A Travellerspoint blog

Steel in the sky in Shanghai

Towering views in tiny shoes

sunny 20 °C
View Shanghai on BillLehane's travel map.

First things first, Shangai is big. It might sound obvious, but when you get there you really feel it too. Although myself and Megan had a more gentle introduction to millions on the move because we arrived off the night train on the main day of the Qing Ming festival. For the Chinese on this day, as on of my students put it: 'We visit graves. And eat a lot.'

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Threading a little line around some of the principal areas using the metro is otherwise heavy and harried, as we discovered the next day. People move in packs of hundreds between platforms, like any other metro system I guess, but on a much bigger scale. Spotting the laowai (foreigners) in this case is rather amusing, as a white man tends to stride a foot or more taller than the 300 Chinese heading the same way.

Our top destination was the Jin Mao Tower, both because Megan had been to the Pearl TV Tower and because we could get a great view of same by visiting the taller one. Off we go 88 floors up - eights are lucky in Chinese, hence the Olympic start date of 08.08.2008. Here you don't feel the ascent at all in the 45-second lift, which makes it a bit more comfortable to oggle the view at the top.

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Elegant, enormous and impressive it certainly is, but the Jin Mao is no longer the tallest building in Shanghai - the World Financial Center, otherwise known as the bottle opener - has that distinction at least until another, the Shanghai Tower, is built right next to both of them at a gargantuan 128 stories.

Elsewhere in the city, it's still all about eye-catching buildings. The Bund is an amazing spot for this, but it's oppressively crowded even in a downpour. The savant's way of, eh, drinking in the view to its full extent is to get up high nearby. The Captain hostel bar (below) is surprisingly quiet considering its considerable visual asset, but then it's really somewhere you have to know to go. Who needs a boat ride!

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Tall tales aside, Shanghai also yielded much great food and drink, if you can ignore the price tags. Baozi (below), steamed buns with yummy fillings, are quite delicious, especially when you walk away from the shops outside the rather boring Yuyuan Gardens and get fresher ones quick and cheap.

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Cosmopolitan delights also abound, especially for us small city dwellers - Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and a German brewery were all enjoyed, the latter especially for the pork knuckle. (Takes me back to Bavaria's Andechs Abbey and the sunny, swilling feast on the hill for Oktoberfest 2004.)

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So while I'm not one to shirk from big city lights, you quickly get the impression that Shanghai is really too big and several million over a healthy population. The one time it felt small was on a walk through Nanjing Road, the city's main shopping street. Bright lights yes, but gaudy, hawker-filled and ultimately pretty tame in comparison to teeny 12-million Tokyo. It was strangely comforting then, dear readers, to remind myself - as I retreated to lean, green Lishui - that biggest and boldest does not always mean best. Until next time, zai jian.

Posted by BillLehane 19:33 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

The Funny Side of Life in China 1

For those moments lost in translation...

sunny 18 °C

Sometimes, you feel sorry for Chinese people when they make dodgy attempts at English, especially given this writer's meagre stock of Mandarin. But most of the time these moments are what-on-earth-is-this, laugh-out-loud funny. So without further ado, dear readers, here is the first of what I hope will become a series of entries on those times where you just have to stop and laugh. When you're done, head over to 'The Funny Side of Life in China 2'.

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Many ways to spell this word, but none spell fashion - except in China of course.

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So the only bar we've yet to find in Lishui - La Rive Gauche, or the Left Bank - has a quite bizarre take on what a Western-theme bar should have. Sharks that make a noise and lamps that, well, you just don't want to turn off!

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Fire! Fire! So the sign screams as we enter the school gate at about 11pm, although with no obvious sign of disaster present.

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It turns out the same sign also warns you of children crossing - again, at 11pm at night. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

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So in neighbouring Hangzhou, a city of untold millions, you'll find a reassuring outlet close to the train station. Phew, some Chinese food.

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This one really was a case of 'What were they even trying to say?' A flute of sparkling wine was all I could think of. And check out that crysal punch too - mmm, dreamy.

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What flavour? And are you an ethnican or ethnican't?

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Where are we going again?

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Ah, I see.

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This last one could really have you stumped, especially without the context to give it away. So while I build up my next batch of funny Chinese moments, dear readers, try to guess what it is! Zai jian

Posted by BillLehane 20:58 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

A school day in Lishui, China

A long, long day for the Chinese teenagers

semi-overcast 13 °C

To be a student at a boarding school in China is, it seems, not an easy task. Going by Western standards, in fact, their daily schedule is little short of eye watering.

They rise at around 6am, and breakfast is served at 7.10am. First class starts before eight, and the morning lessons are only punctured by little five-minute breaks in between and the collective morning exercises performed en masse in the school yard at 9.40am.

Lunch is served super-early at 11.35am - I imagine it's sorely needed though after all that. They do get two hours off for lunch, but it seems a lot of people take the opportunity to snooze. Then before they know it, they're back on again at 1.30pm, with only their compulsory eye exercises at 3.15pm to look forward to before classes finish at 4.10pm.

Their what? I know - at first glance, it's very weird to see them all rub their eyes in rhythmic unison, but soon enough you realise they'd probably be half blind without doing them given their workload.

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Dinner is served right after the end of lessons, and then the students have about two hours to run around - this mostly consisting of basketball, the sport of choice around here - before they're whistled back into class at 6pm for three hours of 'self-study', which is actually supervised study in the classroom.

After that, if they have any energy left, they get to go mad for 25 minutes before they have to get into their rooms, and then it's ten minutes before lights out at 9.40pm. Then Exeunt, with no exceptions. From myself and Megan's perch on the hill, we can hear the teenage madness for a short time every evening, then like clockwork all is dark and perfectly quiet until the next day. It's like how I picture military school.

For us though, living on campus is an advantage in this place I think because you get a proper sense of the students' daily grind and you can aim for a realistic mid-tempo in the lessons. Unfortunately, it also means we're within earshot of the bells, which ring around campus 26 times a day by the schedule, if not more. There is a two-minute warning bell as well as a start- and end-bell for every lesson - there's even a bell marking half-way through lunch! Granted we don't hear them all, but the pa-rum-pum-pum marching music for the morning exercises in particular is hard to miss.

As for the weekends, well they're a bit of a wash for the students. Some or all of them appear to have classes on a Saturday, and self-study is back on from 6-9pm on Sunday. This coming weekend is a holiday weekend for Qing Ming Festival (comparable to All Souls Day) - one of the Chinese teachers told me she had no confirmation of the Monday off but was looking forward to her 'two holiday days', otherwise known as Saturday and Sunday.

For us, meanwhile, it's a bit of a life of privilege as a foreign experts. We're contracted to do 18 teaching hours a week plus five extra-curricular hours per month, and so far we're only doing about three-quarters of that. However our grandly titled boss Mr Chen, the school's head of Foreign Affairs, is wont to call us at any hour and summon us to his office straight away. More about that and the life of a teacher at Xueyuan Fuzhong next time, dear readers. Until then, thank God you're not a Chinese boarder!

Posted by BillLehane 20:03 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

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