Posted by: Richard Marshall | June 14, 2013

Shanghai

Pudong Skyline

Pudong Skyline

After nearly six months I guess I really need to write up what I have been doing in Shanghai. It’s been a pretty hectic few months-after being so established and familiar with Ho Chi Minh City it feels strange to still be so far from really being settled here. Part of the reason for that is that Shanghai is just so much bigger – a day on the bike could cover pretty much everything in HCMC, but here there are still popular expat and tourist areas where I haven’t yet been. Not having the motorbike of course reduces my independence a lot, and though the metro is good there are usually long transfers to get anywhere. I also spend more time at work than I did before and work further away from the city centre than I did even in Vietnam. But though I still feel like I’m finding my way, the city is spectacular, I’ve made good friends, my job is…ok, and generally I’m loving being in China.

Me in the snow at Qibao old street

Me in the snow at Qibao old street

Arriving in winter was a bit of a shock to system after three years unbroken summer. The company I work for had us hitting the ground running – we were taken to a hotel, training began the next morning, we were helped to find an apartment and were working a normal schedule pretty much within two weeks. The job is fine. We teach lessons that are already prepared so there is not much original preparation. I don’t have my own classes as I did in Vietnam but teach whoever shows up for a particular class. This I guess is convenient for busy adults but is also a pity as I can’t monitor progress and build the same kind of relationships that I did with my Vietnamese students, though there are regulars who I have come to know quite well. It also sucks when I have teach the same lesson over and over again, as I do often. The students fortunately are mostly really nice people which makes the job a lot easier. The company is very much profit-oriented, and a lot of the time I feel like a cog in a corporate machine rather than an educator achieving much of value. There is a lot of management and they are for ever coming up with half-baked schemes, extra work and jargon-laden pronouncements from on high. But my colleagues and students are great and I do my job as well as I can so none of the rest of it really matters.

My apartment is a massive complex called Brilliant City. It is pretty much on the edge of central Shanghai. I am very comfortable here and it is convenient for work. Almost all my friends live within walking distance which is fantastic. Once my lease is up, though, I’d like to move somewhere more central. There aren’t really any good restaurants or bars nearby, and being on line 3/4 rather than line 1 is a pain, as the transfer to line 1 at Shanghai railway station – which I have to do for work everyday – is long, malodorous, and full of jostling migrant labours and homeless people sheltering. Ideally I’d like to move near line 1 or 2 in the future.

Keeping fit has been a bit of a challenge. I joined a gym for three months, but the spitting and smoking in the change rooms and the guys working out without shirts, shoes or towels eventually put me off the place. I’ve done a bit of running but still not regularly enough. I also bought a bicycle in the hopes of doing some exploring. So far my only trip has been up to Baoshan district to see the muddy, grey, smoggy mouth of the Yangtze river, which was cool but not really enough to keep me in shape. My progress in Chinese has also been disappointing so far – it’s fascinating but I’m just not finding the time or discipline to study often enough. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll start doing better…

The city is really spectacular. My first destination on one cold wintry afternoon was the Bund, with its awesome neo-classical and art deco colonial buildings on one side, and the massive Pudong skyline across the river. It was pretty grey and bleak in winter, but now summer is here and all the trees are in leaf it is really beautiful. Just south of the Bund is the old city, which seems to be entirely in the process of being ripped down for tower blocks. The main attraction here is Yu gardens, which has a famous teahouse and is now surrounded by a garish bazaar and seems always to be heaving with tourists and touts. It’s pretty enough but really a bit overwhelming. Just west of the Bund is People’s Square. This used to be the old British race track but now it kind of a civic centre and park complex – the city hall, theatre, museum and Urban Planning Exhibition Centre are all here. The museum is lovely – it’s great to be reminded that China is an ancient civilization amongst all the crazy building going on around everywhere. For that, though, the Urban Planning Exhibition is tremendous. It has a huge scale model of the city’s central districts, including buildings like the enormous Shanghai Tower which are still under construction. Around People’s Square there are also some cool Art Deco and colonial buildings.

Park Hotel, People's Square

Park Hotel, People’s Square

Tea house and tourists at Yu Gardens

Tea house and tourists at Yu Gardens

Old Town street

Old Town street

The former French concession is west of People’s Square. It has beautiful leafy streets, lots of Art Deco, fancy shops and great bars and restaurants. Some of my favourite spots so far, such as Shanghai Brewery, are here, but it’s also just nice to wander around and explore. Except for a trip to an old street at Qibao I haven’t been to any of Shanghai’s further-flung destinations. My only trip out of town so far has been to Huangshan, which hopefully I’ll write up next week. A friend of mine and I are headed to Hong Kong and Guangzhou at the end of the month which should be wonderful. After that I hope to do some more travelling, so hopefully I’ll write more often.

Leafy former French Concession street

Leafy former French Concession street


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