Scoop shanghaied in Shanghai – an innocent abroad


Greetings from an amazing city – one that I suspect leaves every city in the Southern Hemisphere for dead.
So, I missed the Expo with the long queues which finished after six months and 73 million visitors last Sunday.

Someone said the Chinese injected the upper atmopshere to ensure fine weather during the event. But it’s still fine, as I write – maybe it’s to keep the pictures from the HSBC Champion golf tournament looking good. Tiger Woods is in town for it and I’m catching up with him later for a few drinks and some partying. No, just kidding.
The city, perhaps because of the Expo, is surprisingly green, with gardens, trees and parks everywhere to break up the tedium of the traffic, crowds and skyscrapers – not that some of them don’t have amazing architecture. 

One of Shanghai’s tallest buildings is topped by a bottle opener lookalike. 

I spent most of my past two days by The Bund – that collection of century-old European buildings by the Hangpo River, many of them housing flash bars. 

It’s fascinating watching a gang of gardeners repair browned-off grass around a statue with instant grass – no one’s allowed on public lawns around here. 

There are street cleaners everywhere – and uniformed guards at most doorways, though you don’t feel oppressed as such. 

Perhaps more oppressive are the touts. As a single white male, whose curly hair appparently adds appeal, you’re constantly accosted to buy something, especially watches. Walking along People’s Square there are touters even on rollerskates coming at you from all angles. 

I was conned by one young woman, Wei Wei who offered to take me anywhere – I suggested a bar. 
I bought a beer, she wanted a coke – she placed the order. Next thing a whiskey turns up, along with nuts, and water melon slices. Wei Wei then phones to invite a girlfriend – I say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going after this’. Then the barmaid turns up with a bill for about 650 Chinese RMB or $NZ130. I got Wei Wei to stump up a bit, but lesson learned. Somebody says I should have read Lonely Planet and I wouldn’t have been conned. 

At least the cabs are still cheap, though I chuckle when an automated voice goes: “Please fasten your seatbelt” when there aren’t any buckles. 

My other piece of advice in Shanghai is to always have your intended address written down in Chinese characters – cabbies seem to speak zilch English. 

Even then I was twice deposited a block or two away from my designated destination, and once a cabbie looked at my hotel address and refused to take me.

How more people aren’t bumped off their bike – often loaded to the gunwales – or motorbike, in the frenetic traffic, heaven knows. 

Classy vehicles abound – I was picked up in a Buick from the airport. Shops with international labels like Dolce & Gabana, Cartier and Hermes are everywhere. Most of the women are draped in the latest fashion. 

At the same time, signs of impoverishment are never far away – twice yesterday I saw people scavenge through rubbish bins. 

Samuel Johnson once said if you’re tired of London you’re tired of life. If he’d been around a few centuries later, methinks he’d have applied the saying to Shanghai.

– Mountain Scene chief news hound Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler flew to Hong Kong and China courtesy of Air New Zealand.