Shanghai: Where the Past Meets the Present
Just like the other ports in South and Southeastern Asia, the time on the ship flew by. Five days went by like nothing, and before we knew it, we were disembarking in China.
Shanghai was another river entrance, just like Myanmar and Vietnam. So rather than arriving on the coast, our ship cruised up the river for several hours, making our way to China’s largest city consisting of over 25 million people.
We arrived to Shanghai right around 6AM when it was still dark. Being so early, only about 20 people made it up to the bow of Deck 9 to see our entrance. Even though we were in between the futuristic financial district and the port area with its surrounding skyscrapers, the city was dark. To be green, almost all lights are turned off overnight; so even though we could see the outlines of these tall buildings, some as tall as the Chrysler Building in NYC, it was eerily silent and dark.
Soon, the sun began to rise, and the day opened its eyes to this magnificent city. There couldn’t have been better views than where we were docked. Ahead of us was The Bund, an area boasting classic European architecture. Just across the river was the Oriental Pearl Tower, a large tower with two large spheres that make it look like it was built in the future and transported back to our present time.
With these fantastic views, we had breakfast and anxiously waited for the ship to be cleared so we could explore.
China was our longest port is the entire voyage with a total of six days. I had signed up to lead the Field Program called “Hiking the Great Wall”, where we visited the Great Wall and Beijing. My itinerary in China looked like this:
Day 1 – Explore Shanghai independently with Chika
Day 2 – Field Program – fly to Beijing and transfer to Gubei Water Town
Day 3 – Field Program – Hike the Great Wall of China, hotel in Gubei Water Town
Day 4 – Field Program – Hike the Great Wall of China, hotel in Beijing
Day 5 – Field Program – Visit Beijing (Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City)
Day 6 – Field Program – Visit Beijing (Temple of Heaven, flight to Shanghai)
Shanghai – The Past and the Future
For the first city to visit in China, Shanghai is certainly surprising. From the stories I heard from other travelers in China, I thought the city life would be overwhelming with crowds of people everywhere, making it difficult to even walk down the sidewalk. I didn’t imagine the modern and futuristic architecture, the city lights and lighted animations on skycrapers at night, and infrastructure that blew away that of the United States. In one sense, I was surprised by how advanced Shanghai is as a city. In another sense, I was shocked by how far behind the United States seems in comparison.
The subway station is comparable to that of Japan – clean, spacious, modern. The highway systems through the city are sometimes packed with traffic, but they are in great condition. They have an extensive high-speed rail covering most of the country (and expanding) that takes passengers on a smooth ride going 200-300 miles per hour to their destination. The bike share system is way ahead of ours in terms of ease. There are certain areas where the bikes are parked on their kickstands (no bike rack), and one needs to simply scan a barcode from their phone to unlock a bicycle. They are charged just 1 RMB (about $0.15) per hour. It all seems so far ahead of what we have at home. Whereas we always knew that China was gaining ground, maybe we didn’t realize that they are almost there, if not already there.
We spent our day in Shanghai just wandering to see what we would find. We had the entire day to explore, and then we had dinner with a friend we had met while volunteering in the Philippines in 2014.
We disembarked at the International Port Terminal, and from there we were only a half a mile from what they call The Bund. The Bund is a neighborhood right along the river, and there is a beautiful waterfront walkway where one can take in views of the skyscrapers across the river as well as the historic buildings just across the boulevard from the walkway.
Besides the incredible views of the skyline, we also saw the Shanghai Bull sculpture (sculpted by the same guy who did the Wall Street Bull), a colorful wall full of fresh flowers (each flower had its own individual pot), and several European style buildings. We walked into the city center from here and found a noodle dish for lunch, and then we kept wandering. We were in no hurry and had just picked out a few things to see. We visited the People’s Park & the People’s Square, the shopping street of Nanjing Road, and tried various street snacks and coffees. Really, we just roamed to see what we could find.
In the evening, we went to dinner with a friend of ours, Carmen, who we had met in 2014 while volunteering in the Philippines. In January, she moved to Shanghai on a whim, something she had always considered but finally just decided to go for it. She moved here without a job and on a tourist visa. She immediately started networking, having three meals a day with different people. Not long afterwards, she was able to secure a job as a consultant in Shanghai in the innovation industry, something she loves doing. It’s inspiring to see a woman in her late 20s to make moves like that and have the confidence to succeed in a new country. And she understood that the worst case scenario is that she moves back to England. And she seems to be loving it! It was really nice to catch up with Carmen after 3.5 years of not seeing each other. Reconnecting is always fun!
For me, this essentially ended my time in Shanghai. My Field Program left early on Day 2 and arrived on Day 6 (our last day) at the very last moment before our ship left. With just one day to explore Shanghai, China’s largest city, it gave a nice intro into the city. I am certain there is plenty more to see and do. I was surprised by how calm the city seemed, and how clean it all was. For a city of somewhere around 25 million, you’d think it would seem crowded. Not once did it seem that way. It would certainly be an easy place to live.
Now, onto Beijing and the Great Wall!