Shanghai… and fish.
I was going to start this post with another apology about not updating the blog for a week, but I think it’s better just to say that I’m probably only going to write here on a weekly basis, as when I sign in I always have so much to write! I’ve noticed a few people have started to follow me here on Tumblr now, so thanks for that - I hope you find my posts about living here in China interesting!
The past week has been busy as usual, this time with a visit to the local aquarium and a trip to Shanghai.
Let’s start with the aquarium, which isn’t too far from East Lake and the Hubei Provincial Museum. The funny thing is that I was here in Wuhan for almost a year without realizing that half of these places actually existed. The aquarium is a little expensive with an 80RMB admission fee, but is definitely one of the better tourist attractions in Wuhan. Sadly, almost no effort has been made with the approach to the aquarium – when you pay the admission fee and walk up, you have to walk through an old dinosaur-themed playground which is completely overgrown and looks like something out of Jurassic Park.
When you reach the venue, however, it’s a different story, and there are plenty of fish to look at up close. There was even a very dodgy performance by two girls dressed as mermaids in one of the aquariums, and a diver dancing with a shark – or rather, feeding it treats in an effort to keep it sweet whilst he grabbed hold of its fins and spun it around.
As usual, there was more stupidity from some of the patrons, include one idiot blatantly ignoring signs telling you not to
piss off the fish put your hands in the tanks. I love the way in the photo it looks like they are seriously swarming like someone from Joe Dante’s Piranha. If they had attacked, that would have actually justified the 80RMB admission fee.
All in all, a nice day that definitely deserves a place in the recommended category.
So – moving onto Shanghai. I’d never been there before. In fact, my only real familiarity with Shanghai was with that Madonna romantic-adventure-comedy movie Shanghai Surprise where she plays a missionary. Madonna playing a missionary is pretty much the funniest thing about the whole movie. It’s no wonder she got away with those burning crosses; if God didn’t strike her down for this movie, she’s got to be pretty much indestructible.
Anyway, back on topic, I’d heard a lot of things - both positive and negative - about Shanghai - some people seem to fall in love with it, but some friends, who have similar opinions about Beijing, think it is too westernized. The friend I saw whilst I was in there told me when I arrived; “Welcome, you’re not in China anymore!” And to a certain extent, she was right. I’ll explain why in the rest of this post.
The reason for going to Shanghai was that my school asked me to go to take part in a teaching competition run by Sina, which is kind of like a Chinese equivalent to Twitter. A few weeks ago, I was asked to film one of my classes and post it online, and I didn’t expect to hear anything else about it, until my school director told me I was being sent to Shanghai for the quarter-final.
As usual in China, the communication was absolutely dreadful; nobody seemed to know what the procedure would be until I arrived. When I got to the venue, I was given a little sticker, my photo was taken, I stood around for around twenty minutes, introduced myself to the judges and then had to perform a six minute class… and that was it.
This meant I had the rest of the three day trip to do whatever I wanted.
The main thing I noticed about Shanghai is that, like I mentioned earlier, it is very westernized, at least in comparison to Wuhan. One of the reasons why I chose to live in Wuhan was that the idea of an overtly-westernized city didn’t really appeal to me, but after visiting Shanghai, I was pleasantly surprised and would actually seriously consider relocating there at some point during my Chinese adventure. I always thought that Wuhan had quite a large expat situation, but this is nothing compared to Shanghai, where it seems a foreigner is on every street corner. Most people in the centre of the city speak English too - which led to some embarrassment when I - speaking my best Mandarin Chinese - asked a store assistant in H&M where his T-shirt was from, only for him to respond in perfect American English that he’d picked it up whilst he lived in The States.
Whilst we’re on the topic of H&M; the branch in the Shanghai city centre also stocks shoes right up to size 45, not out of the ordinary for your Average Joe but a good three sizes bigger than most Chinese men. I bought some snazzy espadrille-style pumps that will probably last two weeks, but for 95RMB, who’s complaining?
