Posts Tagged ‘Shanghai’

Beijing Friday!

April 25, 2017

I can’t believe that this time next week I’ll be back in China. I’ve gone through all the fun and games of re-obtaining a Chinese visa and I have to say, the process has improved incredibly since the first time. No longer is it a case of jumping into a moshpit of middle-aged mainlanders, crammed into a tiny building built alongside the palatial mansion in Toorak. Now there’s an actual centre – similar to getting cashback from medicare – with a good 10+ counters and 2 dedicated to paying. And amazingly – the form you download from the Chinese visa centre’s website matches the form required! The future!

After much indecision, I’ve settled on a cheapish hotel not too far from Wanfujing street – just east of the Forbidden City. It’s in a different part of the city than I was in last time but still in one of the primary hutong (traditional chinese courtyard homes) areas. In fact, I am keen to return to where I stayed last time as that area was also primarily hutong but I read after we left that much of it was earmarked to be bulldozed. This was extremely disappointing to read as they’re beautiful areas, but unfortunately the reality is that the quality of living within the hutongs leaves a lot to be desired.

It reminds me of these large blocks of residences in Shanghai – just a block or two back from the Bund as you head inland. These were wonderful places on the outside – at least 5 stories high and jam-packed with tiny homes. Clothing hung from wires, neon signs extended up their outsides. When you walked past them, you’d see bicyles and old Chinese characters painted on the walls – literally as if plucked from a movie scene. But like those in Beijing, the quality of life in these places was abysmal. The last time I saw these, I remember looking down on them from a neighboring apartment which we had rented for the weekend and could see only a few lights inside. As is typical in China – there’s always a few stubborn residents unwilling to move until the place is literally falling down about their ears. I suppose if you were that person, forced to leave your home of decades only to be moved to  some non-descript highrise far from the city, far from the place you know as home, you’d feel pretty much the same.

This time next week i’ll be in Beijing, and man I cannot wait.

Remembering China # 5: Shanghai

June 27, 2013


Shanghai. Wonderful, amazing Shanghai. I truly love this city, and when I think about China, it’s here that I miss the most. I would give anything to go back there, to live and work.

Shanghai is a city that’s rapidly changing – and not necessarily for the better. This formerly European concession was unlike any other place that I experienced in China. Of the 10 or so cities that I visited, Shanghai had the most distinctive personality.

The thing that makes Shanghai so special, is the old vs new. Beyond the amazing skyline, full of some of the most amazing buildings you’ll ever see, lies a facade of 18th century style European buildings that are truly beautiful. As I walked along a street that ran behind the tourist infested Bund, when I squinted my eyes and the people became just people, and not Chinese, I could have easily been in Melbourne. At night, when the Bund is lit up to the nines, and the old style buildings are glowing yellow with the snapping Chinese flags above each of them, it truly is an amazing sight. Across the river, the Pudong is also aglow, with the famous Pearl tower with its distinctive shape taking centre stage.

But what I loved most about shanghai was its feel. When you really get in there among the twisting roads and lane ways, it’s an amazing place. From the French concession, with its twisted trees stumps before old colonial style buildings, to the older streets lined with alleyways that could easily have been movie sets. There’s power lines and washing hanging above dusty bicycles and old Chinese characters painted on the walls. It’s simply intoxicating.

But unfortunately much of the old Chinese charm is also disappearing. Great blocks of old Chinese houses are being torn down in favour of skyrises. It was among these districts where you would find those amazing laneways, and snapshots of what the older city would have been like. The reality unfortunately is that while these places are visually amazing, the living conditions inside them are the opposite. Many old Shanghai citizens have been relocated out of the central city district into the suburbs, and relocated into high rise apartments.

But i have found that among people who have been to Shanghai, it is a polarising place. Some people love it, others, not so much. I think that it can come down to how you view the city, and what efforts you make to really get in among it. I had the luxury or visiting it on a quite regular basis. Compared to Wuxi, Shanghai was the closest ‘big’ city (they’re all big in China, really), and had the highest prospect of finding foreign goods such as English language novels and various other products. But beyond that, I also had a chance to walk around it like a local – with no agenda, and i think that made the difference. From simple tasks to just going in search of good coffee (which rocked in the French district incidentally) to finding a decent hairdressor, to enjoying watching all the locals do their tai chi and folk dancing in one of the many parks.
I hope to return to China in 2014, and it’s Shanghai that I am most excited to return to, and this time photograph with a proper SLR.

Remembering China # 2: Beijing beer

May 21, 2013

Talking about the World Nomad’s travel scholarship prize in Beijing had me thinking about Beijing itself. What an amazing place – really. When you think of China, there are two main places that instantly come to mind (well other than the Great Wall) – Beijing and Shanghai – two cities that could not possibly be more different. While Shanghai is the true land of hyper-lit skyscrapers, Beijing is not really a city in the traditional sense. There is a CBD area, and there are some large buildings, but Beijing covers a large, sprawling area.

