I suspect the Chinese don't want me.
I have wanted to go to Shanghai for some time, ever since I made a brief stop at their airport 12 years ago. My Mum and I had a spending spree at the shops there and I became so engrossed in retail therapy that I almost missed the plane. This episode comes back to haunt me but more about that later. When a cheap fare with the famed Singapore Airlines comes up, I jump at the chance.
I had a few problems getting my Chinese visa for this longed-for holiday though. The first photo I submitted was rejected. It was a bit flattering and bore little resemblance to my hideous passport photo, so fair enough. It could well have been two people or perhaps one evil twin and one not so evil twin.
Then I have to provide a declaration that I had visited China previously. I did not realize that my old passport with the visa stamp would have been sufficient proof or I would have found it. Instead I have to sign an official looking document as proof I have been to China on an CTS organized tour before. What the! Does it really matter? Apparently it does.
The upshot of it all is that I don't get my passport and visa stamp back until the day before I leave. I was getting quite worried but my sister reminds me that she had problems getting a French visa for New Caledonia and only received it at the last minute too.
I can only assume that the Chinese don't really want me and the French don't like my sister. But all is sorted and the Chinese relent and decide I can visit them again.
At Mascot international Airport I help a thrifty American man. I am perusing the Duty Free when he asks for my help. We are at the 50% off Opal jewelery sale. He can't decide which opal pendant looks the most “real”. I give him my opinion and tell him his wife will love it. A man after my own heart. A bit cheap perhaps, (by that I mean thrifty not stingy) but a real bargain hunter. My philosophy? Try to buy cheap stuff that looks expensive.
Singapore Airlines live up to their reputation.
Being in the very last seat which I have chosen myself on-line has its advantages as you board first. Plus is it said the people in the back have the best chance of not dying in a crash, at least not immediately. You may have a split second or two to regret your miserable life which may or may not be an advantage also.
I settle in to enjoy the flight. I do so love taking off and wonder if the pilot and crew ever get sick of thundering down the runway. I love going very, very fast! I begin to wax lyrical in my mind. Here I am, so near to heaven and able to see the paradise that earth is below. I gaze out with wonder at that fragile sliver of silver that is the wing , watching it dipping and soaring. I just never get tired of that.
Even watching those little flaps...well, flapping...seems to me such a mechanical marvel. I then settle down to watch all those movies I have missed. I enjoy "Tangled" which puts me in the mood for my planned visit to the Oriental Pearl Tower.
People who know me well, know that I am easily pleased. Singapore Airlines please me greatly and would regardless of my cheap personality. Most flights have cut out those little extras but Singapore Air has not. They offer me a newspaper and I am delighted. The hot towels fill me with joy. They give me a Givenchy pouch with a pair of thin socks and I am thrilled beyond reason. They serve a Drumstick ice cream and I am almost orgasmic! At this point the plane could have crashed and I would still have said it was a great trip. Plus I have the whole row all to myself!
I go to the immaculate toilet. Following a tip off from a travel site, I open up the little amenities drawer next to the toilet and find a lot of toothbrushes and one purple comb! I keep it. I said I was cheap! I try everything available - the moisturiser, the mouth wash, the cologne, even the after shave. No one is sitting next to me after all.
I am so engrossed in the toiletries that when I turn around to leave, I nearly die of fright. For one split second I came face to face with some dreary middle aged woman!!! But it is only me in a thoughtfully placed full length mirror to help one avoid leaving the toilets with your skirt caught in your knickers. Other airlines just don't care if that happens to you.
I arrive in Shanghai after a great flight. As I have said, I love going very fast so the Maglev train seems the only way to get to the city. The Maglev travels at 430 kilometers an hour. I only wish it felt faster! I sit there watching the on board LCD speedo climb ever higher and wonder every second. Is this as fast as it goes? And then It keeps on going faster ! It certainly does not seem that fast, at least not untill you hit 300 k's an hour. So does their speedo need adjusting, I wonder?
I suspect it is like the Tokyo Bullet train which is rather like sitting in your comfy lounge chair as far as speed goes when you are a passenger. It is not until you see it thundering by at whiplash speed do you appreciate just how fast these things go. Oh, and the fact that the Maglev journey takes just eight minutes compared to at least an hour by car.
All the Police in the World Congregate in Shanghai
Does everyone in Shanghai have a rellie in the Police Force or Security? As soon as I arrive, I begin to think that I have never seen so many police officers in all my life unless there is a fancy dress day and every man wants to be a cop. They don't seem as cheery as the police in Tokyo though. Certainly none of them bow and salute me as happened there. I don't feel like trying to strike up a conversation with the Shanghai police or asking them for directions as I had in Japan.
