Posted by Heliocentrism on May 5, 2009
February 6, 2008 Around The Chinese New Year’s Holidays
My First Communist Country
I was told that Shanghai (上海) is a very nice city. It is. In fact, you can easily forget that you are in a communist country when in Shanghai. There is a huge mall and many lovely, expensive restaurants inside in which you and your money can be separated. It feels more like New York or some other capitalist city. No matter how nice Shanghai was, I was not interested in it. I had deemed myself a true and adventurous backpacker; I wanted to see rural China.
I have read many wonderful books by Amy Tan and Wild Swans by Jung Chang. These books left me wanting to see the China that the people in the stories saw. Well, not the same China in the political or time-period sense, but the same China in the poetic sense; A romantic China. I also wanted to try dishes with names like Imperial Concubine Chicken or Tiger Fights the Dragon and somehow I thought they could only be found away from the big cities.
The day I arrived, I didn’t see much of Shanghai. My flight left Korea late in the evening, so I got to China late that night. China’s time zone* being an hour behind Seoul’s didn’t make up for the time lost during the flight or the time it took to get through customs. From the airport I took a city bus and got lost two or three times before I found the hotel. By then my arms and legs were frozen and my eyes would not stay open.
*I read in a book somewhere that the whole of China was put into one time zone. I don’t know how well it works out for the Chinese, but for a traveler it’s great!
I stayed at the Astor House which was formerly known as the Pujiang Hotel. It has a long list of historical people who have slept within its walls. Now they can add me, non-famous though I may be, to the list.
I would have walked around to see what Communism was like at night, but it was winter and very cold outside. Plus, I did spend about an hour wandering around the Bund trying to find the hotel so I wasn’t too keen on getting lost again that night. Instead, I took a long hot shower and climbed into bed. I don’t have cable TV at home in Seoul, so I was glad to watch some interesting TV shows. Most of the stations were in Chinese of course, except for HBO, CNN, Bloomberg, and The Cuban International Channel.
I had no idea that Cuba had a TV channel that was shown outside Cuba. It wasn’t close to being half as good as the quirky stuff on Telemundo but I watched it anyway. When would I have another opportunity to watch Cuban TV?*
* Americans are currently not allowed to go to Cuba without special permission from the State Department.
I wanted to fly into, and out of Shanghai and take only trains or buses while in China. This was my first time traveling alone and I thought that not flying would add to my credibility as a backpacker. But, as in life, things don’t always work out the way they are planned when traveling.
There was a travel agency right in the hotel. I went there to buy train tickets my first morning in China. This was where I learned that I had already made a big mistake on my first solo backpacking trip. I scheduled the trip through China during the Chinese New Year’s holidays. Because most Chinese people travel to their hometowns to be with their families during this time, all the trains were fully booked. So I had to fly into Zhengzhou.
Train Ticketing in China
So, why didn’t I buy my train tickets ahead of time? That would have been the smart thing to do, right? Don’t forget that this is China; communist China. I know, sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, but they are still communist and there are a lot of restrictions on travel in the country.
Train tickets cannot be bought outside of China. In fact, you can only buy a ticket from your departing train station. In other words, it is impossible to buy round-trip tickets. That’s part of the reason why so many people were stuck out in the countryside away from their homes when the blizzard of 2008 hit. The trains stopped running during the holidays and no one was guaranteed passage home.
So what happens when someone buys Chinese train tickets online? Well, you may buy the tickets online, but someone at the online agency still has to physically go to the train station and buy your tickets in person. Hence the small fee.
Getting to the Airport
After I bought my plane ticket to Zhengzhou I wanted to check out of the hotel. Whenever you check into a hotel in China you pay a deposit. To get the deposit back you need to have not destroyed or damaged anything in your room and show the clerk the receipt when you leave. I couldn’t find mine.
The deposit for this hotel was about 100 USD. In my frantic search for the receipt the clerk saw my plane ticket when it spilled out onto the reception desk along with a pen, hand wipes, mints, and a tube of lip balm that rolled away from me as if it were destined for freedom.
“You’re going to the airport today?” she asked. I barely looked up at her. I shoved all my stuff back into my purse and started rifling through all those little pockets of my backpack that I thought were useful when I first bought it.
Clerk: “What time is your flight?”
Me: “Two in the afternoon.”
Clerk: “Then you will come back here by noon.”
Me: “Why would I do that?”
Clerk: “To get a taxi, of course. Noon is a good time. Enough time to get to the airport in traffic. It should cost about 50 Yuan. I’ll call one now, so that he’ll be waiting for you when you get back. You can leave your things here with me. Just be back in time so you don’t miss your flight.”
