Saturday, November 30, 2013


Thanks to the increasing number of cross-strait direct flights, Shanghai is only 2 hours away from Taipei, at a reasonable price. With its "free Taiwan High Speed Rail round-trip ticket package" offer, China Eastern Air was the cheapest airline I could find, and with no surprise, the price reflected on their online booking system and customer service. I saw a value joint-way package on their website which offered Taoyuan/Shanghai round-trip tickets plus 25% off round-trip tickets for Taiwan High Speed Rail plus free round-trip tickets for high speed trains departing from Shanghai to various cities in China. I couldn’t get the details from their website so I called to inquire and I got the answer: “contact any travel agency”. I went to the liontravel and no one knew what the deal was about and they had to call a senior manager to find out. The travel agent first told me that in order to get the value joint-way package the airfare had to be at lease R class and the departure of high speed train had to be on the same day of my flights, then he showed me the price: airplane tickets: NT$14000 which I could get it online for NT$9000 (Z class), and the so called “free” high speed train would cost me NT$1000 to Suzhou (one-way) and the price was only CNY$ 39.5 (less than NT$200). I thanked him for the effort and tried to book the tickets online. After filling out the information needed I clicked the submit bottom and it returned an error message with no indication of which step the error occurred. I called the customer service and told them the problem, a moment later, she told me that she had tried it and confirmed the booking website worked with IE browser but not with google chrome. I told her that I had tried firefox, safari, opera and IE, none of the browsers worked for me. I asked if they could book the flight for me but they refused and gave me a solution, “contact any travel agency”.

My first night's hotel in Shanghai was the Manhattan Bund Business Hotel, 5 min walking distance from the Bund, and I loved and hated the location at the same time. The hotel’s entrance is on the Dianchi road, the road I would think twice before walking in after the nightfall. Before I got in the hotel a man walked toward me and solicited; after checking in the room, I was tailed by a different man on my way to the Bund; a third man came to me on my way back to the hotel, offering me a list of girls from different provinces of China for a memorable night in Shanghai. No matter how I expressed firmly that I was not interested, he just wouldn’t give up. Finally, he slowed down his pace and giving up on me, I let my guard down and broke into a smile on my face, somehow that almost undetectable smile worked like a charm, the guy speeded up again and the other guys started approaching. I fled back to my hotel and locked myself in for the rest of the night.

Shanghai has a vast metro network that makes it easy to move around the city most of the time but taking the metro was a challenge for me. No mater where my position was in a line, I always ended up the last one to get on the train. In fact, there was no queue whenever a train approached. People fought to get in the train before passengers could get off and the fight didn’t stop until any tiny sitting space was taken. One day, on a train, I saw an old lady with a handful of bags who had spotted a seat when she got on, while she was unloading her bags on the floor in front of the seat, two teenagers rushed in and seized the seat and almost knocked over the old lady in the process. I witnessed the whole thing taking place in less than 5 seconds and no commotion was raised; no one gave a damn about it; the teens sat happily playing with their phones as if nothing had happened and even the old lady seemed to get used to this situation and was OK with it. Despite the massive transportation coverage, I found it’s weird sometimes, the way they plan the transportation network, especially in the Bund and new Pudong area. Bund and the new Pudong area are separated by the Huangpu river and connected by subways, ferries and tunnels. Subway and ferry need detours to the stations making the bund tourist sightseeing tunnel the easiest and the fastest way to go from one side to another, but that costs CNY$50/70, one-way/round-trip! I guess it is as Fili put it: “a perfect example for pulling off quirky tourist trap”.

East Nanjing road is one of many shopping streets in Shanghai, I am not a shopping aficionado but as people say “you haven’t seen shanghai if you don’t visit the East Nanjing road”, so I went and tried to cultivate some senses for shopping. It’s a pedestrian boulevard with department stores, outlets and exotic restaurants in the modern tall buildings on both sides. The crowd made the 28 meter wide boulevard feel like a byway, I could barely walk when groups of talented locals spread out in dance formation as their routine exercise which somehow attracted quiet a bit audience. Walking down the street I had the craving for ice cream, I went into a MacDonald's located in the basement and ordered an ice cream. The staff said something to me but I couldn’t catch her for the first time because of the accent, so she repeated it with additional bunches of other sentences. All I heard was the ice cream half price, I felt embarrassed and had to bear with the look as if I was a retarded and asked her to speak slowly. This time I understood what she was saying: went up to the first floor to get ice cream, and the second ice cream was half price. I didn’t notice there was a shop on the first floor on my way down, I went upstairs skeptically and there it was, a tiny window in the corner sold only ice cream. I went to the booth and before I made my order the staff repeated their promotion slogan “ice cream, half price for the second ice cream”, I ordered an ice cream and she replied: “we have no ice cream”.