Shanghai is also pretty easy to navigate due to its impressive metro system, which links the whole city via over 400km of tracks. This made it very easy for me to complete one of the main tasks I wanted to whilst I was in Shanghai - the shopping. The first thing I did was check out a record shop. Wuhan, as far as I’ve discovered, doesn’t have any vinyl stores, aside from one CD store on the university campus that has one box of tatty 80s power-pop LPs that are unworthy of a place in my collection. Anyway, I searched on the internet for some addresses and managed to find this apparently small store on the second floor of an electronics mall. Not really where you’d expect to find the Mecca of Chinese vinyl collecting, but looks can be deceiving.
At least, I thought the shop was small. After I looked through the stock, the boss, one of the only people I met in Shanghai that didn’t speak English, approached me and told me he had some more Japanese stock in some boxes outside the store. I found some gems in here, including some Yuzo Kayama and Hiromi Go LPs. By this point, I’d been in the store for around an hour, and was ready to leave. Whilst paying for my purchases, the boss this time round asked me if I wanted to look in the store room, by which point I gave up all hope of seeing anything else in Shanghai that day as there was about a hundred boxes of completely unsorted vinyl from all over the globe.
One of the exciting things about all of these records is that they were all Japanese imports, who really excelled themselves with packaging design for vinyl. Buying a record in the 1970s and 1980s must have been a real experience, as not only did you get the music, you got the obi-strip on the sleeve, teasing you with the audible delights contained therein, the lyric sheet (or sometimes even a lyric booklet with photographs) and even a poster for your bedroom wall. My copy of Laura Branigan’s Self Control even came with a brochure all about her back catalogue.
Anyway, thankfully, the teenage girl who bought my Hiromi Go records had managed to resist temptation, and so my records came complete with vintage posters. Hey, Go-San, those sunglasses are pretty rad.
Three hours later and fifteen records later, I decided to call it a day and head over to Ikea, one of my favorite stores in England. Now, Ikea is always a better experience when you go with someone, as you can take photos pretending that the rooms are your house. I didn’t do any of that this time round, but I bought some cute bits and pieces for my house, and some great toys from their childrens’ section to use at school. I’ve actually started to come to realize that I’ll probably never leave China, not by choice but for the simple fact I have so much crap here now leaving would cost a small fortune.
After the competition, I saw my old boss Cathy, who moved to Shanghai last year to work with the headquarters of EF. Cathy’s nickname when she worked at our school was “The Facilitator”, as many evenings with her were spent with her feeding everyone else in her vicinity with booze. She was determined to make sure I didn’t leave Shanghai without a party. Which she did, to the extent of which I don’t really remember the evening; the kind of evening you try to piece back together with photographs - and you know it must have been bad when you have photos outside the Iranian Embassy…
Because of this, I didn’t really get to do half of the things I planned to do on my last day in Shanghai, instead spending most of the day in post-night-out-with-Cathy recovery mode. Despite this, I did manage to check out The Bund, and the nearby skyline, on either sides of the Huangpu River.
The skyline is home to some great architecture such as The Imperial Pearl Tower. The area of the skyline isn’t very vast - and because of that, impressive - as Hong Kong; the skyline length is quite small, almost looks like someone has scooped the buildings together. Where the skyline is more impressive than Hong Kong is that the architecture is so varied - the Pearl Tower, finished in 1994, is fascinating, and The Shanghai World Finance Centre is the fourth tallest building in the world.
The Bund, on the other hand - or rather, side; is the complete opposite, with the architecture dating from the early 20th century, largely in art-deco style. In the 1940s, this was the home of the major banks and European trading houses, but is now one of Shanghai’s major tourist destinations. I was most impressed by the Customs House, which reminded me of the Liver Building back in Blighty.
I imagine this is a great place to hang out when the weather is warmer, as it was pretty cool and a little bit rainy whilst I was there.
And that pretty much concluded my Shanghai adventure. If I get through to the quarter final of the competition, I will have to go again, so maybe I’ll be able to see some more sights - and inevitably buy more records, soon. Either way, I’m sure I will see more of Shanghai in the near future.