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 hitchhike 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, Since May, I had a crazy busy time: I spoke at a British Council's conference in London; set up an exhibition of my photographs; travelled through 8 countries for a budget under 50 quid, visited friends and family... but importantly for this story, I was wondering whether to stay over the summer in Scotland or to go back to London, where it's a tad easier to get a job.

This question got suddenly sorted itself as I stumbled over an opportunity in China. I did my math and figured that for less money that I'd have to pay for just one month's rent in the UK, I could get flights and accommodation for two months in here. 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 to Shanghai. Just like that:

How was it? Well, the first surprise came on the plane: It was a Chinese airline, which goes by their laws — one of which won't let you use a cell phone onboard at all. As I planned to listen to music stored on it, this was a bit unpleasant surprise. Risking a fine wasn't something I would be interested. Other than this, the flight was all right, and they invited the passengers to join a Tai chi exercise towards the end. 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 could be worse. You could see the sun from time to time. What you could see all the time was the massive infrastructure network and skyscrapers everywhere. Yey, I am here!

Just as I've arrived, I went to see the surroundings. 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, dancing, practising musical instruments, play sports, have public dance lessons, practice martial arts..

Locals exercise a lot. 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 is adjusted to this; there are playgrounds, outdoor fitness equipment etc. Due to this, the people themselves are in good shape. They are also friendly and happy to help — it is an interesting community; I just wish I could speak Chinese..

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 a popular way of transportation here; there are tons of them. And well, they don't necessarily go by traffic rules. So you better have your eyes open..

During the night, half of them are not using any light. Some are powered by batteries, 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.

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 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 to produce. But you gotta start somewhere; and as mentioned, at least it's not laying around.

Another thing I've noticed that added to the "clean feel," there's no 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 what is the penalty if they find someone doing that, but it surely works. As of law and order, you can see a lot of officers around. Mainly in the city centre, they are on every corner.

On the one hand, they keep the city going safe and sound, but on the other, sometimes I felt like they do it a bit too rigidly. In one park in downtown, I constantly heard whistle-blowing, so I watched what's going on. For example, 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, the guard kicked him out. Apparently, the grass here is only to be looked at.

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 European parks have pigeons, parks here have cats.

On my first journey towards the city centre 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 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. brilliant.

"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 standard "Love," Star," or "Cat," there are some random, odd ones, like "Drama Listening," and "photography rape" or  "WHITE!!!"

almost like 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, thanks for reading.

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Edit: See all my posts about China

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories

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