Sunday, 19 March 2017

Flight to Shanghai, a stroll around the 'Bund' and jazz music at the Peace hotel

PHIL: Day 31/March 17

Awake (after a sleep of sorts) in Tianjin only 90 minutes out of Beijing. More frantic construction everywhere. It is clear that the Chinese don’t have to go through any Environmental Impact Assessments to build a road or railway, airport or tower block. The 2008 Olympics is driving everything here. Road signs and station announcements are all bilingual Chinese/English now – the latter clearer than you might expect at Paddington.

boarding our China Southern aeroplane to Shanghai
We are whisked by taxi straight from the central railway terminus to Beijing in 20 minutes, dispelling our fears that the three-hour connecting time to our Shanghai-bound flight was too tight. 

There’s plenty of time to chat with Hannah, the Northampton-born Chinese-speaking rep from KoryoTours who has brought our laptop out to meet us. 
She listens to our comments on DPRK and her company’s organisation but we feel there is little option for change in either.

on the Maglev train doing 431km/hour
The journey into town from Shanghai’s new airport is in the impressive Maglev train (which I seem to remember being invented by Briton Professor Eric Laithwaite in the 60s but whose ideas have clearly been hijacked by German ‘vorsprung durch technik’ or British apathy – more likely a combination of the two).

In a few seconds we are travelling at 430kph and the whole 40k journey only takes 8 minutes. 

Rather perversely, however, the line terminates 10k. out of the city centre, so we still need a taxi to our downtown hotel which is amazingly cheap and cheerful for city-centre accommodation.

Phil infront of the Pudong Hotel and the Huangpo river
Evening light falls over the gleaming towers of Pudong, the new city across the Huangpo River which somehow balances the solid and elegant European character of the Bund’s classical century-old commercial heart. Pudong’s new face of China, much rising to over 100 stories, seems like a Disney fantasy which is reached by a quintessentially Asian underwater subway complete with lightshow and sound effects.
Music night at the Peace Hotel  in Shanghai
After a brief stroll on the modern side we have dinner at one of the few remaining ‘foreigner’ restaurants Allie remembers from her stay here 20 years ago, then a nightcap at the Peace Hotel where the legendary jazz band of (now) octogenarians was first formed in the 40s. 

The players can hardly hold a note but the spectacle of their evening dress and the panelled walls of the bar somehow excuse any musical shortcoming. The Bund looks backward in time as Pudong looks forward.

ALLIE: DAY 31: Saturday, 17th of March

From the border to Korea across half of China via Beijing to Shanghai

Its great to have our compi back, the downside of it is: we have to sit down and write again. And I certainly don’t feel doing it, after being on the move for 24 hours and travelling across half of China and spending an evening at the old Jazz bar at the Peace Hotel. But we want to tell our story and so I better get on with it!

the Huangpo river in Shanghai
Woke at 6.00 after somehow surviving the mountain-shaking snoring of our fat Chinese mate in the compartment. Sweet coffee mix and a few biscuits for breakfast.

We pass Tianjin and arrive exactly on time at 8.35 at the central station of Beijing. Another lovely sunny morning. A friendly taxi driver takes us straight to the airport where we meet Hannah from Koryo tours for a coffee and a debrief chat about the tour – and we get our compi back!

Well equipped with all our belongings we board the China Eastern flight to Shanghai. It’s a rather unspectacular flight with a not very exciting menu (ham and salmon, cold shrimps with rice and Chinese wine, but we won’t complain after a week in the DPRK!). Touch down at Pudong airport after 90 minutes. The Maglev super speed train zooms off and takes us in only 8min and with a maximum speed of 430km/hr to the Pudong area in Shanghai.

view from the Bund across to modern Pudong
Having checked in at the “Dong Zhi Hotel” in Fuzhou street we start on our first discover of the city by strolling along the famous “Bund” (wai tan in Chinese). Lots of memories come to my mind:

That was the place where 21 years ago I sat looking over to the – at that time non-existing other side of Pudong – and wrote my diary. But I wasn’t left alone.

Within seconds at least 30 Chinese surrounded me, staring and gazing with open jaws. One of the Chinese even had the courage to touch my arm to check whether all that blond hair on it was indeed really hair!
As a foreigner you certainly were a stranger from the moon. Not anymore today. Phil gets entangled by an industrious shoe cleaner, we have to buy “Lolex” watches and flickering arm bracelets.

Phil at the bar 
As to continue the nostalgic search of my forefathers we dine at the “Coffee house” at Suzhou street and eat, what every Chinese in here seems to eat: Russian Borsch!

20 years ago this was the refuge for all the “being-fed-up-with-green-tea-and-bowls-of-rice”-travellers. This little old fashioned restaurant was the only place in the whole of Shanghai, and probably the whole of southern China, where you could drink a cup of coffee and enjoy some western pastry and food.

I remember how wonderful it was to come in here and indulge on all those things during my student times in Nanjing. Nanjing in the late 80ies was like a country village at that time. So every once in a couple of months we would take the train to have a “wild weekend” out in the big city.

We would wander around the department stores and marvel about the latest imports from the west: German Orangensaft from Aldi, Swiss chocolate, Tonic water etc. And now? I guess there isn’t one thing in the whole of Europe that you couldn’t buy in this ever expanding and pulsating city.
illuminated colonial building along the Bund

The latest thing to do to cross the Huangpo river is to take a small cabin train and travel through a Disneyworld tunnel.

Except from fancy light effects we find nothing exciting about it, but the night view of the nicely illuminated old houses of the Bund, is very rewarding.

the Peace hotel Jazz band
Even more rewarding are our night cab drinks at the Peace Hotel being entertained by the ancient Jazz band.

Most of the musicians are already past their 70is but they play with amazing energy and won’t stop until 1 am in the morning.

We seem to be much less energetic and fall to bed at 22.00!    

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