Raymond and I left Wuhan on the fast train to Shanghai at 8:35am. The total distance of 827 was covered in a little over 5 hours and we arrived just after 2pm. Shanghai was a city that I wasn't too bothered whether I visit or not but as Raymond was heading there I thought that it might be fun to go along too. The Shanghai underground infrastructure was one of the best I've seen and we easily found our hostel which was in a great location near the banking district.
My days in Shanghai have little to talk about, it's a pleasant enough city but to me it didn't grab me as anything special. Perhaps it's because I went there straight after the Yangtze where I saw some really amazing landscapes. The streets of the French Concession were nice to walk down as there's some different colonial architecture and the streets are lined with trees which gives it a more peaceful feel compared to the commercial centre where you cannot walk ten yards before being sold something or offered some kind of service.
It is also the place where haggling is required. We came out of the World Financial Centre and were pestered by a lady selling the extremely strong laser pens and we just looked at them for a second and continued to walk past her. She shouted '150 Yuan', to which we replied 'No'. 'OK, OK, 130 Yuan' she corrected as we continued to walk. '110... 100... 80... 60... 40...' She continued to lower her price with each step we took to guarantee a sale. I was interested in how far she was willing to go but Raymond had had enough and turned around and said firmly, 'We... don't... fucking... want... one, thank you!'. She got the hint and walked away in the opposite direction. I was in dire need for another pair of jeans as I lost mine in Chengdu after the extremely messy night of whisky, so we headed to the black market which was based in one of the metro stations. I found a pair of jeans and tried them on. I asked the lady for the price and she replied, '570 Yuan', which is a ridiculous price for a pair of copy Diesel jeans as you could buy a real pair in the UK for £57! I countered her offer with '70 Yuan'. She did not like this and began shouting at me saying that I was 'taking the piss' and she 'couldn't earn a living with that'. So I removed the jeans, put my trousers back on and walked out whilst she continued to utter profanities under her breath. As we turned the corner, she ran up behind me and said, 'OK, let's talk about the price', so we went back into her shop where we battled it out for five minutes. I got them for 100 Yuan in the end, still over priced but I take pride that I only raised my offer by 30 Yuan, she lowered hers by 470 Yuan.
Shanghai is a city that boasts more superlatives than most other cities of China. The first is the Shanghai World Financial Centre which is China's tallest building and hosts Park Hyatt which is the world's highest hotel accommodation starting on 87 floor, however the tallest hotel dedicated building is of course in Dubai. Whilst next door the Jin Mao building holds Cloud 9, the highest bar in the world. How do you get to these places? Well, simply take a flight into Shanghai's Pudong Airport and hop on the Maglev, the fastest magnetic levitation train which reaches commercial speeds of 431km/h. Having listed these things, it's quite obvious to me that Shanghai has been used by the People's Republic as a site where they can show off how powerful they are. The city was also host to the last World Expo, however, the expositions which unfortunately taken away just before I got there!
Even though the technology used to build these technological feats have come from elsewhere in the world, such as the Maglev was engineered by the British and Germans. Nevertheless, travelling at that intense speed was an experience indeed. Nevertheless, travelling at this immense speed was a fantastic experience. You cannot feel the speed at all but looking out of the window onto the road beside the track and the buildings fly past with the blink of an eye. The track is 30km long and the journey takes only 7 minutes 20 seconds. Although The Shanghai Maglev train was the first 'high speed' maglev train to operate, the first maglev train service was opened in Birmingham and was in service from 1984 – 2003 transporting people from the airport to the rail station and Berlin's M-Bahn but these were both slow speed trains. On our trip I also got a glimpse of the East China Sea, the first sea I've seen since the Baltic and the beginning of my journey across the world so I felt a slight joy envelop as I realised that I had travelled Eurasia and finally reached the East coast.
