For some reason Shanghai was like my own personal Mecca. Arrival signified that I had made it overland across China and could do this traveling lark after all! It was a welcome (albeit brief) reunion of fellow Vodkatrainers, lost to individual itineraries for a few weeks. It also signified my first real taste of solo travel and the start of the rest of the year of adventure.
With no plan and even less of a clue the world literally was my oyster. As well as a very excited tummy, I don’t mind admitting that I was bewildered and overwhelmed by the possibilities that lay before me.
To be honest I didn’t have a Scooby what to do between Shanghai in April and Singapore in October, but I needn’t have worried, as it turned out to be the place where my trip unfolded unexpectedly and I loved it there so much and met so many great people, I stayed for six weeks!
Via the internet I signed up for a four week TEFL course with Orient Now and spent five days a week studying teaching techniques, observing 4 to 14 year old students at the DD Dragon English School in downtown Shanghai. Spending my weekends and evenings seeing the sights, even in six weeks, I was never at a loose end for something new to do or eat!
People’s Square, People’s Park and People’s Avenue were amazing for people watching (funnily enough); shopping at East Nanjing Road and the “wanna buy a watch, iPod, DVD, bag” crew were always entertaining – if a little stressful; the beautiful Bund never grew tiresome with its Jetsons-esque city of the future at one side of the river and replica old London on the other.
The view from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre in Pudong was incredible (and if you go at 5.30pm and hang around you get to see day and night and the whole of Shanghai turning its lights on!). The view from the Oriental Pearl TV tower however isn’t so good, but the tower itself is one of my favourite buildings to date.
A mosey along the Ancient Culture Street with its Old Film Café and colonial and Chinese architecture is amazing. The Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Planning Exhibition, Moganshan Art District, Shanghai Downtown, the never ending shopping malls, the (very hands on) Science and Technology and Contemporary Art museums, plus the covert Communist Propaganda Art museum were a constant source of stimulation.
Only an hour and a half by train outside the mega city, the water village of Suzhou gave a break from the hustle and bustle and offered beautiful gardens, ancient temples and Venice style waterways to while away an afternoon.
Getting around was simple (if a little squashed) on the vast and inexpensive subway system. Or, getting in amongst it with the locals by bus was a sweaty and surreal way to travel to school (but for 20p you can’t complain!). And, if all that racing around makes you hungry, there is food to cater for every palette (and most budgets).
A sprawling metropolis with more cosmopolitan attitudes than can be found elsewhere in communist China, Shanghai is clearly going places. Fast paced, with its sights firmly set on the future, Shanghai is a “must visit”– even just for a couple of days.