitary’s text, which seemed fairly considerate, all things considered. Illyan seemed pretty blasé about it. The Japanese plaque did not fare quite so well – it was thoroughly scratched up. To top it off, it seemed to be written entirely in Japanese, which made it quite difficult to read indeed.
Anyways, we got some sight-seeing done and posed for some ingenious and original photos of us sitting on air above the city.
We soon bid good-bye to our new friends and the observation deck. Upon our return to ground level we discovered a marvellous, wonderful place: Chocoholic.
You may recall that, up until this point, Kat has found many teas in China to be lacking. She ordered an Earl Gray tea with chocolate, and received something that she likened to a London Fog. To hear her tell it, it might as well have been ambrosia served by angels in a goblet made of pure, crystallized love. She was a fan.
From the top of the rocket ship we had spied an Apple store. A real one this time. It was right next to the tower, so we headed over. I was very excited.
Inside I looked for a SIM card for my iPhone, but none were to be found. We did get caught up in a conversation with one of the staffers, who stated somewhat enviously that it seemed so easy for North Americans to travel. He seemed amazed that even students could travel for weeks at a time. He told us that the perception in China is that North Americans live luxuriously and basically travel all the time. Which, from a global perspective, isn’t far off, although clearly the experience of most Chinese people is biased towards wealthier North Americans – it’s not like many impoverished Westerners are jet-setting off to China and meeting Apple store employees.
We compared notes on living expenses, and tried to communicate to him the cost of housing in Vancouver (he was pretty aghast at the idea of spending six million yuan on a house, or half that on a condo). We told him that most of our friends have travelled to Mexico and the United States at one time or another, and that it is actually cheaper to leave Canada than to stay there (unless you go to Europe). He told us that he wanted to go to Mexico.
I hope that he gets the chance to do so.
We made our way back to the hotel. It was around this time that we realized that we had eaten only Subway and chocolate all day. We made our way across the street to a blues and jazz club that also housed a restaurant.
It turned out that they specialized in Italian food. The food was very good; we had beef carpaccio, rack of lamb, lasagne, and beef on the bone. Oh, and pumpkin soup shots.
The group sitting at the table next to us was a British family (at least, they sounded British) who were taking a Hong Kong lad out to dinner. I’m not sure why, as I did not pry. I do have boundaries, after all. Anyways, they were explaining the concept of a traditional Western three-course meal to their guest. He seemed horrified at the prospect of ordering three things just for himself. It is more common in China (at least, as far as we have seen) to order several items to be shared by the table. These items are typically fairly large, so normally you would order fewer items than there are diners.
We have yet to internalize that last point, which is why we have yet to finish a meal in a Chinese restaurant.
Speaking of Chinese restaurants, we realized mid-meal that we had unintentionally managed to avoid eating any Chinese food today.
Oh well. There’s always tomorrow.