Friday, 4 May 2012


This post should have been entitled "Shanghai to Glasgow" and the reason it is not will soon become apparent. Den den den... The breakfast buffet mostly consisted of hot, Chinese fare and while my co-diners wolfed down three course meals, I plumped for the only 'white food' on offer - toast and croissants. The service was awful, but I suppose one just has to accept different levels of courtesy, eye contact and facial movements when in foreign lands. I was seated at a table occupied by a young woman who didn't look at me once, which I found uncomfortable considering we were the only two diners at that table and sitting directly opposite each other. I decided never to return to this heathen land. I thought there was plenty of time before my flight and paid no heed to the word "London" in the PA announcement. I've missed several flights before and will, in all probability, miss several more in the future. I loathe queues and love dreaming; a catastrophic combination. When I rolled up at the gate, it was closed. I woke up then alright. My protestations fell on deaf ears and were met with impassive expressions. A woman motioned to the plane, which sat there the other side of a pane of glass, and explained the doors were closed. I pleaded and pleaded. Nothing doing. "My wife's aving a baby!" Nothing. They wouldn't put me on the plane, but they got my bike OFF the plane though! Maybe they thought it contained a bomb and I'd missed the flight on purpose. So, I returned to this heathen land... The next flight to London was not for two days. Two whole days. My mind played back the fateful dreamtime saga over and over. Maybe I was an aboriginie in a previous life and this also explains my penchance for going 'cycleabout'. The security people told me I would have to stump up 1,000 Yuan for the privilege of staying in the People's Republic for a further two nights, paybale on departure. I had no idea how much this amounted to. However, somehow no extra fee was required for another plane seat. The only other things to sort out were to (a) email Laura and tell her not to pick me up at the airport tonight and (b) sort out accommodation. To do this I needed wi fi and this is not an easy task in a huge, busy Chinese airport. Eventually I found the business centre, where I could borrow an ethernet cable to enable a good connection. Phew! The email was easily dealt with, but the accommodation... I didn't want to pay for a hotel... Would I be able to access the Couchsurfing website? Den den den. It worked! Phew phew phew! By placing a couch request, I knew the welcoming words of the lovely, generous folks on there would soon give me the warm fuzzies - and so they did. Max was the first to reply, just a few minutes later, and I took him up on the offer straight away. He supplied his address and the business centre staff gave me a street map. First of all I took the bike to left luggage, where it only cost 100 Yuan for 48 hours (conveniently 1 quid = 10 Yuan). Especially coming from Oz, everything seems dirt cheap here - and the maximum subway fare is 70p. I didn't see a single Westerner on any of the three trains. It took two hours to get from airport to suburb and they looked close on the map. According to Wikipedia, as I found out later, Shanghai is the most populous city on earth. At 23 million, give or take a couple, there are more people here than in the whole of Australia. A local helped me to find my way and accompanied me on the journey, which was much like the London Tube and just as packed. The man's name of course was unpronouncable, but he said everyone who learns English is given a pseudoymn (like the Taiwanese in Cairns) and his was Fred. Fred worked on an oil rig 28 days on, 28 days off, and he was presently en route to his wife in Beijing, a 13 hour overnight train journey. He was crazy about Britain, its history and language; and untypically friendly. Surfaced at the subway station to be greeted to my first proper view of Shanghai : highrises in every direction, noise, people everywhere, rubbish, dirt, fog and drizzle. Luckily the street signs were in English as well as Chinese characters and I was able to follow the map to Max's apartment on the 15th floor (only halfway up) of one of the highrises. Many people travel by bicycle and moped, none of whom have lights or obey traffic lights. Drivers honk their horns repeatedly, pedestrians shout back, but somehow it seems to work; although saying that, Max told me later he had witnessed many accidents. Max's address included a room number and, although bludgers can't be choosers, I was worried it might literally be a room in a student flat or something and I would be sleeping on the floor. It was actually a nice flat and I had my own room. Max told me another surfer had just vacated the bed that morning, but "He didn't seem too ugly" and he had no clean duvet covers. Like I care about stuff like that. Max is a German urban design student (hence his misuse of the word ugly) and is currently writing his thesis as part of an exchange between Berlin and Shahghai universities. He told me how emails are rigorously checked for dissent by the state and that another student who criticized Chinese architectural plaguarism was paid a visit by the police. He whisked me off to a Chinese supermarket (I say Chinese, because there are many other nation's food stores here) and my camera was kept busy with the alien foodstuffs, such as vast arrays of seaweed, mushrooms, beef jerky, dried fruits and tofu. I couldn't find any sweets that were familiar and there was literally only one brand of chocolate! Max delighted my senses with a spicy vegetarian feast, a medley of weird plants and nuts, followed by even weirder lychees. In the bathroom the toilet roll had no roll (ie it only consisted of paper and had no hole) and what it is it with the peeing mirrors in this country? One last look at the view from my window, which, at night, was straight out of Bladerunner, and then a much-needed sleep.

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