- Never fly with Aeroflot
- A place like no other
- A long history of trade
- Living the expat life
- Sneaking into skyscrapers
- Dating, the Chinese way
I am in Shanghai now and finally found the time to sit down and write what has happened so far.
Never fly with Aeroflot
After a couple of nice days of good food and good drinks in Verona and Milan, the Aeroflot Nightmare began. When I booked my flight, I did it as always, that is to say looking for the cheapest flight and just booking it. Obviously when I realised I was flying with Aeroflot a lot of stereotypes came up, but hey, I am an open-minded person.
First little inconvenience: my flights did not appear on the official Aeroflot page, even the day before or the same day. I got a little bit scared because I found one flight with my number which left 3 days before mine was scheduled and on my day there was nothing. So when I got to the airport and they checked me in for both flights I was really relieved.
Then, Moscow airport…. I left Milan with 26 degrees and obviously expected Moscow to be cold, however, I landed in the midst of a proper blizzard. The worst thing about it was that they didn’t bother to clear the air strip before the landing and we actually landed with a couple of centimetres of snow. Same for the departure: taking off on snow! Probably the pilots are used to it in Russia, still I was shitting myself. On the flight there was just one screen at the front with very interesting information on the flight and the food was horrible, and if I say that, that means something. I eat everything, EVERYTHING, but I didn’t finish my plate…Once landed in Shanghai, I was waiting for my luggage with an Italian girl I met on the plane, and you know how you make jokes at the baggage claim, when it doesn’t arrive. Well, this time it actually didn’t arrive, for both of us. And I didn’t have any hand luggage with me, so I literally had just what I was wearing.
Fun fact, Raphie booked his flight one month after me, and at that time he got a flight that was even cheaper than mine, and guess with which airline, Qatar Airways…well, too bad I have my flight back via Moscow with Aeroflot again. At least they managed to deliver my luggage, one day delay but I did get it and everything was in there, TOP!
So at the airport, after all the hassle, at least Allan was waiting there with my name on a placard. On the ride back he taught me my first words in Chinese; however, it is just so difficult. He would say a word with two syllables and I would repeat it 15 times, but no chance, I would just not get it right. And if you do not get the right intonation, there is no way they can understand you.
A place like no other
Well but let´s come to China. Raphie and I are here with Anne and before starting to travel around China, we will stay in her parents´ flat in Shanghai for 10 days. Her father moved her to help setting up a steel factory southeast of Shanghai and they have been living here for 7 years, right now in a nice, spacious flat in a 37 floor tower in central Shanghai. Anne went to school here before moving to London and her sister is currently doing her Baccalaureate. The father’s company provides them with a driver, Allan, and when he is available he drives us around the city.
I was really astonished by Shanghai. I mean this is my fourth time to Asia so far, and I have been to very big cities like Bangkok, but nothing I have seen is even slightly comparable to Shanghai. The level of development here is miles ahead of Bangkok and especially of a country that aspires to have an economy similar to China’s, India. If you have been to bustling New Delhi, you will have noticed from the first moment you set foot outside of the airport that the city is pure chaos. No rules, no good infrastructure, congested streets and most importantly inhabitants who want to make a living at any cost.
In Shanghai the picture is very different. The roads are perfect, new, large, no potholes. Shanghai has built 10 subway lines (not stations, but actually lines) in 5 years. It possess the fastest train in the world, the only magnetic suspended train in the world, which has a maximum speed of nearly 450 km/h and connects the airport with the city centre. Then the housing, I mean there is not one, or ten, or twenty skyscrapers, but hundreds. As far as the eye can see. A 40 storey building is just standard here. On the road everything is ordered, no armies of scooters, or tuktuks. Mostly cars, of which a lot are western brands who have built factories here in China and can be bought cheaper than other cars which have to be imported from Europe.
A long history of trade
Shanghai is so modern because it has a long history of trade, which dates back centuries and is livelier than ever today. It was never really colonized, however, France, England and the US governed three districts in Shanghai from the mid 19th century until the Japanese invasion in 1937. Because of this, Shanghai has always been connected to the west more than other Chinese cities and as a result, Western businesses grasp the opportunity of cheap labour force, perfect infrastructure and a domestic market with more than a billion people. However, this can only be done in venture cooperation with Chinese businesses, an idea that proves very effective as western modern technology is often exchanged in the process, much to the benefit of the more primitive Chinese companies.
When you walk along the streets of Shanghai, you obviously notice that you are in China because of the people surrounding you and the language, however, the cars, the billboards, the shops could as well be in London. Maybe it is good to start the China experience with this highly developed city, as it will enable us to see the contrasts in a country which is still divided into an urban, modern, wealthy eastern cost and extreme rural poverty in the west.
