China Travelogue-5: Last day in Shanghai

Posted in Travel at 16:51 by RjZ

Upon returning from Suzhou, there are a couple of logistical matters to take care of. Tomorrow is the last day in Shanghai and we’re planning on the night train to Huang Shan. Night trains are great. I go for the ‘soft sleeper’ which offers a compartment with only four passengers and a lockable door. The ‘hard sleeper’ isn’t really harder, it just offers less privacy. The difference in price isn’t very dramatic and taking a night train saves the cost of a hotel room, so getting a comfortable rest is worth a few extra Yuan. The train station ticket office is row upon row of windows with long lines, but there is a foreigner window complete with English speaking clerks. No problem at all getting the ticket you’re looking for (so long as it’s available, of course.)

Taking the night train will create an extra challenge though. It’s better to leave town in the morning, otherwise, you’ve got to manage some place to leave your backpack, or be stuck lugging it around with you all day. A quick check at the train station confirms that they have a left luggage office there, which we’ll hit in the morning.

The rest of the night we spend walking around Pudong, the brand new town of bright lights and tall buildings across the river from the rest of Shanghai. The traffic moves slower than walking as people maneuver out of expensive hotels and to ritzy dinners and parties. If the drivers would even consider staying in a lane instead of crowding around like passengers on the subway, things might move a little faster. Instead, tourists wander among the slow moving cars looking straight up at the towering buildings and the Oriental Pearl Tower–symbol of the Shanghai skyline.

264 RMB: train ticket to Huang Shan town.

Next morning, after dropping luggage at the train station for later, it’s time to grab breakfast before visiting the museum. We end up in what is essentially a fast food restaurant where the manager notices the confused westerners looking at the pictures on the menu. She comes out with English menus and after some pointing and guessing, we’ve ordered. The ‘dumpling’ we ordered sure isn’t much like the dumplings we’ve had before. We call the server back for explanation of the stretched out vaguely meaty looking thing floating in the soup. It is, technically, boiled dough, so after a very confused server insists, in her best hand gestures, this is what we’ve ordered, we eat up, at least somewhat confident we didn’t get someone else’s order.

2 RMB: pre-breakfast snack of pancakes from a street vendor.
3 RMB: metro to the train station
20 RMB: left luggage
10 RMB: dumplings and fried bread

The Shanghai history museum has a fairly typical collection of artifacts and descriptions from throughout the country’s history. Here you can see early examples of money (from the country that invented money—not disputed) and early examples of pottery (from the country that invented pottery—actually, that’s probably Japan, but the Chinese definitely get credit for porcelain) or observe the history of writing (from the people who invented writing—or maybe that was the Sumerians; actually, it’s hard to say because writing wasn’t invented in a day—regardless, this is history in China.) Wonderfully laid out, in easy to follow galleries, with excellent handouts in both English and Chinese, (although most of the actual items only have Chinese descriptions) the museum will prepare the curious tourist to understand sites from around China and throughout its history. I also find it’s a great way to decide which of those funky souvenirs can tell an interesting Chinese story, and which is just a crazy idea from the local crafts people.

Just don’t expect a sleepy, lonely, museum experience. We lucked out and visited on a free day, but we definitely weren’t alone. The Chinese definitely patronize their museums and this one was quite full of people milling about and pushing right in front of the curious western tourists.
All the same, I’ve seen a few Chinese history museums during previous trips and the exhibits here were similar to elsewhere. Maybe the Propaganda Poster museum in the French Concession will be something new, so it’s back to the city streets.

Marx, Engels, and Tai Chi at Fu Xing park, Shanghai

Marx, Engels, and Tai Chi at Fu Xing park, Shanghai

The French Concession is, perhaps, the ritziest part of Shanghai. Here, among the stately sycamore trees and French colonial façades, are high-end designer clothing stores, and French bistros. What we can’t find, however, is the Propaganda Poster museum. Things change fast in China and the storekeeper at the museum’s address only shook her head trying to explain that the museum is no more. On the way back to the metro and train station we pass through Fu Xing park, today one of the more popular parks in Shanghai and surrounded by chic night clubs. Back when it opened in 1909, the park was closed to the Chinese. Since then, the Chinese have built a giant statue of the creators of communism, Marx and Engels, to tower over the groups practicing tai chi or ballroom dancing. There’s no time for either, though, as we’ve got a train to catch.

5 RMB: lunch
9 RMB: 3 metro tickets
10 RMB: groceries for the train ride

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