The Shanghai Collective: Impression

I should’ve gone to the jazz bar.

Although it had been more than six months since I started working, a lot of things had transpired. An ex-colleague, blind to the realities of consequence, had plotted to make life difficult for everybody than it already was – an office wrecker, a buzz kill. The sentiment after her departure wasn’t one of relief or jubilation, but of a fatal victory. But if there was any salvation to be had, I didn’t see it on the horizon. For all the drama, the suddenly bleak professional outlook was not high on my list of worries – my romantic life was. The thought of not seeing him as he spends his summer break at home, in his real home country, was emotionally heart wrenching. We text, we remain in contact, but my soul isn’t appeased. I needed some fresh air – I wanted to get out of Singapore… And that’s what spurred my first solo trip, really. Everything happened in an instant. It was a cloudy, sun-less mid summer’s Sunday. I looked up airfares, and literally booked the first available flight out on the lowest, most direct fare (which was in six days time). Then I turned to Hostelworld, and nabbed myself a highly rated dormitory for a really good rate, and that’s it.

I’d have loved to tell you my determination was resolute, but after I bid my friend Inez farewell before immigration, I was like, “What am I doing? Where am I going? Shouldn’t I fly to meet him instead? What the fuck am I doing? I cannot do this…” It was frantic, a full-blown anxiety attack had descended upon me, and it wasn’t really until I had literally exhausted all my mental mind power that I began to calm down. In my ways, I was excited at the prospect of my particular flight selection. Thanks to a very flexible and adaptive site, this trip would represent many firsts: it’d be my first time flying Dragonair, Cathay Pacific’s regional subsidiary; I’d be flying into Shanghai through Hongqiao airport, and out from Pudong airport; and for the first time, I’d have an opportunity to ride a Boeing 777-300ER.

The red-eye flight out of Singapore however, was a pain, mostly because the flight’s too short to sleep through. So, you’re stuck in an unusual rut where you’re sleeping, but not really, and it becomes very stressful on the body. My onward connection on Dragonair is smooth and seamless, and it’s empty enough that every passenger has a spare seat next to them. Overall, a great way to fly. Arriving into Hongqiao is stress-free and convenient – the international terminal’s small size and the handful of flight it handles means I clear immigration very fast, and once past baggage claim, you’re thrust into the city itself – cabs for hire in front, and the Shanghai Metro station by the side.

My Airbus A330-300 arrives for its late night flight back to Hong Kong.

A delicious beef stew casserole.

This Dragonair Airbus A330-300 in special livery will take me to Shanghai Hongqiao.

My plane is going to Shanghai Hongqiao, the aircraft beside me is going to Shanghai Pudong.

Comfortable seats for the 2.5 hours flight to Hongqiao.

I switch to the empty row of middle seats by the aisle.

My plane at Shanghai Hongqiao.

In my cab, en route to my hostel, I’m positively awestruck. The first thing that hits you is surprise. Back home, I’d recall friends speaking of previous visits to China as primitive, rural and third world, but as one passes by huge billboard advertising marketing the latest in advanced gadgetry, modern art-deco architecture skyscrapers rising atop another, elevated subways whizzing through the concrete jungle, and futuristic street lighting, it’s a cyberpunk dystopia unlike anything I had ever seen before. On the ground, that’s where you really feel the intensity – the pace, the energy, the development… like clockwork, it’s madness. Even the Mainland Chinese who visit the city are awestruck by the power Shanghai projects. In a way, it’s a pilgrimage – an enlightenment, both a threat and motivation to excel. Nothing quite portrays the city’s power as the intense Bund-Pudong skyline. The juxtaposition of the Bund, a reminder that it was foreigners who put Shanghai on the map, with the new futuristic-visionary skyline of Pudong – indeed, one cannot exist without the other. Atypically, the Chinese are embracing history, and aren’t afraid to learn from it, use it, and incorporate it into the city of today and tomorrow. There’s a certain gothic, art-deco and Asian mixed influence in their skyscrapers, from new residential apartments to office buildings. The Oriental Pearl Tower is decidedly Chinese, and even the “soul-less” World Financial Centre has a Sino-Japanese feel to it.

Walking along the Bund, people are excited, and surprisingly amiable, it’s such a sight. Unlike Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok or Tokyo where the commercial centres are either nucleated or are in relative close proximity to each other, Shanghai is pretty sporadic, spread out and very wide. It really doesn’t help that the city has to handle 15 million people so everything is multiplied and magnified and yet, it doesn’t have the repetition that Singapore has. Every street is a little bit different from the previous, and I know I’m not supposed to think about work but as I walked by the Old City, the shikumen, I couldn’t help but think that it’d be an amazing photo shoot location. I’ll admit, it was a little too much… So much so that I had to escape by going up the Hyatt at Jin Mao Tower. I think it was a mix of intimidation and fatigue, more of the latter because I hadn’t slept (not even on my red-eye flight) since I woke up on Saturday. After my double expresso and amazing views of the city, all I really wanted was a bed.

Walking to my hostel from the main road.

My hostel is near equidistant from Shanghai Metro Line 7’s Changping Road station, and Line 1 and 7’s Jing’an Temple station. I’d mostly opt for the latter because it’s easier to walk, and there are shops and a few malls to use as a landmark.

To access the Bund, get off at Nanjing East Road and follow the marked stickers on the floor named “Waitan”. As a general guide, the river is east of the station.

To get across the Bund, there are no ferries. Instead, there is an overpriced touristy sightseeing tunnel whose cost is often bundled with the cost of some attractions in Pudong, such as the observatory decks of the Oriental Pearl Tower, World Financial Centre, and the Science Museum. The cheapest way however, is to retrace your steps back to the Shanghai Metro Nanjing East Road station, and take one stop east to Lujiazhui, which is in my opinion, the better way. Don’t let the skyline of Pudong fool you: it’s actually quite a distance from the riverside to any of those buildings there.

This is Shanghai IFC, the Chinese iteration of the Hong Kong landmark. It’s home to a wide variety of restaurants and shops, mostly in the high street to high-end category, including various high-end Chinese brands. Alternatively, the Super Brand Mall adjacent to the Shanghai IFC houses many affordable and familiar labels.

You could either pay a lot of money to access the observatory decks only to jostle with the crowds, or you could visit the respective hotel’s cafes for a slightly diminished but nevertheless still very impressive view and enjoy a cup of coffee and soak in the views for as long as you want. Although the taller Shanghai World Financial Centre is located next to the Jinmao Tower, it is at least another 100 metre walk away, and feeling tired and all, I opted for the shorter building. Besides, I prefer the architecture of the Jinmao Tower. I take the lift which whisks me up to the 56th floor where I settle down for some coffee. My skin color yet undeniably Chinese features quickly becomes the centre of attention – theirs is not a sense of rejection, but curiosity, acceptance and welcome. I love Shanghai already.

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