After stepping off the 10+ hour flight from Frankfurt at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, customs has a long line with only 3 lanes open. It takes a while to be free after being stuck behind a tour group of ladies from Turkmenistan who are lost in translation. The customs official stamps my passport, takes my photo and plays with her computer. I go through without questions as I have a boarding pass for a flight out of there in 12 hours. While in transit, you are free to leave the airport without a visa if staying for less than 48 hours. But this offer is not available for all nationalities so check your visa requirements.
The airport is approximately 30 kilometres from the Shanghai CBD and the best way to get into town is by riding the Maglev Train. Using magnetic levitation technology, it reaches the impressive speed of 431kmph during peak times (09:00–10:45 and 13:00–16:45). Other times a slow maximum of 301kmph.
As I walk out the front door there are many bus stops and everything is written in Chinese of course. After a little searching I find the sign saying “Maglev” and follow it to the station which is outside the airport terminal. The service runs every 15 minutes. Tickets will set you back ¥50 one way or ¥40 if you have a flight ticket for that day, and ¥80 for a return.
While on the train you don’t realise how fast you are going as you whizz past the cars on the freeways, canals, factories and housing estates. In around 7 minutes you will reach the only other station, Longyang Road which is east of the CBD.
At Longyang Road Station I heard the sound of what I thought were firecrackers…. at 9:00am? I go for a quick cigarette at the neighbouring park and notice about 15 men cracking whips for fun, or maybe it is an exercise regime here.
Under the station is the Maglev museum and it is free if you have a ticket for the Maglev. It’s worth a look at the history of trains plus how the Maglev works and see the miniature model of the city showing the rail line from the airport. Fills in about half an hour if you read the displays.
Switching to the Metro Line 2, which is to the right of the Maglev station, in 20 minutes you will find your way to the station beneath the famous shopping strip of Nanjing Road or People’s Square. Announcements are spoken and written also in English so it’s not too complicated to navigate.
The ride both ways were not overcrowded for a city of 23 million. People were playing with their phones and looking sleepy, just like everywhere else in the world. There was a TV playing commercials on the wall and a sign warning that poles could pinch you.
Nanjing Road is 6km long with supposedly 1 million visitors a day to the shopping district. Like the Metro, I didn’t find it so busy on my visit but it was difficult to find a Currency Exchange place and should of changed money at the airport and the ATMs there didn’t take my card. I had to try a couple of different ATMs to get spending money. ATMs are inside what resembles a telephone box to protect from thieves. There are signs inside to lock the door as protection and a voice most likely warning you as well.
The street hawkers pounce on anyone who looks like a tourist with fold out laminated catalogues of watches and clothing. “Shopping? Shopping?”, “Shirt, watch, jacket, I show you?”
Many of the shops were useless to me as I don’t care for expensive designer clothing, Starbucks or eating fast food.
We tend to forgot how extraordinary poor China is as they are a Superpower. It confuses me who has the money to spend at these label shops that can and buy from the largest Apple store I have ever seen. But according to Chinese statistics 60 million are considered middle class, which is still a massive amount of consumers.
Nanjing Road East leads down to the riverfront walkway called The Bund where there is a decent collection of Art Deco buildings on one side and across the Huangpu River are the modern skyscrapers of Pudong’s Lujiazui District.
There is a pedestrian tunnel crossing under the river from the Bund to the other side but I didn’t bother to use it as looked like a tourist trap. It is cheaper to get off the Line 2 Metro at Lujiazui Station if wanting to explore that area. That’s where you’ll find the Oriental Pearl building which has 15 observatory levels.
Not to be outdone when it comes to architecture, the other areas of Shanghai have tall, modern offices with weird glass balls and UFO-like blobs on top. Shanghai lives up to the tag of being the ‘New York of Asia’ when it comes to skyscrapers. There is even one building which has a huge thermometer up its wall.
People’s Square is at the top end of Nanjing Road East and located in the heart of the city. I had a walk around checking out the local tree varieties, lotus ponds and the waterfall that doesn’t exist in January. There was a gathering of men playing cards, a small amusement park in the centre and exercise areas. The free Shanghai Museum is on the edge of the square and kills an hour or two looking at the Ancient Bronze exhibit and Chinese artefacts.
Back at the airport, the duty free shops mostly close by 6pm. All flights seem to run late here for some reason. Security confiscate all cigarette lighters but there is a smokers room hidden near gate 15 downstairs where lighters are provided anchored in a box on a wall.
You cannot grasp the real China in Shanghai. There is definitely more to it than one city, including Beijing. Shanghai is a small snapshot experience showing modern China and rich, when in fact the majority live in rural poverty. One day I will come back and explore more. I liked Shanghai.