My first stop, when I left Sydney three years ago with bright eyes and romantic notions of the European life I was winging my way towards (and wearing an excellent poncho I have since mislaid in my capacious German cellar) was Shanghai. I had arranged, with a peculiar slipper-wearing landlord whose English name, I dimly recall, was Frank, to stay in an apartment (room) on some insanely high level of a hotel.
I remember getting off the plane and feeling extremely in control. I’m not entirely sure why. I was 25 and moving myself to a non-English speaking country, with nothing but a bag, a wing, and a prayer, but I think we can call that feeling of being extremely in control ‘The Benefits of Having No Idea.’ Or it was the poncho. Or I actually was in perfect control of my one bag and expanded that feeling to just general control of life, who knows.
I had done as someone had wisely instructed, and had the name of my accommodation written on a piece of paper because, while excellent at many things – making tea, reading – my Mandarin is sub par. As the cab whisked me away from Shanghai’s airport and the city loomed, as only a massive city of millions can loom, a few bubbles popped in my stomach. It was happening, I was unterwegs.
I wrote this, after my first day there;
It’s big. Driving into the city from the airport (a pleasantly inexpensive $35 trip) the sheer breadth of Shanghai, outlined by bright, blinking lights, made itself known. Within the rings of fluorescence stood pockets of tall, dark apartments, squares of light silhouetting rows of clothes, airing in the windows. The roads are wide, the cars ostensibly unhindered by speed limits. It’s a suitably exhilarating introduction to the city.
It’s hot. Too hot to eat, too hot to drink, too hot to sweat. It’s a heavy, thick heat – over 50% humidity – that doesn’t let up, well into the soupy nights. Clothes are entirely unsuitable for this sort of weather, something the men remedy by pulling their tee shirts up over their stomachs. Slippery limbed, I had to return to my room today to recover my composure and stick my head in a fridge, before I bucked womanly modesty and pulled my own dress up over my stomach.
It’s busy. Of course. There are a lot of people (Shanghai has a population of around 18 million) but the city ably copes with large roads and wide footpaths. Bar the wondrous little alleys, full of indiscernible treasures, everything is on a big scale; to my mind, Shanghai seems to lack that overwhelming, jostled feeling of other, big Asian cities.
And so I strolled the Bund and dripped in sweat. I thought I’d have a car accident in a cab that drove like it had no driver. I got semi-mobbed on the Bund because I’m a big white person and then spent half an hour posing for photographs with grandparents, babies and school groups. I partook in a very lengthy misunderstanding with a cab driver when I tried to pronounce my accommodation and wound up on the other side of the city. I turned the tables and asked a family if I could photograph their insanely cute child. And I found Tianzifang, which is where we’re going today (because it’s Friday).