Posted November 5th, 2012, 04:38 PM
Last edited by barante; November 5th, 2012 at 04:51 PM
As Americans go to vote today, we are plowing toward Hong Kong. We are traveling through seemingly placid waters that will challenge the next U.S. president. Already, China claims sovereignty over several islands that today belong to Japan, a U.S. military ally. Similar disputes are in the offing with the Philippines.
These are contentious matters with complicated histories that merit serious study and discussion in some other forum. Just one example: Did you know that Taiwan, which Portuguese explorers named Formosa, once was under Japanese colonial rule? And that the samurai tradition is still celebrated there? Or that Chiang kaishek’s Nationalists, fleeing communists from the mainland, were seen as intruders, a fact that has resurfaced as a source of political tensions in today’s Taiwan?
With this introduction, I want to talk about Shanghai, whose own history included a defining period during which the British, Americans and French import/export companies ran what today is China’s largest city (pop: nearly 20 million), leaving behind the glorious landmark architecture of The Bund, that era’s commercial and financial riverside hub.
Any cruiser who has the chance should visit Shanghai. And stay there for a few extra days to witness one of the most exciting urban transformations of our times. Because in the past 20 years, Shanghai has become a leading global city. In that process, the marshes and farmland of Pudong, opposite to The Bund, have been transformed into a new millennial Manhattan, where futuristic skyscrapers keep rising like mushrooms.
There is no better way to see Shanghai than by taking one of several hop on/hop off tours. We bought a two-day pass from the Big Bus outfit for 300 yuan each. This admittedly was a steep price. But the service was frequent, the English narrative outstanding. Also included was a nighttime river cruise that left us in breathless, in awe. Because not only has Shanghai hired the world’s best architects to design those skyscrapers but also told them that lighting is an essential design element. From dusk to 10 p.m., when most lights are turned off to conserve energy, both sides of the Shanghai riverfront turn into a wonderland. The Bund bathes in neutral lighting; the Pudong side glitters like no other major city in the world. Buildings change colors; they are presented as works of light art; some are gigantic billboards.
While many big cities regulate or outright outlaw such garishness, Shanghai encourages it.
We flew to Shanghai from the U.S. on Delta. it was a long flight but Delta delivered and fed us three times. At the aiport, with the name of our hotel, Broadway Mansions, printed in Chinese, we headed for the taxi rank. After changing some money. For one third of what the cheapest agency would have charged for the pickup, we took a metered cab. Ended costing us 180 yuan, about 30 bucks. I gave the driver two bills. He gave me the change and printed a receipt. Smple. This is how it always works. Metered, no hanggling, no tips necesary. Always a printed receipt. Taxis are cheap. Use them, but always have your destination written in Chinese.
Similarly, when the time came, we asked Broadway Mansions reception to write the address in Chinese of the Wusong International Cruise Terminal. For 109 yuan, a fraction of what agencies would have charged, we were taken on a 40 minute ride from the hotel on The Bund to the port. The next day, after having overnighted on the ship, we took an early cab ride (16 yuan) to the nearest MRT station and then headed for the Pudong Airport by Metro. From there we took the magnetic levitation train back to Shanghai. it was a seven-mknute ride, with the train reaching the speed of 301 km/h. We then took the MRT back to Wusong, where a free Costa shuttle greeted us at the station and took us back to the ship.
All Shanghai MRT stations have station names in English. Announcements on trains also are made in English. Nevertheless, during our MRT travel, we experienced some confusion, our own. But at every juncture we were helped by someone who spoke English or just wanted to help. I want particularly to mention two young men wearing dark suits. Their English was minimal. But they simply whipped out their iPhones and, using the subway map on the screen, gave us the proper directions.
Here is the kicker, which ought to kick the next U.S. president in various ways: Wi-fi connectivity extends through all of Shanghai MRT Metro. Meaning that when you are underground, you can keep talking or searching. It is just one of the many things that is positioning China for a competitive edge.
A final note: The Wusong International Cruise terminal is what most lines use nowadays. A terminal along The Bund is only for river cruises. Some of our fellow passengers reported having gone there, only to be greeted by a sign telling them to continue to Wusong.