Auckland to Shanghai
By air and river
We've done a lot of travelling out east but China is a place we've never visited and have only briefly passed through Hong Kong. The World Heritage-listed Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River, Terracotta Warriors and Great Wall have all long been on the bucket list and our fantastic travel agent put together a great itinerary where we could do that plus a few of the other "must see" attractions in China. The China part of the trip was with Viking River Cruises, who have a well-deserved reputation for excellence. For Hong Kong on the return leg, we did our own thing. All this in late May and June for a celebration of our 47th wedding anniversary, albeit a few weeks early.
I bloody detest long haul flying, not because I have a phobia or anything like that. Living at the bottom of the world a long way from anywhere has some distinct advantages but inevitably means that any substantial travel involves sitting on your butt for hours at a time, going quietly insane. There's only so many movies you can take in or similar before getting terminally bored or seizing up. Odds on that it's an economy class passenger with long legs who finally invents a Star Trek - type matter transporter. He or she will have the gratitude of humanity for eternity. Jennie and I are way past putting up with ageing bodies taking a hiding in long haul economy. A solid 18 hours non-stop to Doha on our way to Kenya and Tanzania convinced us of the benefits of business class on that flight so it's the same again up to China and Hong Kong for our latest adventure. It may be a bit pricey but at least we can hit the ground running when we get there, rather than being knackered through jet lag and cramped seating. The following photos in each part of this trip are just a tiny selection of the 800-odd we took altogether. Definitely a case of what to leave out!
Auckland-Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific - don't waste your time watching the movie shown on the screen - it's crap!
The trip to Shanghai involved a leg to Hong Kong lasting a bit over 11 hours, an overnighter in the airport hotel, then a "redeye" flight to Shanghai very early the next morning. We arrived in HK and headed for the carousel to pick up our luggage. After a lengthy wait and a no-show, it was unfortunately discovered that our stuff had been checked straight through to Shanghai - bugger! No point in getting upset so we had a laugh and made do with what was in our back packs, which wasn't much. After about 4 hours sleep, we got on another flight feeling a bit second-hand and arrived in Shanghai, not exactly smelling of roses!
Viking had organised a 5 star hotel in Shanghai (the Westin Bund Centre) which was seriously good in every respect and it was only a short walk to the Bund and Yangtze River. Shower, drink, meet some other people assembling for the cruise, meal, bed!
Bathroom with a view - everything was marble!
Next morning, we met our escort Iowa (which sounded phonetically like his Chinese name Aihua Xian). What an absolute legend he turned out to be throughout the holiday. Excellent self-taught English, totally organised and nothing was too much trouble. He also had a very sharp sense of humour and was quite happy to poke fun at both himself and us - much laughter over the whole trip! The other thing which was perhaps surprising but immensely refreshing was his transparency. If asked contentious questions (politics for example), he was quite happy to discuss them from his personal viewpoint. This helped our understanding immensely and was a great means of building bridges. An outstanding ambassador for both his company and country. What we particularly liked was Iowa's low-key approach. Wherever possible after a good briefing, he gave us time to do our own thing rather than feeling shepherded everywhere.
A walk along the Bund revealed a thoroughly modern city with great architecture and equally impressive infrastructure such as roading. Temperatures were in the low 30's C with relatively low humidity so walking about wasn't a trial. There was no obvious pollution whilst we were there - more about this further on. Oh, and another thing....... the standard of cleanliness in towns and cities wherever we went was exceedingly high. I'd say higher than the average western equivalent.
View from the Bund
A wall of living plants several hundred metres long on the Bund
Example of architecture - retro Gothic in this case?
The rate of progress was starling - no mucking about once development decisions were made. Where the land on which old privately-owned dwellings stood was required for development, it appeared that a fair price was offered straight up to the homeowner rather than trying to screw them or try for compulsory purchase like many countries including NZ. This enabled rapid progress. No way to verify this without further digging.
A visit to the old quarter of Shanghai followed which was a real delight with some of the structures being several hundred years old.
The aquatic equivalent of a street cleaner!
Tranquility in the middle of a city with a population of 26 million
Local Dim sum takeaway - yummm!
Next, it was off to a factory which made silk products, principally high end embroidered pictures and carpets. The standard of work was breathtaking with individual pieces taking between a few months and a year depending on size and complexity.
Working on an embroidery of carp
The range of subject matter was huge, a case of something for all tastes. Jennie and I tend towards simplicity and elegance, somewhat towards Japanese traditions. The embroidery below took our breath away. Seemingly simple, it was made up of several hundred slightly different shades of silk thread to achieve an almost 3D effect. One of the most beautiful pieces of work we'd ever seen and the photo doesn't do it any form of justice. Apparently, it took over 6 months to complete. The asking price of about US$6000 might seem expensive but not for the time taken and the fact that it's a one-off piece of art. Approximately 0.75 of a metre high. We bought something far smaller and more modestly-priced!
An absolute masterpiece
Weaving a silk rug
Colourful collection of silk fans
Next stop was Shanghai Museum. We both love museums but seeing artifacts from 5,000 years of Chinese culture was something special. The museum was huge so we just concentrated on the ceramics, bronzes and jade sections. Here are a few representative photos from the stunning collections. And most of this was when most of western civilisation was barely above barbarian level!
Jade dragon, barely over an inch long
Ceramic platter, about 3/4 metre in diameter - breathtaking
Beautiful engraving on a bronze vessel
I took the following photo just as we were leaving the museum. With my interest in motorcycles, I noticed that a motorcycle cop had pulled over an electric bicycle rider rider and appeared to be booking him. It certainly wouldn't be for speeding. Other than the cop's bike, I only saw one other internal combusion-engined bike in Shanghai - a 1250cc Suzuki. Everything else on 2 wheels was electric-powered - scooters by their thousands. It would seem to be a deliberate policy to reduce pollution.
Let's have a look at your details, lad!
Separate lanes for scooters and bicycles - protective gear doesn't appear to be a requirement
That ends our stay in Shanghai and the next day was a flight to Wuhan to begin the Yangtze cruise. However, before starting on that, some general thoughts.
It really was a great surprise to see how quickly China was modernising with great architecture and infrastructure which would match the best anywhere. Clearly, positive steps were being taken to address automotive pollution issues. Driving standards were interesting. When changing lanes, indicators were rarely used but everyone kept a decent gap. It seemed accepted practice and apparently, there's no road rage. Young Chinese in particular dressed the same as young people in the west and all had mobile phones glued to their ears. Everyone we met was friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Food was outstanding. We love Asian food anyway but the variety available would suit most tastes. We tried some "unusual" food items just to say we'd done it and suffered no adverse consequences at all!
Oh, and a comment about using the internet. China has some restrictions on what can be accessed through the internet, partially or largely due to the current trade sanction tit for tat with the US. I was aware of this before leaving NZ and knew that it would affect my Gmail account. I therefore installed a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on my phone to get round the problem. I chose Express VPN as it got good reviews. It worked just fine in Shanghai but for the rest of the trip, it was either patchy or non-existent. Disappointing, but given the relatively low cost; not a really big deal.
Bye bye, Shanghai!
Next - on to Wuhan.