Living the expat life
Right now we are not really getting the backpack experience, but that was clear from the beginning. We are currently getting the expat-in-Shanghai experience, which I have to say is very interesting to see. When working in the same position in Europe, an employee will be satisfied with a lower materialistic living standard than here. Companies know that, and try to make up for the cultural “sacrifice” by increasing the materialistic gains, that is to say apartment, driver, more actual buying capacities and so on. It seems to be an attempt to live a life by western standards in a foreign culture. I mean, it would not work in any other way, as it is completely understandable why a European coming to Shanghai wants to send his children to a good school, have good healthcare, good food and so on, but this does involve a division in the society between westerners and locals. At least this is my impression.
We benefit a lot from this, since I have never had such a nice living standard on a trip. The apartment is amazing, the view beautiful, the food excellent and we even have a club house next to the house with a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, a haman bath, a gym and a sauna. We go to the clubhouse every night for 1.5 hours and you cannot imagine just how good that feels. But yeah, it surely was different when I started my trip in India with Yassin…..
Then on the weekend Anne’s father was here and he invited us to this Brazilian place downtown, Latino. The Dream, simply the Dream. You sit down, you put a sticker in the shape of a cow on the table and decide whether to put in with the green or the red side on top. Green means: eat. Red means: surrender. As long as you keep on going the waiters will bring different beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish bits to the table, which they just got off the bbq, perfectly roasted and slice it with a huge knife off the skewer onto your plate. So in one sentence: all you can eat high quality meat bbq. If you know me you know where this ended…. And Anne’s father is also what in Italian we call “una buona forchetta” a good fork and he kept on eating and eating, TOP! No really, among the best feasts of my life, a dream.
Sneaking into skyscrapers
So what have we actually been doing in Shanghai so far apart of going to the Spa and eating succulent meat? First of all we went to different markets, one for copied products, one for electronics and especially one for tailors. It’s amazing how you can get a high quality custom tailored product for the same price of a shit quality h&m product in Europe. So yeah, Anne got a blazer, Raphie a suit and three shirts and I got a nice coat and some shirts. Topstuff!
What else, skyscrapers! Among the many many skyscrapers are two of the highest in the world, one 440 and one 490 meters. In the “smaller” one the Hyatt Hotel bought the last 30 floors. So we casually walked into the lobby and pretended to have a room there in order to go to the bar which is on the 87th floor. Once up there they made us sit down immediately and brought us the menu. The first moment nobody was in sight, we took off, which would have been a smart move, if we hadn’t realised once downstairs that we forgot our backpack up there….. Well, a part of the awkward moment it was amazing and got even better when we got into the main hall, which is the entire height of the hotel, so more than 30 floors. You stand in a hall in which you could fit the tallest building of Munich, and you are already on the 57th floor. So nice. Once outside again, we walked around town by sunset, and you just see how all these skyscrapers start to be illuminated and the skyline start looking even more awesome.
Fun fact about all buildings in Shanghai: there is no fourth floor or floor with the number 4 in it, as four is spelled in the same way as death, and because of their superstition they just don’t want to live or work in those floors.
Dating, the Chinese way
One more thing that really struck me was something we saw in the main park/plaza of Shanghai, the People’s square. In the park you see a lot a lot of people staring at pieces of papers with details of persons on it. Basically it is an open air dating space, or better an open air marriage arrangement place. Parents go there, put the details of their children (both male and female) on a paper (with information such as age, height, hobbies and salary of course) and then look for a good match. There is a special section where parents talk to other parents and actually arrange the marriage. It’s crazy, and just so weird to see from a western perspective.
Well, that’s it for now. The next days we are planning on going to see some of Shanghai’s museums, which I am really looking forward to, as they will provide us yet another insight on how this one part regime manages to keep a country with more than one billion people together and in such an efficient way. At least from what I can tell so far is that Chinese people follow the rules set by the regime naturally, strictly. They seem to be bound together by something which I can’t define yet, which I haven’t seen in any other Asian country. They seem proud of their city, which manages to outpace western cities in visible aspects such ass infrastructure and business. I am really interested in learning more about the cultural, ideological and historical roots of this patriotism.
After that we are planning of going to Beijing, to check out the classics of China, and afterwards head down a couple of thousand miles in a 50 hour train to Yunnan, the region bordering with Myanmar and Laos, to see both rural China and natural wonders which are unique on this planet.
So far this is all