June 20, 2017


Here are some of my first impressions and photographs I took in Shanghai, where I'm based this summer.

How did it start? After I've experienced living in Europe and the US, I began to wonder: how's life in the east? As nothing beats a hands-on experience on that front, I was keen to see it on my own. This tendency escalated after I moved from the US to the Netherlands, which turned out to be a disaster. I even considered dropping everything and hitchhiking somewhere towards Kazakhstan for a year. But then I settled in Scotland and things, for once, turned great, so I put the idea of going east on hold. Fast forward, as this summer approached, I didn't have anything scheduled. I wondered whether to stay in Scotland or go back to London, where it's a tad easier to get a decent job.

This question got suddenly sorted itself as I stumbled over a fab-looking opportunity in China. The idea of the east was back! I did my math and figured that for less money than I'd have to pay for a month of rent in the UK, I could get flights and accommodation for two months in China. No further thinking required, I didn't renew my apt contract in Scotland, moved out my stuff into storage, and set off to Paris — a city that offered the cheapest fare from Europe to Shanghai at that time. Just like that:

How was it? Well, the journey was a mix of ups and downs: the first surprise came on the plane from Paris, operated by a Chinese airline, which goes by their laws — one of which won't let you use a cell phone on board at all; no flight mode, nothing. As I planned to listen to music stored on it, this was unpleasant news, but other than this, the flight was all right. They invited the passengers to join a Tai chi exercise towards the end, which was fun.

Once on the ground, I turned my phone on, but as Google isn't welcomed in China, the Android lost half its features. On the plus side, the immigration check was a quick piece of cake, and the dreaded smog situation was better than I imagined. I could see the sun from time to time. What I saw all the time was the massive infrastructure and skyscrapers everywhere. Yey, excitement!!

Here we are, I am in Shanghai for the foreseeable future. So much to explore here! And so, I started just as I arrived. The pics in this article are from the first few walks I did around. So, what have I found out...

The streets are alive. People are out, chatting, playing cards, musical instruments, sports, dancing, having public dance lessons, or practicing martial arts. From the few interactions I had, they are also friendly and happy to help — it is an interesting community; I just wish I could speak Chinese..

Locals exercise a lot, and therefore look in good shape. After the sunset, it seems like pretty much everyone goes at least for a walk. It is actually very exciting; I joined them every day so far. The environment reflects this: there are frequent playgrounds and outdoor gyms.

A significant thing that adds to the street compositions are small local stores. They are everywhere. After groceries and barbershops, scooter repair garages are common.

Scooters are an extremely popular way of transportation here. There are tons of them, and well, they don't necessarily go by traffic rules.

During the night, half of them are not using any light. Some are powered by batteries, so I guess they try to save power on lights towards the traveling range. But then, you can't hear or see them coming, and suddenly, they pass like a foot in front of your face. That said, crossing a road can be an adrenaline experience, and you better have your eyes open.

Another common way to get around is to use bikes.

There is an extensive scheme of bike-sharing providers, and I am about to get into it. While walking is nice, considering Shanghai's size, a bike combined with public transportation will be the way to go for me.

I hardly encountered any homeless, and I was surprised by how clean the streets are. Not that one couldn't find any mess..

..but considering the size of the city, it is rather impressive. It is much better than London or Chicago, I'd say. I wasn't expecting that.

No plastic bags around, no newspaper, no rubbish. I am a fan.

There are also many recycling bins; however, people seem to use them precisely as bins for non-recyclables, so the efficiency is questionable. As tap water is not drinkable, you have to buy bottled water to drink — that's a lot of plastic waste. But at least it's not laying around, and one gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Another thing I've noticed that added to the "clean feel," there's no illegal graffiti. So far, I walked some 70-80km around, and all I saw was three or four small tags on the walls. I don't know the penalty for it here, but it seems to work. As for law and order, you can see a lot of officers around. Mainly in the city centre, they stand on every corner.

They keep the city safe and sound, but on the other hand, sometimes I felt like they do it a bit too rigidly. In one downtown park, I constantly heard whistle-blowing, so I watched what's going on: One girl put her feet on the bench she was sitting on. In a second, one of the guards was there to tell her to put them down. A kid went onto the grass; whistle, a guard kicked him out. Apparently, the grass here is only to be looked at. And so on.

Another aspect represented in ample quantities is the number of plants. Trees take any place without concrete or asphalt. Thank goodness for that, as there is a lot of concrete!

..and there are many pretty parks. An interesting observation, just as many European parks have pigeons, parks here have cats.

On my first journey towards the city center I went to two parks, the first was Kang Jian Yuan:

The second was Xujiahui Park, which stands on the former place of the Ta Chung Hua Rubber Factory and the Pathé Company. There is a reminder of the first named; its smokestack was preserved and incorporated into the park. As you might know, I like it when places show appreciation of their industrial heritage, so this was an exciting find.

What was also very cool, was the view just next to the park; as the second-largest building on the planet, the Shanghai Tower, came in sight.

At that time, I was tired already, so I thought to stop at best and return home — which was an opportunity to try the local subway system: quite an experience on its own.

And as of the business district with the Shanghai Tower, that's where I went the next day.

That's about enough of the text; here are some more unsorted images I took around here:

Flowers in front of the South Railway Station. The infrastructure here is quite extraordinary. The public transportation, the striking network of freeways... so much to admire.

inside of the terminal

Giant spines of the city.

"ready, set, yawn."

fish feedin

crossing a forest of palms and bamboos, when suddenly a gorgeous plant came in sight.. a powerplant

The local alphabet is like graphic images decorating the space. It is efficient, as one character is an entire word, so you use less space to get the message out. The practicality for people used to Latin alphabet, tho, that's a different story

The metro is not for someone afraid of crowds. The entertaining thing to do in the tube is to watch English text on locals' T-shirts. Besides the standard "Love," "Star," or "Cat," there are some random, odd ones, like "Drama Listening," and "photography rape" or  "WHITE!!!"

almost like back at home

Jokes about streetfood... Seriously tho, the food here's surprisingly good.

airplane takes off from Hongqiao International Airport

How to say "panda" in Chinese was one of the first words I've learned. These are clothes collection points for a municipal charity.

..And that's it for now; follow my FBTR, or IG, to see where is China going to take me.

Edit: See all my posts about China

Alternatively, visit my Blog Archives for more places and topics. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories


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