It is peak hour and the metro is jam packed but this doesn't stop an angry security man showing his great displeasure at some breach of protocol. I hear a lot of officious shouting and an arm reaches from behind me and a hand clamps down on a well dressed young man next to me who is jerked back from the turnstiles. He doesn't seem to be unduly perturbed though his friend seems a bit annoyed at their delay.
I see similar incidents on several occasions. Don't try standing on the benches at the Bund if you want a better angle for a photo or the blast from policeman's whistle will deafen you. This was not me, I hasten to add. I do realize that a city of such epic proportions needs quite a bit of control so it doesn't bother me at all.
One of my first excursions is to to the brilliant Shanghai Museum , which has the most exquisite porcelain and bronzes that you can imagine. You simply must see this as it is magnificent both inside and out. I return to the Foyer to collect my bag where I am very surprised to see what looks like Swat style police officers or heavy-duty military men. I do not expect them in a museum.
I should have been prepared as the museum attendants seem quite policeman-like and need a lesson in “friendly”. But these men in the foyer look so grim and stand so statue-like that I wonder for a moment if this is some sort of performance “art” , as unlikely as that seems. But then, when a large crack in the floor of the Tate Modern is riveting art, which it actually was, maybe scary police officers with a serious arsenal is “art “too.
I want to take a photo of them but don't dare. Not that I haven't seen soldiers, guards , military persons and various assorted lawmen before. Indeed, the longest chapter of my autobiographical novel is called “My Run-Ins With the Police.”
I was in Spain when, due to the Basque Nationalism Movement, soldiers with large guns were stationed at the tourist spots. I have seen what appeared to be trigger-happy teenage boys acting out as security guards at the airport in Manila. I was in in Italy shortly after the murder of Aldo Moro and experienced the Polizia screaming up to the church I had just left with guns poised for firing. Our tour group instinctively took cover behind parked cars at that sight! I was passing through Frankfurt Airport around the time that terrorist attacks were thought to be planned by the PLO and saw many soldiers armed to the teeth with weaponry you hope you will only ever see in the movies. I was also in London around the time of some of the IRA tourist spots terrorist attacks.
So I don't usually take much notice of men in uniform - unless they are very handsome of course! But there was something chilling about these guys that made them standout. Later I realized they were some sort of security guards as I saw them at banks whenever armored cars were there.
I think I know why there is so little crime in Shanghai.
Yet there is another kind of uniformed personnel in Shanghai that is most appealing and non threatening. I am delighted when I come out of the People's Square Metro to the sight of dozens of Marching Girls or rather Marching Women. They are middle-aged and immaculately uniformed in red and white, though one of the ladies has brown boots on instead of white. A passerby points out the obvious to her with a chuckle.
So, my very first hour in Shanghai Central and I am treated to a most marvelous show of clashing cymbals, swirling dancers and a riotous musical score of marching music and soppy popular ballads played loudly over the top of each other. Could there have been a better introduction to this vibrant city! Even members of the transient audience feel compelled to stop and dance on the spot. I would have too had I not been loaded down with luggage.
So despite what we in Australia might consider an unusual security presence; every time you board a train or visit a museum your bags is X rayed, there are moments of childlike exuberance. From the dancing ladies at the metro to the kite fliers in the city center to the dressed up dogs looking as silly as possible, there is, on occasion, an appearance of something almost uninhibited.
People keep emailing me even though they believe I have been swept away.
I have only been in Shanghai 24 hours when I learn of the terrible tragedy in Japan with the earthquake and Tsunami. It is truly,truly heartbreaking. I have several Japanese and Australian relatives by marriage visiting Japan as tourists but fortunately did not know this at the time or I may have been quite freaked out. I only find out about the dreadful events when my family rings me to see if I am still here, which I am ... and so is Shanghai.
All is well with me with the worst being not finding two out of the three museums I had planned to see today. I swear I was so close to them that I probably stubbed my toe on their front step but still could not see them! I did make the Art Gallery, located in a lovely old clock tower building, which was marvelous but very crowded. I don't think weekends are good times for sightseeing in this gorgeous but huge city!
The Art Gallery's exhibits included a very extensive retrospective of a prominent "elder statesman" artist which was was very comprehensive and really allowed one to see the development of his style and technique over many decades. I wish I could remember the name of the artist but, as the web site is only in Chinese, I am unable to look it up. An exhibition from Australia was about to open as well- I just can't escape the place!
Next - I ruin everything for future tourists.
Shanghaied! And loving it!
I suspect the Chinese don't want me.
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