I had never been to Shanghai, or China for that matter. Naturally, when I learned a friend of mine was moving there for a few months I was intrigued. And more than willing to play travel buddy. So, that’s exactly what I did.
Chinese visa? Check. Cheapest airfare possible between Paris and Shanghai? Double check. Experience in the art of miming in order to communicate? Well, I moved to Paris without speaking a word of French, so I was pretty sure I could manage. Plus I had a friend with me. We would be like the blind leading the blind, but hey, it’d be an adventure.
As we settled into our overnight flight, we met our first encounter with the culture of another kind. We were flying China Eastern, and the majority of the other passengers were Chinese. I had never in my life ever seen a mad rush to the duty free shopping cart, but I swear people were crowding and hovering over seats to make their purchases for over an hour. All this for perfume? I’d pass, but I would take another glass of wine to settle in and hopefully fall asleep. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen either… as the kind stewardess informed me that “wine was finish” and was only served with dinner. Where’s Air France when you need them?
Excruciatingly long flight behind us, we arrived in Shanghai on one fine foggy morning. The place we were staying was in the Jing’an District, near the Jing’an Temple and plenty of modern shopping. Shanghai was like that – a funny mix of old and new, not really blending, but still contributing to the unique vibe of the city.
Now, our primary objective in being in Shanghai was to get my friend set up with an apartment. That didn’t mean we didn’t see some of the tourist spots as well. The Bund, for example, which is the waterfront area along the river. We even managed to squeeze in having tea at the oldest teahouse in Shanghai, in the Old Town Market. This was an interesting experience. I mean drinking tea is great, and I love the stuff. We were definitely those clueless tourists who had no idea what to do though (it’s not like I could read anything for hints… ). We must have sat there for over an hour, enjoying cup after cup after cup of steaming hot tea. With it being a steaming hot September day… sweaty is not a good look here. We figured eventually the tea leaves would run out and that would be it, but boy, those babies never seemed to run out!
Now as I mentioned our primary goal was to find an apartment for my friend to live in. This is hard when you don’t speak the language, and significantly more so when you can’t even begin to read or pronounce any of the words! Luckily, these things seem to work themselves out. There is a strong French presence in Shanghai (my favorite neighborhood is actually called the French Concession). One apartment we looked at was a sublet through a Frenchman and his Chinese girlfriend, so we were able to speak French with them. And, we did manage to mime somewhat successfully when English and French were not options. Most importantly, we did successfully find an apartment, with a day or so to spare. What to do?
After running all over the city, making apartment viewing appointments, opening a bank account, getting a cell phone number and all that other boring stuff that is involved with relocation, we decided to take it easy. We strolled. Through the city, to the river, stopping whenever and wherever we felt inclined. This was the absolute best way to spend my last days in Shanghai with my best friend – this is what we always did in Paris. We walked the day away, ending up near the river just before the sun went down.
The view across the Huangpu River to the city skyline is breathtaking. During daylight it’s quite impressive, but it’s during the night that it really shines. Literally. The lights of the buildings provide a striking backdrop to your evening stroll, or as the focal point of any rooftop bar in the area.
Yes… my first trip to China was a whirlwind. I had no idea what to expect from Shanghai, but I can tell you this. Even in the middle of this highly modernized and advanced city, it felt like an adventure. Almost made returning to life in France look too easy. Minus that 12-hour flight that is.