Roof lions

The roof kitties observe

Beijing is rich in culture and history, but is also spread out in such a way that it’s difficult to take it all in in a glance. If you go to Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden City, which has a large hill that was actually made from the soil dug out of the Forbidden City’s moat, you can see exactly how extensive the city is – and in fact, it’s probably the place to go if you want the best view of the Forbidden City itself.

Every place you go is flat and long. When you exit the Tienanmen Square train station – finding your way to the square is a challenge that involves a lot of walking. Going from the square past the Forbidden City, down to the Wangfujing shopping street – or the famous night food market behind it – walk walk walk.

Beijing to me though, is most fondly remembered by the tiny rooftop bars that were among the cities famous hutongs (courtyard homes). One such bar we had to ourselves, sitting amongst a large assortment of roof lions and tiny potted plants. From this rooftop, we had a great view of the Bell and Drum towers, and could simply unwind. Downstairs, within the hutong itself, the owner, a young and chic Beijing girl, would play cruisy Norah Jones and other western beats.

Down the road from this place, bordering the courtyard between the two gigantic towers, another tiny bar, marked out by Nepalese prayer flags. Go here, grab a tsingtao and nibble on nuts while you watch the locals play chess and do their dusk exercises.

As the sun began to go down, amongst the hutong’s you’ll find an array of street barbeques suddenly making an appearance. Men armed with hair dryers, lay an assortment of skewered meat over thin grills, then blow them with the dryers to speed up the process. Grab a seat, order 30 lamb skewers and a cucumber salad with a pair of matching tsingtao’s. This place is heaven.

My attempt at a bodgy map of the area. You can see the drum and bell towers at least!

My attempt at a bodgy map of the area. You can see the drum and bell towers at least!

Comfortably fast

August 10, 2011

                As I read yet another article focusing on China’s ever increasing rail system I think, why oh why can’t we pay the Chinese to come in to Australia and build us some proper high speed infrastructure. Despite all the problems and issues, the Chinese just seem to get it done. While I am aware that train travel is also an integral part of Chinese mobility, it still doesn’t stop me from feeling like I need to have a whinge!

                This latest train, which reportedly gets up to a speed of 314km/hour, looks like an absolute beast – a luxurious beast at that. This one comes complete with first class trappings, more akin to flying than train travel.

                I have particularly fond memories of the high speed train we used to take between Wuxi and Shanghai. It was an hour long trip in comfortable seats on a train so stable that you had to double-check  that it was actually moving. That train was also fast, but seemed to only really hit the higher speeds (from memory around 230ish km/hour) in the middle of the trip. For most of the journey it would cruise along at around the 150 km/hour mark, making me wonder whether there were some kind of speed limits within certain proximity of towns.

                The train takes around five and a half hours to get between Shanghai and Beijing, with around ninety services running per day – that’s some serious people movement.

                Ah China, I wish I could return to you.

The Governator checks out one of the new high speed trains...

Expo is go!

May 5, 2010

The world Expo has kicked off and as expected, the crowds have been nasty – so much so I feel tired just reading about it. A combination of heat, lack of shade and massive queues are unsurprisingly leading to tourist angst and frustration.

The Expo is set across a massive park which is divided into five large sections. Two of the most popular pavilions; USA and Japan, are on opposite ends, with an approximate hour long walk to get from one to the other. Due to the lack of shade, people are forced to use the shadows cast by these grand structures themselves in order to avoid actually tanning – which we all know is a big no no in China. White skin = happiness!

Anyone who has been to China will know that the sun can be ridiculously potent during the summer months, and whilst it is still only Spring, temperatures will be climbing by the day. Due to the ever present smog layer, it’s not particularly common to have clear skies, and hot days are generally a combination of sweat inducing humidity, and a super glary smoggy haze sky. When that sun does poke through the smog however, the combination of the heat and humidity is an absolute killer.

People have been turning out in droves for the Expo after it was opened on the weekend with a massive fireworks display and typical epic (and somewhat gaudy) live Chinese extravaganza. Despite the complaints regarding unintuitive layout, queuing and heat, you can be assured that the Chinese patriotism on display would be so in your face it would be almost difficult to stomach.

I only wish I could get there myself, as despite the pain and frustration, it would still be a blast. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I most definitely do heart Shanghai.

Will you be my Alba?

February 10, 2010

While many of us consider ourselves normal, there’s a distinctly freaky element out there – and seemingly no country is immune. Recently, a 21 year old Chinese girl named Xiaoqing has declared she is going to undertake plastic surgery in order to make her face as near as possible to that of American actress Jessica Alba. Why you ask? To get back her ex-boyfriend of course…duh!

See if you can spot which look is based on Jessica Alba!

Xiaoqing’s ex was openly obsessed with Jessica Alba and posters and photos in his phone were simply not cutting it. For Christmas he purchased Xiaoqing a blonde wig, and along with fake eye-lashes, had her looking as Alba’esque as possible – but it wasn’t enough. One day as she was strolling through Shanghai – decked out in her Alba gear, Xiaoqing noticed people pointing and laughing at her, and that was the final straw. With the wig and eye-lashes discarded on the ground, she reverted to her former, Asian self. That was too much for her ex however, who called off the relationship and returned to the warmth of his poster collection.

