Xinchang and Shanghai

The Xenophobia of Xinchang

Yesterday morning we finally set off in a bus for Shanghai, going directly from Tongli to avoid the complex interchange with our baggage trying to connect from a bus to a trian from Suzhou. We had decided to visit another old canal town called Xinchang in Pudong south of Shanghai as a place to stay a few days with a quick way to link to the Longyang metro station where the maglev departs from for Pudong Airport, so we had to transfer through a couple of metro lines and ended up at Longyaang Road metro looking for the ongoing connection to Xinchang called Longniguo Line or Longda Line. These didn't seem to be anywhere in sight and after a lot of struggling with the language barrier, the Maglev ticket woman a floor up the excalator, finally explained that these were bus lines not trains and a few minutes later with a blown up pic of Xinchang in Chinese characters I had photographed off the metro map, we scored the right bus and were heading back out of Shanghai, down the motorways to the south.

After quite a long hike south, the bus finally started making stops and after four stops arrived in the vicinity of Xinchang, pronounced shinchung very rapidly or they can't recognise it, which we discovered as a little alleyway off the street the bus dropped us on, with a line of old houses beside a canal. Xinchang was a much more vestigal affair than Tongli,"  little more than a cross of alleys with distinctive old buildings lining them, but like Tongli it dates back over 1000 years, when it was named Xinchang or "new salt town". " 

Xinchang canal

The first task was finding a hotel to stash our belongings and as a place for the night. Every other place in China (apart from Xiamen where instead I had to hunt for the hotel we had internet booked) this has involved me touting for a cheap hotel while Christine waits at a convenient place. This time however we didn't quite know where we were, because Google maps doesn't work in China and Bing's vestigial maps didn't identify our position clearly, so I ducked in to a cafe that had internet and asked a women where we were. She proceeded to try to help us find a hotel and led us all around the district trying to find one, but to our collective frustration all the hotels around the town claimed they were barred by the police from hosting foreigners. We had heard of this but never struck it before. It's madness pure and simple. Some sort of corrupt behavior of local government officials. In the end we had to drag our luggage a mile or two north west from the old town to the stagnant Guanjun Hotel with atrocious service that was full of layabouts, unlicensed taxi drivers and gamblers and pay what was for us the hefty fee of 220 yuan or about $36 US with a deposit in all of some 400 yuan." 

We ate around the corner at a little Chinese place with 64 pictures of food items that you can pick and had a huge plate of real broccoli for the first time for 15 yuan and a plate of meat, rice and green chilis again for 15 yuan. This was a ridiculously low price for a full meat dish. The meat was fine but didn't quite taste like beef and I suddenly began to feel it was probably dog meat which is used often enough to have a specific phrase "I don't want dog meat" in the Lonely Planet, but it was well cooked and seemed fresh, so we ate it anyway with no ill effects.

Xinchang alley

Sanctuary in Shanghai: A walk in the park and down to the Bund

This barring foreigners from perfectly good reasonably priced accommodation made us both angry and dissatisfied and also feeling vulnerable because Shanghai hotel prices tend to be sky high, so next morning we walked our way back to the cafe in the old town, got on the internet, found a sample of cheaper hotels and checked the Lonely Planet for just two options - both youth hostels and caught the bus back to Shanghai. Here we struck pay dirt. We rolled up to the most central youth hostel with no reservation and lo and behold they had a room for two free, at least for one night!

Four dimensions of "pet alley". " Penile Marriot next to the Mingtown, delicious Shanghai Old Seallion Pancakes, cicadas and turtles on sale.

Here we are in Shanghai ensconced in a real sancturary - the Mingtown Etour Youth Hostel ( - for a cool 180 yuan a night, right in the centre of the action, in walking distance from all the key sights. It's by People's Park. next door to the Marriot, which is a penile pointed tower about as high as the Sky Tower in Auckland, which charges 1480 yuan a night upwards. It couldn't be better situated at the corner of an alley stuffed full of pet shops with turtles swimming in plastic crates, birds chirping and above all the raucous screeching of hundreds and hundreds of large cicadas held in little bamboo cages. The building itself is an old classic which has lots of beautiful old carvings and a little restaurant sitting directly over a goldfish pond with the odd turtle for completeness.

Saturday crowds walking down Nanjing Lu to the Bund

This afternoon we did a walk down to the Bund, that famous focal landmark of everything Shanghai represents, looking out over all the bulbous future age buildings on Pudong that give the city its frontal skyline, along which the great buildings of the 1920s before the communist revolution, line the frontal promenade. Of course it's a Saturday so the pedestrian mall running down Nanjing Lu to the Bund is overflowing with Chinese tourists on a weekend jaunt to the commercial forefront of China as well as finally a few Westerners looking like fish out of water.

