We were up early to get to the train station on time. Not a bad experience; the station itself was a little more confusing than I’d expected, but we found our way to the gate – train stations here are run quite similar to airports. The security screening wasn’t nearly as delaying as we’d been warned, so we had time to pick up sandwiches in case the onboard catering was as bad as we’d heard.
There are three classes of travel on the high-speed trains and we had booked the middle one, confusingly called, “First Class” (the premier class being Business Class…). As a result we got wider seats (a 2-2, rather than a 3-2 configuration) and some complimentary snacks.
The cabin crew were all female and had basic English, which made our lives easier. They also all had earpieces in, which made them look slightly sinister. Whilst taking a picture of the train speed display, I inadvertently caught the forehead of one of them in shot. She spotted me and asked me to delete the picture even though she saw I’d only caught the top of her head. Elsewhere, civilians have been very relaxed about me taking their picture.
Outside of Beijing there was a definite haze to the air as the pollution returned, but the landscape looked oddly familiar. The scenery we passed once we were out of the city could easily have been England, with little obviously distinctive about the buildings or the vegetation. The only thing out of place were the billboards on tall pillars beside highways; that was very American. It got more hilly around Nanjing, one of only two stops we made along the route to Shanghai.
Although the complimentary snack pack and tea were nice enough, the disposable bento box meal I bought for lunch (¥65/£6.50), which looked very appetising, was almost totally tasteless. I’m glad we’d picked up the sandwiches at the station.
We pulled into Shanghai right on time and before exiting the platform, we went up to the end of the train to grab a picture with the bullet-shaped driver’s cab. Much like Beijing – and I suppose any major railway station – once off the platforms, it was mayhem. Signage was good though and we had no trouble finding the taxi rank. It was harder to convince the taxi touts that we didn’t want their car, even if they said it had a meter! The queue for the taxis was at least 500m long, but moved at such a pace that it wasn’t a problem. As Brett observed as we approached the end; the Chinese could teach London stations a thing or two about loading taxis efficiently.
The licensed cab cost us just ¥85/£8.50 to the centre of town from the station on the western edge of town (part of the same complex as the airport, incidentally!) The Greenland Jiulong Hotel was really rather nice and our room on the eighteenth floor had a reasonable view over the city centre. We arrived in good time to get unpacked and relax a little before the 6pm welcome meeting which was the official start of our tour.
We met the leader and the other members of the group in the lobby and headed across the road to a restaurant for the bulk of the welcome meeting and dinner. We are only nine with ourselves, Peter, our tour leader, Andrew and Grace, a young Australian couple, Neil and Arpie, an Australian couple nearer our age, Breda (short for Bridget-Anne), a nurse from Ireland who’s been doing volunteer work in Vietnam and Brian an IT worker from London.
After dinner we took a walk from the hotel along to the Bund; the famous Shanghai skyline. A few members of another Intrepid tour starting today accompanied us and, talking to them, I think we got the better deal in travelling companions!
The Bund by night is quite spectacular; almost Las Vegan (have I just made up an adjective?) in its bright lights and varied architecture. Sadly though the pervasive haze of pollution made it really difficult to get good photographs of any of it. It must look incredible on a clear night.
Back at the hotel before bed, we came across an English-language Chinese news channel and watched a while. I was surprised how obviously partial the commentary was; we saw two articles, one about a collector of memorabilia of The War of Japanese Aggression – the Second World War – and one about the new design of early-warning aircraft the Chinese air force have just revealed to the press. Throughout, the commentary gave the impression of a noble country under siege and preparing for armed assault by other nations. On the one hand, I wondered whether this slant is noticed by the Chinese people, on the other, I wondered if they might notice a slant in our news that I am completely oblivious to.