Cycling to Gdog’s - China (Part 1 - Shanghai)

9 minute read

Within my first couple of days in Shanghai I already had enough material to write a post. Coming from the idyllic Japan, Shanghai is virtually the opposite in every way. Gone are the polite greetings and thank you's, the orderly queuing, clean streets, and high ratio of beautiful girls walking around. Instead it's replaced with bad smells, litter, barging, crossing on green lights, driving on red lights, street touts (no I don't want massage or lady sex!) and beautiful girls but at a far lower ratio. Carrying my bike-in-a-box into central Shanghai was an interesting experience, one I don't intend on repeating (it blocked up the metro scanning machine as the box was too big and a staff member had to crawl in to get it out) as the metro is often as busy as a typical London rush hour on the tube! Despite all the above, it's what makes Shanghai not necessary a beautiful place, but an interesting place. There are few sights to see, rather the experience is in the people, the streets, the prostitutes and the vast array of shopping.

Walking Around Solo

"No, no massagie"
"Yes massagie"
"No massagie"
"Very cheap massagie, lots of girls"
"No f*cking massagie"
"Ah f*cking, many f*cking, yes, lady sex, bro job"

Whenever I walked around Nanjing Road by myself, as a relatively tall westerner I would immediately draw attention from all the touts. Walking 500m down Nanjing Road will on average equate to around a dozen approaches, and the same when walking back (to the hostel). After about approach number twenty it becomes frustrating (hence the above dialogue). Some of the touts I really wanted to punch in the face (male touts that is!). Massage, "lady sex", iPad, iPhone, watches, are the typical things offered. They usually start at one end of the list and work their way through each one just in case you don't want a fake iPad but might want sex with a whore. Virtually every tout does this. The most effective remedy is to completely ignore them.

The other type of tout you often come across are people trying to befriend you and go for a drink to improve their English. The drink(s) being at your expense of course! I found saying I was tired and heading back to sleep was a great way of getting rid of them. On some occasions you could actually catch the change in their face from friendliness to disgust. After a few days many of the touts started to recognise and ignore me. I still got hassled but no where near as much as when I first arrived.

One of the "ladies of the night", Hannah (her night time name), became quite friendly with me (not in that sense). An attractive late twenties typical Chinese girl, she did try persuading me for a massagie for the first couple of days (I said no), but after that would recognise me walking around and come over for a friendly chat and some banter about white guys. One one occasion as she came over, before she had the chance to say anything I offered her "massagie, iPad, iPhone, man-sex". This went down a treat and after she'd finally stopped laughing I got the response, "I like you, you very funny, good looking. I wanna marry you". The first girl ever to say that to me... and she's a prostitute, great. It'd didn't quite have the romantic feel of Pretty Woman.

Getting Lazy

I ended up staying an additional five days in Shanghai. In part because of problems organising the trip ahead, but also because I was getting lazy. It took me quite a few days before I ventured out onto the Chinese roads with my bike and even then I wasn't quite as confident as I normally would be. I think it was a mixture of nervousness (of the Chinese roads) and tiredness of travelling (tiredness in the had enough sense). I think the tiredness has arisen out of frustration from travelling off the bike. Travelling by bicycle is great until you need to take a train or flight, then the problems start. In my case injuries too (a burning sensation in my left shoulder blade) from carrying around so much weight. It does make me feel like skipping India or doing India but skipping Thailand as it would result in two fewer flights. Hmmm...

Getting Organised

Havaianas simply do not exist in Shanghai. I walked for several hours searching various plazas. [wiki]Plaza 66[/wiki] on Nanjing Road (West) was quite an experience. Never before have I seen so many high class shops, Bvlgari, Dior, Tiffany's, Armani... you name a brand it is there. I felt a bit out of place in my cycle shorts, dry-fit top and flip-flops. If you walk a few blocks you'll often find the aforementioned stores in another shopping mall, they are dotted around almost as much as Starbucks!

Having given up on buying some new Havaianas (mine were splitting), I went in search of sunblock. Watson's is the best shop for toiletries and creams but at 93Y (£9) for a small bottle of SPF30 it is incredibly expensive. In the UK you can buy 4x as much for the same price. From asking around the Chinese tend not to use sunblock like we do. It's more of an exclusive thing, in fact the hostel girls found it strange that I would want sunblock in September (it's still 30C+ here though!). Telling them I needed it otherwise I look like a tomato ended their usefulness as it had them in hysterics.

