Shanghaied -part 2 – 5th October 2014

According to  “To shanghai someone is to kidnap or trick them into working for you. The traditional way to shanghai someone is to drug him and put him on a ship. When the person wakes up, he better get to work. … The shanghaied person would wake up and find himself at sea, often on a long trip like to Shanghai, China”

After the birthday party we got the bullet train to Shanghai. Suzhou has three main stations, with two of them serving Shanghai (Suzhou SIP station -suzhou yuanqu and Suzhou main station) and Suzhou North which you go to if you are heading to Beijing. At 360km/h we hardly knew we were moving. 25 minutes later we arrived. To drive it would have taken about 2 hours. Eleanor sat on our knee as she was free, but similar to the bus from Tongli, the train is inexpensive and she can have a half price ticket if she is between 120cm-150cm. The main station at Suzhou is massive. To buy tickets we had to present our passports but no one then looked at our passports to check that the tickets with our passport numbers on them corresponded. But since then they have checked. We entered what is almost like a large airport hanger waiting area, waited for the platform to be called, and then once that had been called there was then a surge of people going through the barriers then down the escalator onto the platform. The platform is numbered denoting where the train carriages will be and an ORDERLY queue was formed behind each number. The train arrived and for the most part people alight at the front of the carriage and passengers get on at the back of the carriage. Our luggage we placed in the overhead rack which is much deeper than found in the UK equivalent.

We arrived in Shanghai and were Shanghaied. The original blog says “we”, in the retelling of this story to friends years later, Martin is clear that it should have read “Alison” did not follow the taxi line, “Alison” got waylaid by a man who said “taxi”, “Alison” followed him and got in the private car. We paid over the odds for this man to take us to our hotel. “Alison” learnt an expensive lesson… but in comparison with a trip across London it was positively cheap. We now know the journey to be about 50ish RMB… we (Martin) paid maybe 4 times as much… Thankfully though we did end up at the correct hotel – it could have been much worse.

On Sunday 28th September we met up with Rebecca and Dan, colleagues of ours and very dear friends, and friends of theirs who all happen to be Aber (Aberystwyth) alumni at The Westin. At 600RMB per person (less for the children) we had Tattinger Champagne on free flow, ate lobster, mussels, prawns, smoked Norwegian salmon, cheese, caviar (I gave that a miss), roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, curries, roast garlic potatoes, pizza, pancake, fruit, truffles and much more beside. All this while being entertained by drummers, acrobats, orchestra, opera singers (made Martin cringe). Eleanor and Sophie went to the kids club and iced biscuits (roll on Dec 2018 and Eleanor is now too old for this!) Rolling out of the Westin and back to our hotel via the Bund was a bit of a blur. What wasn’t a blur was the most comfortable bed at the Astor House Hotel which is just by the Garden Bridge. The hotel had given us an upgrade to a family room rather than just a pull out a bed for Eleanor it was two proper beds. (Sadly the softness of the beds now make our beds at home seem very hard.

The National Day of the People’s Republic of China celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949. The holiday is usually a week and for the majority starts on 1st October. Having gone to Shanghai before the Wednesday we found that it was really quiet, relatively speaking given that we were in one of the largest cities in the world.

We had been warned that if we went to the aquarium we would expect to see more people than fish and having experienced the London aquarium in October half term in 2010 I wasn’t ready for that again. But we got there early via the Sightseeing Tunnel. The tunnel had been described as having a “trip” whilst on LSD crossed with the scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they get on the boat on the chocolate river from Oompa Loompa land. We had the carriage to ourselves there and back. We were also told that Eleanor would be free at the aquarium – but that proved to be untrue. Aquarium done – amazing. And it was quiet. We saw starfish up close and many many sharks. It was definitely on a par with the aquarium that Martin and I visited in Cape Town in 2008.