Some of the classic buildings on the Bund - the Peace Hotel once the crown jewel of Sasson's property empire is the domed building in the centre

So we have taken Shanghai well into our orbit and have just one night left before flying out to Korea, the luxury of a developed country and the seductive expense of a rental car to drive across it to the ferry to Japan.

That's not to say China is under-developed, but despite the convulsive urbanization, it still has a long way to go in terms of consumer markets particularly in food. The stock in the average supermarket is very thin on the ground. You won't find cheese at all for example. We are still struggling to find instant coffee although there is a really addictive cafe latte made by Suntory that we love to drink cold and you can also get cold milk black tea drinks, as well as the honeyed green tea drinks we have quaffed so much of.

The Pudong new business district looming ghostly through the smog

Even in Vietnam, we cound get imported Kraft cheese packets. Lots of people have i-phones, but eople still wash their meat in the gutter here and I mean right here in Shanghai by the youth hostel tonight! China may have massive spaghetti junctions, and CRV trains that go at nearly 300 kph but the consumer market and the mental framework is still skewed back to that of a developning nation.

We still have no idea where we will sleep tomorrow night because the youth hostel can't say if they have a room available, so we are keeping our fingers crossed. Otherwise it's out on the road through the city metro stop to metro stop looking for something that will service to foreigners at a price we can afford. Actually, as of this morning, we DO have the room for another night, so all we have to do now is play around in the city and wait for our flight to Korea.


Ironically, right at the end of our journey, here in the very heart of urbanized business as usual, the words "Shangrila" appeared - ghostly through the air polluted smog - on one of the buildings over the harbour in Pudong as if to underline the illusory nature of the journey to village golden ages of pristine paradise here in China.

To cap off a quiet Sunday we returned to the "Old City" absolutely packed with tourists and visited the richly adorned Town God Temple - a traditional Chinese temple with ornate frescos and ancestor figures. I also photographed the 16th century Yuyuan Garden because it was half price for golden oldies.


As a final gesture to Chinese culture mid-afternoon we took off to the Shanghai museum which is just a walk in the Peoples Park away, joining a long queue waiting to be x-rayed through security and proceeded to the textile floor where we found beautiful embroideries and full costumes of many of the peoples we had visited across China including a beautiful Miao jacket very similar to the one which Christine bought in 2005 which has since been priced off the market by rich Chinese snapping them up. But the museum also had diverse other treasures, with ceramics dating back over 4000 years and ornate bronze work going back just as far with the earliest neolithic vases going back even further to 8000 years ago.


Miao formal dress examples and embroidered Miao jacket similar to Christine's at the Shanghai Museum.

The overall trip through China has cost 10,000 yuan in 25 days for the two of us, or $25 NZ a day for sleeping including surcharges for sleepers, $19 for raw transport costs, $4.60 for sightseeing tickets and around $27 for food. " All in all $76 NZ a day for 2, or $32 US each a day. Not bad for a far-flung trip across China, which is by no means a low price country.

Our vocabulary consists of a few pivotal expressions which can carry anyone a long way: nihao "hello", xiexie or shiashia "thank you", wobuyao "I don't want", mifan ni "excuse me", duibuqi or dwaybuchi "sorry, zaijian "goodbye", jintian "today", mingtian "tomorrow", nan "south", bei "north", dong "east", xi "west", huoche zhan "train station", qiche zhan "bus station", binguan "hotel", wo tingbudong "I don't understand", xinxielan "New Zealand" as well as the finger gestures for 1-10 (1-5 are just the number of fingers but 6 - 10 are gestures that have to be learned carefully) which are really useful shopping for small items. We have also got really slick at photographing Chinese characters and then displaying them to people on the camera screen or computer screen which means we can actually communicate in real Chinese characters when our pronunciation leaves Chinese people perplexed. I've also got very adept at engaging people humorously in partial mime which often gets the idea across well when it is something obvious about what is going on.

If, as we expect, we will duly be on a China Eastern flight to Korea tomorrow, our whole lives will change. We will be swiping our VISA card for an Avis rental car for hundreds of dollars at the airport and setting off for the little town of Eulwangi Beach just around the Yeongjong-do island from the airport, where there is supposed to be camping by the pines right on the beach front. We will be able to access Google again but we don't know if and where we will find the internet, traveling in a rental car across country so we don't know if and when we will be able to communicate. We will be able to go to real supermarkets and buy good food but we will have to cook more for ourselves on our little trangia meths stove and camp out rough to avoid the hideous hotel prices of high gear economies.

Saying goodbye to Shanghai, we took the metro to Longyang Road station and transferred to the Maglev for an exicting departure, hurtling along at up to 432 kph, with a shocking crash as the trains running in each direction shot past one another at a relative velocity of 740 kph.