I was about to tell her that I was going to take the bus to the airport. It only cost, 2 Yuan. I was a backpacker and should choose the cheaper and more independent method of travel. (Ignore the fact that I just spent the night in a fancy schmancy hotel.)
But… taking a taxi seemed so un-stressful. Plus I wouldn’t have time to see the sights because I would have to leave at that very moment if I took the bus. I would need to give myself enough time to get lost once or twice. Although I took the bus from the airport to get to the hotel, it was at night and I got lost trying to find my way from where the bus left me. It would take me some time to find the bus stop again during the day.
She would also take care of my stuff while I toured the city. Isn’t backpacking all about touring cities? Wouldn’t I be less of a backpacker if I didn’t see the city than if I took a taxi?
The clerk gave me back my deposit even though I never did show her the receipt. I eventually found it weeks later after I was back in Seoul. After nearly losing 100 bucks because of my own carelessness I started to tape hotel receipts in my Lonely Planet book. (Yes, I travel with Scotch tape. You should too!)
???? oh… ????
This meant that I had about four hours to kill in Shanghai. So I walked around trying not to get lost until I came to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. It was a weird 60’s, magic mushroom, glass subway with mood lights and a crazy nonsensical English recording that loudly whispered random words.
At the other end of the subway ride was a Chinese Sex and Health Exhibition. I’m not sure how long this particular exhibit was on display. It seemed to me that there was always some exhibit at the end of the ride, and I was just lucky enough to be in Shanghai at the time of this exhibit, but I could be wrong.
There were sex toys and pictures from different periods in Chinese History. There were also sex relics from other countries as well. What I enjoyed most about the sex museum wasn’t the historical contents or even the naughty toys and pictures. I really loved the giggles of grown men and women as they walked around pointing at displays. None of us ever really pass a 7th grade maturity level when it comes to sex museums.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
- Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
- Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
- Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.
There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook, youtube, and parts of Wikipedia are just some of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
- A Bite of China (Playlist)
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations – Harbin, China
- China: A Century of Revolution (Playlist)
- China Uncensored (Playlist)
- Crash Course:
- Engineering an Empire: China
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
- Dreams of Joy (Part 2 of Shanghai Girls)
- Empress Dowager Cixi
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Kitchen God’s Wife
- Lost on Planet China
- Mao’s Last Dancer
- Mao: The Unknown Story*
- The Private Life of Chairman Mao
- Sex Lives of the Great Dictators
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- The Red Chamber
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China*
*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.
- If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.
The Astor Hotel
The Pujiang Hotel
- 31°14’39.9″N 121°29’26.1″E
The best way to get to this hotel from the airport is to take a taxi. At the time of my trip I took a city bus which dropped me off a few blocks away from the hotel, but I cannot find any information on that bus now. It might no longer be running.
The nearest subway station is the East Nanjing Road Station.
There is an airport shuttle which has 8 lines that might be helpful, especially if you are flying in through Pudong International Airport. I think line 6 will take you to the hotel, but you should call 021-68346645 just to make sure.
15 Huangpu Road
Shanghai, China 200080
- (+86) 21-63246388
When I stayed at this hotel in 2008, I paid less than 500RMB for a deluxe double room. At the time that was less than 70USD. I remember that I did not make reservations through the hotel’s website. It was cheaper to do a google search and book my stay through a hotel-finding website. I think this is still true today.
- check-in is at 12:00
- check-out is at 14:00
- There is a long list of famous guests, from Albert Einstein to British royalty, who have stayed at this hotel.
- There is a travel agency in the hotel where you can buy plane, bus, or train tickets.
- I have heard that there are dorm rooms available at this hotel for about the rate of a nice hostel, but I have yet to find any actual proof of this. While I was there, although I did not search the hotel, I didn’t see anything that would indicate a backpacker section.
The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
( Wai Tan Ren Xing Guan Guang Sui Dao)
- buses: #21, 37, 55, 65, 82, 85, 583, 827.
- metro line #2 to East Nanjing Road Station.
- 31°14’13.3″N 121°29’25.0″E
- No.300 zhongshan east no.1 road (puxi) &
- no.2789 bingjiang road (pudong)
- November 1 – March 31 Su – Sa 8:00 – 22:00
- May 1 – October 31 Su – Sa 8:00 – 22:30
- It has nothing to do with seeing any sites. It’s just a fun and bizarre way of crossing under the river.