Then Martin went off with (in the nicest possible way) a former student for lunch and Eleanor and I went shopping.  We went into a silk shop and came out with nothing (Martin breathed a huge sigh of relief when he found out!) We then happened upon a lady who led us into her shop, yes I followed her with a five year old in tow to a “shop”, which was no more than a back room up some stairs. Nothing dodgy or scary about that at all. I bargained, though probably not hard enough and Eleanor came away with a Chinese red dress and a “free” watermelon shaped purse. The purse was a gift. Eleanor had fallen in love with it, and I told her no. We left, with Eleanor being despondent. She soon perked up again though when the lady followed us out and gave her the purse.

I found that even in a western shop such as ZARA, the sizing is still Chinese and that my shoulders and hips mean that I am several sizes above where I thought I was.

One of the things we were told to do in Shanghai was take in an acrobatic show. This is exactly what we did on the Monday night at ERA, Circus World. It was breathtakingly awepic. (cross between awesome and epic I am told) From acrobats moving from bicycle to bicycle and jumping through hoops at speed, the entire show was jaw dropping. Eleanor was amazed and taken in with it all. We also sat beside some teachers from Co. Kerry, one turned out to be a former waiter at Jacks in Cromane, a tiny dot on the map of Ireland, but it is also where our friend and my former colleague, Naomi has a holiday home and where we spent Easter 2014.

On Tuesday we went to see YuYuan Gardens, we found it after trekking through a warren of Chinese streets filled with sellers of tat. Eleanor chose to wear her Chinese dress which attracted a lot of attention. Not only did she have to pose for me, but also dozens of Chinese tourists, from the old to the young, many wanted a picture. Some asked, some did not. To those who asked, we gave her the choice and she said yes to all of them, but she did sigh a lot towards the end. As a former child protection solicitor that should have filled me with dread that random strangers are taking photos of our daughter, but for some reason it doesn’t. Fast forward 5 years and Eleanor hardly is asked for her photo now. Even Martin had his photo with Eleanor taken on the bund that night. We are as much a tourist attraction as the places we visit. And if you wear a Chinese dress – well you court even more attention.

In Shanghai we used the metro and taxi. On our way back from the Gardens to West Nanjing Road we used the metro, but at an interchange the officials seemed to be closing the station. Of course not speaking the language we hoped that there was nothing untoward about it. SO back to shanks’ pony. Eleanor did a fair amount of complaining but piggy backs appeased her. The streets though got busier and busier and by the time we were going home after dinner at Kebabs on the Grill, the throng of people was immense. On every street were soldiers and police and while I felt fairly safe, I was glad when we got back to the hotel.

Wednesday, national day, was the last day in Shanghai. The shops were busy, the streets even busier. While we headed up East Nanjing Street many people were heading down towards the Bund to take pictures of the Pearl Tower and the skyscraper panorama. We had lunch at a European bistro which was staffed by Asians and Western folk, but we still ordered our food by pointing. What appeared for Martin was a different pizza to the one he ordered and at one point I was asked if Eleanor wanted the sauce without the salmon, rather than the other way round. Eventually we all got what we wanted. Sometimes you just want someone to speak your language to take your order – which is clearly not realistic! My Mandarin just needs to get better.

After lunch and before catching the train back we went to one of the infamous copy markets on West Nanjing Road (it no longer exists). Eleanor and I got trainers and then she got some Hello Kitty welly boots. It is accepted that you are going to haggle, Eleanor though has had enough for the haggling, especially when it looks as if she isn’t getting what she would like because Martin and I think the price is too high. Thus she has coined a new word – barguing – a cross between bargaining and arguing. The welly boots we had walked away from as the woman was asking £45 for them!!! I still feel we paid too much for them at £15, but practise should mean that we will hunt out the bargains. Just I might not have Eleanor with me when I do it next time.

Back to Suzhou. What our mini-break reinforced to us was that we are very happy in Suzhou and returning here from Shanghai felt like getting off the train at Templecombe in Somerset having been in London for a couple of days. Quiet and a world away from the bustling streets of a major city – Suzhou will either suit you or not.