Next up I had to find a road map of southern China. My GPS is not very accurate in China (out by 300-800m usually) and the Open Street Map of China I have offers little detail anyway. Going from book store to book store all I could find were maps of the north though! It is like they don't care about the southern provinces. I had to settle for a road atlas of the whole country which only really details highways.

Ticket To Fuzhou

Finally I had to book my train ticket out of Shanghai to the city where I would start cycling, Fuzhou. This proved to be the hardest task of all given how good (sarcasm) Chinese customer service is. In China taking a bicycle on a train is a difficult thing to do as you can't get a consistent answer as to what the rules and regulations are. On my first visit to Hongqiao station (via metro), I was told I could not in any way take my bicycle on the train. I decided to buy a ticket and would post my bicycle separately via the luggage service that most train stations offer. For my second visit I cycled the 20km to Hongqiao station only to find out there is no luggage service at that station (the one I should have gone to was Shanghai Railway Station in the north of Shanghai and 15km less distance!). Before cycling the 20km back (!) I did wheel my bike around all of the three floors in Hongqiao, via escalator (I was told no, but once you're on an escalator what can they do) and visited four information desks. I was told by the fourth and final information desk that I would be able to take my bicycle on the D379 (fast) train. They even walked around the desk to inspect my bicycle. The rules, I have since found out state that my luggage may not be longer than 130cm, which my bicycle definitely is. More on this further down...

Open Bar Nights

A common thing in Shanghai are the cheap open bar nights. £5-10 entry and you can drink all you want for around 6 hours. They have a predefined drinks menu with plenty of choice. It's obviously great value, but much like Roppongi in Tokyo, full of westerners. On the two occasions I went out it was a 70/30 split in favour of westerners, which meant it didn't really feel like I was in China. In that respect I didn't find it a great experience and my nights in Kunming (during my first trip to China) were a far better as Al and I were the only westerners in the clubs.

The first of my open bar nights was randomly spent with seven Finnish people, all studying or working in Shanghai. Two of which were Chinese girls that had moved to Finland (wouldn't have thought Chinese people would move there), so were fluent in Finnish, English and Mandarin. It was an interesting group to mix with and I heard many jokes about the Swedish (apparently they are all gay).

Lessons In Chinese

Given my additional time in Shanghai I decided the time could be spent learning Chinese. As usual the hostel was run by a gang of Chinese girls. One of which was Maya (I have forgotten her Chinese name) a cute little Chinese girl with [wiki]Lego[/wiki]-man hair (a Chinese compliment) and another girl called Yan Ping who both helped me with my pronunciation and Chinese symbols. Tones are the hardest part when first learning the language as they are rarely used in the English language, so take some getting used to.

For example the Chinese word "Shi" (pronounced Shrrrr to add further confusion). The "i" can have four different accents over it, / (tone upwards), \ (tone downwards), V (up-down-up tone), - (flat tone). In the respective order, "Shi" can mean 1) Ten, 2) Yes, 3) Sh*t, 4) Wet (I think). That's crazy. And given "Yes" and "Ten" (when counting the Chinese say 2-10 for twenty, 3-10 for thirty etc...) are two words you use all the time, you have to be careful you're not going around saying "sh*t" to everyone! What I found even harder, and much to the frustration of Maya, was that when I asked her to go through each tone type they would all sound the same! The easiest way I can explain them in English terms is saying "yeh", "yah", "yer" in terms of pronunciation.

Leaving Shanghai

After just over a week in Shanghai, I was set to continue my journey. I woke up at 0600 in order to get ready and make the 20km cycle to Hongqiao railway station in time for my 0900 train. Everything went to plan. Once at the station I had to use the cleaners entrance at the east wing road-side entrance (they insanely lock every other door on that side), which was blocked. A quick unload, scramble over some padlocked together wheelie-bins and reload of the bike and I was going again. Up the escalators, through the scanning machine and over to the enquiry desk. I did get stopped on the way and told "no bicycle" but I just pointed at the enquiry desk and they let me continue. The girls at the desk were very helpful. I was guided to the train which only has one place to store a bicycle (possibly two). In the very front carriage, behind the drivers cabin and the first seat is a fair gap to fit a bicycle. You do need to store it vertically. To make this easier, I removed my pedals, turned my handlebars and removed my front wheel. I then wedged the bike in vertically. Success! Luckily my seat was in the first carriage too (if you plan on doing the above ask for a seat reservation in carriage 1) so I was within viewing distance of my bike. Six hours later I was in Fuzhou cycling the 20km into the city centre!

All the photos can be found on my Photos Map of China.