Unfortunately for Xiaoqing, her heart yearned for this strapping young man, and she announced that she would do whatever it took to get him back – in this case, having eyebrow lifting, eyelid reshaping and a nose reconstruction – all modelled on Jessica Alba herself.

When Jessica Alba herself heard of this, she was not impressed.

 “I think you should never have to change yourself like that. If somebody loves you, they’ll love you no matter what,” she said.

I guess some people believe in love more than the rest of us…and here I was thinking Octomom’s Angelina Jolie replication efforts were bizarre…

Obamao visits China

November 17, 2009

US President, Barak Obama is set to visit China – much to the excitement of legions of adoring Chinese fans. Commencing his ‘tour’ in Shanghai, he’s then set to spend several days talking with government leaders in Beijing.

A China based CNN reported named Emily Chang was detained for several hours for possessing a t-shirt with a graphical representation of Obama appearing as everyones favourite dictator, Chairman Mao. China is rife with this kind of stuff, where it’s not uncommon to see t-shirts sporting comic style representations of people such as Saddam Hussein, Stalin and Osama Bin Laden. Regardless, Chinese officials were worried that such a t-shirt might offend the ever popular President – but much to his credit, I somehow doubt it.

Obama is reputedly amazingly popular with the Chinese youth, who are both passionate and patriotic for their country. Obama represents taking affirmative action and the promotion of peace, things that are important to the younger generations of Chinese. In my opinion, having Obama as a role-model is not a bad thing at all. It will be interesting to see how China changes as this current generation grows up and eventually takes power.

Few and far between

July 20, 2009

As my life has become progessively busier my spare time to blog has steadily decreased though I promise it’s not forgotten! A lot of interesting China related news has occured over the past several weeks which I have been keeping an eye on. Firstly we had the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre pass by without issue, incident or even word. While the western nations put up articles and features detailing that particularly dark part of China’s history, the Chinese made every effort to ensure the date passed by quietly and without notice. I suspect that most of China’s youth are not even aware of it and have considered quizzing one of my former students who I email from time to time. CNN ran an interesting series of question & answer sessions with Chinese teens asking what they knew of the event and their associated thoughts and it was interesting to find that those who knew about it were upset by it, and approximately half of them were not aware of it, or gave it little creed due it sounding something like ancient history.


We also saw an Australian Rio Tinto employee, Stern Hu, arrested in Shanghai by Government operatives. It was reported that Stern Hu had stolen state secrets in relation to a recent falling through of a huge deal between Chinalco and Rio Tinto. While there’s been pressure on Australia’s Prime Minister to act, it’s been increasingly obvious that despite being fluent in Mandarin, Kevin Rudd has little to no influence, let alone respect, within the Chinese Government community. While old Johnny Howard was seen by many as being beyond his years, he was respected by many world leaders; something that takes time to nurture. All I know is, whether Stern Hu is innocent or guilty, I personally wouldn’t want to be held by the Chinese with a charge against my name. The Chinese are well known fabricators of mis-truths and when their mind is set on something, well let’s just wish Mr Hu luck; innocent or guilty.


And finally we have the violence against the Uighur minority in the eastern city of Urumqi. China has admitted to killing approximately 13 Uighurs who were reportedly attacking Han Chinese citizens and would not respond to typical anti-rioting tactics. This is not a new issue and is if anything a re-occuring event. The Uighurs have been treated poorly and it has reached a point where they will take no more. Unfortunately this explosion of anger was directed at the Han Chinese of which many Uighur’s consider their oppressors. Rioting and taking the fight to the Han Chinese however is the quickest path to extinction as the Chinese have no qualms about cracking down with a clenched iron fist. It’s amazing the comparisons that arise between Tibet and Urumqi when you look at the facts – if you can find them.

Swine denial, denied

May 4, 2009

China has been accused of discriminating against Mexicans as the rest of the world runs around panicking about Swine Flu. A number of Mexican nationals have reputedly been held in quaratine as China fights to protect it’s overwhelmingly large populace from this months latest medical fad. One particular individual, a 25 year old Mexican flew from Mexico to Hong Kong to Shanghai. The Chinese then quarantined him, everyone on his plane, and everyone who happened to be in the Hong Kong hotel to boot. I swear to god if i had been staying in that hotel in HK and been yanked in my jammies into quarantine…i’d be pissed!
The Chinese have a right to be somewhat paranoid of large scale infectious spread – they’re not exactly the world’s most hygenic country. Several years ago they largely blamed foreigners for the SARs epidemic – and of course, it wouldn’t have had anything to do with fact they cough, piss and snot rocket nonstop while not washing their hands would it?

Oasis denial.

March 3, 2009

British Band Oasis which was scheduled to play concerts next month in Beijing and Shanghai has suddenly been denied. The Chinese government deemed them ‘unsuitable’ before pulling the plug. It was revealed that Noel Gallagher played at a Free Tibet benefit held in the USA in 1997 – of course we all know how much the Chinese appreciate them!

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