Six months in Asia travel blog

The Bund

The Peoples' Park

Pudong skyline at night

Zhujiajiao

Zhujiajiao


And so it ends as it began. Shanghai, like Hong Kong, is a metropolis devoted to lucre, with huge skyscrapers and ugly modern buildings, not to mention terrible food. Plus there's the usual hassle, with the specialty here being girls who try to lure single men to bars where they then get ripped off with exorbitant bills. But - hang on - isn't Shanghai in China, a supposedly Communist country?

The only real evidence you still get throughout China that it is a one party state, apart from the hideous architecture, is the fact that you can still see a lot of older people dressed in Mao suits and caps and sporting red star armbands. But take a stroll down the Bund and you could be anywhere in the world. The fabulous Art Deco buildings are now dwarfed by the tall glittery structures of the new development, Pudong, on the opposite side of the river. Most of the retail outlets are foreign. If you crave Starbucks, Subway or KFC, you'll be happy.

The weather has been unpredictable, almost British. May Day was scorching hot which made the crowds even more unbearable, but other days it's been cold and miserable. My last day, though, has been very pleasant and I took a day trip to a small historic water town, Zhujiajiao, just an hour away from Shanghai. It was, well, quite nice, which kind of sums up my whole China experience.

It's not a holiday here today and yet the numbers of people thronging through the narrow streets were similar to what you might expect in a town in the Cotswolds on August Bank Holiday Monday. Away from the tourist traps it was possible to find some quiet. After wandering for an hour trying to find a place to eat that looked nice and was reasonably priced, I finally found a cafe by a little canal. The charm was there, for sure, but you have to search hard, like all of China, and in fact by the main ancient bridge I saw a vast new complex of retail outlets built of grey concrete, so even there things are changing fast.

Admittedly, I haven't seen much of the countryside during the past month, which I regret and my impressions of the country might have been different. As it is, I feel that there is not a lot I can say about my time in China which is positive. I've stayed in some nice hostels and met some very nice individuals along the way. However, I've also found the people en masse to be rude and impolite. I came here to learn more about the history and culture of the place and I've certainly done that. Many of the museums are world-class and house some amazing artefacts. And yet, in general, most of the heritage has been re-packaged and admission prices are exorbitant. More often than not, places are little more than tourist traps.

Am I glad I came? Yes, because I think it's always fascinating to travel somewhere, good or bad, and make up your own mind about a place. It also puts everything else into context.

Would I come back? Not in a hurry. I'd love to visit the southwest as well as the northwest and explore the old route of the Silk Road, but I certainly won't be making a special visit to China.

I'm taking the boat to Osaka in Japan tomorrow and it's a two-day journey. When I checked the onboard menu on the website. I was horrified to learn that the chefs are from Shanghai. Oh no! Luckily, I've just found an M&S food hall and stocked up on supplies. So maybe I shouldn't complain about all this Western commercial influence after all...



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