The trip was essentially our very first to China. We both had been to Hong Kong a couple of times and I to Shenzhen for a couple of days too, but these don’t count. Not in the way I count this Shanghai trip as our first.
The question ‘Why?’ would be foremost on many people’s minds. Why, indeed, since China is not expensive for us Singaporeans to travel to, and we could both communicate effectively in Mandarin Chinese. Blame it on preconceived prejudices that run way deep, I reckon. My trip to Shenzhen at pre-university age was not pleasant; there were countless child beggars with missing limbs strategically positioned along the streets most visited by tourists. Frustrations aside, from taking twice or thrice the amount of time to clear one length of the street while trying to dodge the beggars, the senseless scene disturbed me profoundly.
To make matters worse, I was travelling with my family back in the mid-90s when international tourism in China was just picking up for the common folk. Most people knew next to nothing about the new China, and all my parents have heard (or read) were horror stories of how we had to behave with absolute decorum at all times, especially in front of the immigration officers, or we might be charged with contempt of the law etc. Suffice to say that I was deeply scarred.
Also, the national habit of spitting simply horrified me. Never knew if they were going to spit on my shoes, or if I was going to step on someone’s spit as I walked by. It was like being in an area full of land mine, trying to dodge both the land mines and bullets at the same time.
And their toilets. Oh, where do I even begin? I simply cannot take dirty toilets, and it’s to the extent that I would avoid drinking water (if the area has a reputation of having dirty toilets) so that I do not have to go. Inevitably I get sick often during travel from not drinking enough water. China definitely has a reputation, so I hear.
The mister bears with my prejudices despite wanting to visit many places in China, the same way I bear with his prejudices about other countries. The fact that I would have suggested visiting Shanghai without any prompting was a beautiful coincidence to him. Nevermind that he wasn’t entirely interested in the destination (reputed to be commercialised when he is more interested in mountains and historical relics etc.) but hey, at least it was a start.
Fast forward to our time in Shanghai. I found myself breathing in light, shallow breaths as we neared the immigration checkpoints, fearing the stern-looking officers. To my immense relief, they were all smiles and trying to provide superior customer service. That came really as a pleasant surprise. I was ready to re-evaluate China as a tourist destination with fresh eyes. Until we got to interact with the locals…
The rampant spitting still exists, somewhat to a lesser extent. Many foreigners believe that spitting in China is a habit reserved only for un-class, uncouth and uneducated Chinese. Wrong. You cannot be more wrong. My observation is, even the classy and educated ones spit. However, the hope lies in the younger generation, whom I have observed to rarely indulge in the disgusting habit. Let’s hope that in a decade or so, this unhygienic habit would have totally been eradicated in most parts of China. A girl can always dream.
But the toilets have definitely improved. I can’t tell if it’s a nationwide improvement, restricted only to Shanghai, or even just confined to the more ‘touristy’ places we visited. In the very least, I needn’t worry about having to go when we were out and not anywhere near the hotel.
Sadly though, I found something new that I… needed some getting used to – the road traffic situation. Not the peak traffic jams, which Shanghai is notorious for, but the way they liberally sound their honks. The first day I was there, I jumped several times because vehicles driving by honked at us (when we were clearly not in the way). By and by, we learnt to tell the difference between honks that say ‘Caution, I’m here’ or ‘Danger!’. While walking around Shanghai, rarely a minute passed by us without any honking. That was a major culture shock to me because as a driver, I don’t think I have sounded the honk more than once for every of the 15 years I drove. You would think that it is a result of aggressive and intolerant driving, but no. We had taken cabs rather frequently while in Shanghai and I have to say in spite of the honking, the drivers are actually highly tolerant, even of some incredibly ridiculous manoeuvres I saw on the roads.
A word of advice: the traffic lights seemed to be installed on the roads only as a ‘reference’ and not expected to be followed (at least in Shanghai it seems to be so). We have seen cars driving pass pedestrian crossings even when the lights were red for them, and pedestrians were crossing. In similar fashion, the locals cross the roads as and when they like to, even when the lights were red for pedestrian crossing. Seeing how some of the locals crossed the roads made us wonder if the excessive honking on the drivers’ parts is actually warranted, and necessary. In other words, anything goes: everyone operates like the traffic lights are non-existent. The mister very aptly coined a phrase for this phenomenon (which we needed getting used to) – Who Dares, Win.
So, will there be more trips to China in the future? You bet.
Ever since acquiring the iPhone, I’ve been diligent in maintaining our overseas expense records whenever we travel, right down to the last dollar spent. Otherwise I would not have been able to track our expenses in such great detail.
|Air Tickets (Singapore <-> Shanghai)||1,251.60|
|Accommodation (for 5 Nights)||1,500.00|
|Shopping & Sightseeing||550.00|
Hopefully this gives you an indication of how inexpensive it can be to explore Shanghai. If omiting our air fare, accommodation and my S$300 splurge on buying souvenir beads for my travel Pandora bracelet, we would have spent an average of S$100 per person per day. Considering how we were still eating well and travelling mostly via taxi in the last three days, this is cheap by any standard.
And with this post, I wrap up the series of posts dedicated to our 6-day whirlwind trip to Shanghai and its vicinity. For the first time, the related posts were completed within a month after we returned from the trip. A feat no less, that required a phenomenal amount of dedication and concentration considering how easily I get distracted and bored. I guess it helped that I was feeling inspired to write. It has been a fun ride, and I hope you enjoyed reading the
7 8 posts as much as I enjoyed writing (and the mister vetting) them.