After two days in Shanghai, I decided that I needed to leave and head south to Hangzhou, which is apparently one of the most beautiful cities in China. So I hopped aboard the 8pm service to Hangzhou at which was yet another high speed train, this one reaching the speed of 351km/h and only took 45 minutes to cover the distance in between. I barely had time to sit down before we got there. After disembarking the train, I walked through those annoying people offering accommodation and taxis straight to the ticket office to book my onward ticket to Shenzhen three days later. I queued up and reached the front of the queue where I presented the lady behind the glass with the piece of paper with the train number, date, time and Chinese characters for hard sleeper. She tapped away on her keyboard and the customer's display showed me something rather disappointing, there were no tickets available. Not for this train nor any train that day. I asked whether there were tickets a day earlier, which there were not and I ended up getting a ticket for the next day which meant I only had one night in Hangzhou and had no chance of seeing anything as the train left early afternoon. Unfortunately I had no choice but to take this train as my visa was expiring soon and I needed to be near Hong Kong so that I could exit the country. This was my first experience of the difficulties of travelling over Chinese New Year!
I walked disappointed out of the ticket hall and immediately had Travis' 'Why Does it Always Rain on Me' blast out in my head as I was bombarded with a torrential downpour. Believe it or not, this was the first rain I had seen since I was driving to Stansted Airport on 14 November. I walked out of the Railway Station and headed around the corner to find a taxi as it's quicker to get them away from the station as you don't have to queue. As I walked east of the station I heard a commotion across the road and I saw two Chinese men in a brawl with police trying to pull them apart. This is the first thing like this I have seen on my trip and it surprised me, I thought I'd see it in Russia not China. I continued to walk on and found a street where taxis seemed to be driving down. I stood there in the rain and flagged down a taxi, I showed him the address for the hostel and he passed it back to me and said 'no, sorry!' and continued driving. I continued round the corner and saw many taxis but couldn't get any as they were already occupied. Not feeling defeated I continued to wave my hand as I walked and one pulled over, I showed him the address and I dumped my bag on the back seat and jumped in the front next to the driver. The drive to the hostel was long and I didn't know if the driver was taking me round the block to increase his fare but we pulled up in a green quiet part of the city around twenty minutes later and I walked up the long steep driveway towards the hostel.
As I opened the door to the hostel a dog leapt upon me a growled, I think he may have bit my wrist but the hostel owner shouted at it which made it cower back to its corner and sleep. I lifted the cuff of my jacket to check if the dog had punctured the skin on my wrist and made my day even worse but it hadn't even left a mark, so there was no rabies this time. The hostel was empty and the only thing I could do was check the internet for hostels in Shenzhen, but the internet connection was worse than what we used to get with a 56k dial up modem and I gave up. I came to the conclusion that I would find a place to stay once I arrived in Shenzhen. However, when I checked out in the morning I noticed, as if by some kind of miracle, a poster of the one and only hostel in Shenzhen. I let out a huge sigh of relief as I asked the boy behind reception to write down the address for me, although I was concerned about his handwriting and whether it could be understood.
My trip to the train station was fun as usual. I had to take two buses to the station, the first bus took around thirty minutes to circumnavigate the centre and dropped my off at its last stop, where I needed to transfer to another bus which would take me directly to the station. I followed the directions that I was given and crossed the road to the bus stop for my second bus but I couldn't find it, I was on the verge of giving up and approached a taxi driver and asked him to take me to the station but he just pointed over to the other side of the road and said 'Bus there.'. I was surprised by this and thought that he would rather take me and earn more money but he was a very nice man and helped me find the bus stop I needed. I hopped aboard the bus and got to the train station. Unfortunately I arrived with over one and a half hours to kill before my train arrived as people warned me that the traffic in Hangzhou is unpredictable and the journey could have taken me two hours but today I was lucky enough that I did it in under an hour.
With plenty of time to spare I grabbed some supplies from the shop and headed through the security checks to the departure lounge. There I managed to secure a seat and relax whilst trying to write my blog with a pen and paper. A twenty four year old man came to sit next to me and began to talk with me. He was working in Hangzhou for a clothing company and he told me that he worked six days a week from 9am – 10pm. I enquired whether he had a girlfriend but he told me that he couldn't get one until he earned enough money to buy a house. This surprised me, if people in the UK waited to have enough money to buy a house before we got a girlfriend or wife then none of us would get married until we were 75!! We continued to talk about life for a while as our train to Shenzhen was running by Chinese time and was predictably late.
The train finally arrived and I boarded my carriage and met the people I was going to be spending the next 15 or so hours with. I was travelling in the hard sleeper which meant there were 6 bunks to each open compartment but there were only four of us in ours. One younger Chinese boy who was in bed for the entire journey and barely spoke and two men who spent the whole afternoon and evening talking with me. One of them could speak English but the other couldn't. The one that could speak English was a manager of a glue factory and absolutely obsessed with money and price of housing as he kept asking me about prices in the UK and how people can afford it. The non-English speaker was a manager of a PVC factory and heavy gambler, during the journey he recited all the football teams in the Premier League more than once. He told me through a translator that he gambles everyday and actually wins a lot of money from it. The journey was fun and we shared the bits and pieces of food that we each brought with us and retired to bed when the lights got turned out just before 10pm.
The night on the train was not pleasant at all. I was in the last compartment of the carriage and my bed was the other side of the wall to the toilet and throughout the night all I heard was people going into the toilet and spitting. It was absolutely disgusting and I tried to close the door but people would just come through and leave it open. I had to turn the volume up on my MP3 player to replace the revolting and gut retching noise with the soothing sounds of Chopin. I did manage to get some sleep and we arrived in Shenzhen just one hour later than expected. I left the train and said goodbye to the men I had been speaking with all night, before they departed they gave me one piece of advice and that was taxi drivers in Shenzhen are the worst and most corrupt in China.
With the advice still warm in my mind, I went to the taxi rank and jumped in a taxi, gave him the piece of paper with the address on and we zoomed out from under the train station into the clean streets of Shenzhen. I tried to access Wi-Fi before I left the train station to find out the location of the hostel but unfortunately I couldn't so I was in the taxi drivers hands. The drive seemed to be a long one and the meter was ticking up rapidly as the kilometres passed by. I thought he was taking me for a ride so I made a note of his details just in case, but we turned up to the hostel after 20 minutes and the cost was high but not too bad. It seemed as though I was located a long way out of Shenzhen.
Shenzhen is a new city that was created thirty years ago from what used to be a small fishing village. The Chinese government created an area around the city called the Special Economic Zone with a goal to boost the local economy which will spread throughout the region and out into China. The companies in Shenzhen work closely with Hong Kong and have invested billions of $s to develop the area. Citizens of Hong Kong and Shezhen may cross the border for work with a SEZ permit. China's tallest building and the second tallest building is currently under construction in Shenzhen.
I did not find Shenzhen a pleasant city but maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind having had to prematurely leave Hangzhou. The city is orientated around money, high rise banks are being erected everywhere, designer shops and expensive cars litter the street. I found nothing that endeared me to the city, the only thing I found was a park in the centre of the city. Where people congregate to play cards, sing, dance and relax around the lake that sits in the middle. Having found nothing else that attracted me, I wondered around the park soaking up the only culture in the city and sat by the lake for a while. Whilst sitting by the lake I was joined by a young Chinese man who I had noticed was following me. He began talking to me and so I removed my earphones. He asked me where I was from and what was I doing there. I answered both of these questions and fired them back at him, he was training to become personnel in the financial sector, which everyone is in this region. He then said that I was strong and started to feel my arms and I though I had attracted yet another nut case! Luckily enough he left once I started to become difficult in our conversation. On my walk back through the park to exit I walked through the small closed off garden area and walked in on a lady giving an elderly man a 'special' massage. I did not want to see that and to this day it haunts me!!!
Next time: Hong Kong