Insh’Allah this reaches to find each and every single one of you in the best of health, spirits and the highest of e’maan.
The marathon will be soon at an end, I’m entering the home straight of my journey, and as such have been enjoying my first real break of the last three weeks with a few days of doing absolutely nothing in Shanghai.
I caught an overnight sleeper train from my last location and managed to get some much needed rest and sleep on the train, the nine hours soon whizzed by. I was expecting a funny coded knock on my cabin door, like the end scene in "Trading Places", unfortunately I wasn’t out here to manipulate the shanghai stock exchange’s futures market, there was no orange crop report, and no clarence beeks in sight, still the thought of this playing out in my mind kept me amused for a few minutes.
Leaving the industrial heartland of china behind me, I had a chance to process some of the sights, sounds and smells of the last few weeks. The industrial revolution I witnessed was on a scale that is difficult for you to process. Every city bar Shanghai had a minimum population of 5-6 million people. In England, Birmingham is considered the second city with a populace in the same region, and yet everyone I met was almost apologetic about the small size of their "towns" as they put it.
I can only imagine how this compares to the industrial revolution that England had, the stacks on the horizon bellowing clouds of thick acrid smoke constantly remind you that China is the place that manufactures for the entire world. One of the sights that first greeted me upon entering the country was that almost everyone had some sort of a face mask or cover across their face, I don’t blame them. The air quality is so bad out here, it makes downtown los angeles seem pleasant, even the sun seems to have trouble penetrating through a perma grey haze, and they’re off to Copenhagen to agree cuts on carbon emissions. With all the best hopes in the world, I really don’t know what targets they’ll agree to. With all the particulates floating around in the air, its little wonder that despite scrubbing my face clean twice a day, I’m beginning to resemble Sloth from the Goonies.
So, Shanghai can only be described in one word, a megalopolis, if you’ve ever seen the opening biker shot in Akira or seen any Godzilla movie, you’ll know what I mean. Despite both of these films being set in Tokyo, I keep expecting Mecha Godzilla to turn up breathing fire and stomping a few buildings at a moments notice, before retreating into the toxic south china sea to have a rest, probably due to the poor air quality, imagine an asthmatic mecha godzilla!
Alhumdullilah I had no drama at the rail station like last time round, and after catching a taxi to my hotel, having a long hot shower, I decided to get out and about.
As luck would have it I was staying in an area that is famous for its restaurants, places to eat literally a mile in each direction, and to suit every budget. Seeing I was in need of a good meal and a cuppa, I rested in a place only a couple of minutes walk away, and though it was the lunch time rush (lunch starts at 1130), but I was soon sitting down to a stuffed vegetable omelette that my father would be proud off, all washed down with a pot of tea, watching the Shanghanese go about their lives through the window of the restaurant.
An hour or so later I was ready to hit the road again, and opted for the Bund, Shanghai’s famous pedestrian walkway that allows you to really appreciate the skyline. Unfortunately, Shanghai is sprucing itself up for hosting the World Expo in 2010, and the entire Bund was a building site. I eventually jumped onto the ferry and crossed the river towards the financial district. I spent the majority of the day in the "Super Brand" centre, Shanghai’s largest shopping centre. It kicks Westfield into the shade, the place was huge, and packed with people buying overpriced crap they didn’t need.
Heading back to the hotel after dark, I found a Muslim restaurant, it was owned and run by a family from Kaxgar, in muslim china, bordering Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The food was all halal, was fresh, cheap and plentiful, and for the first time in three weeks I was able to get my chomps around some kebab type of barbecued chicken.
The next day I ended up in another shopping district, this time a place called Cyber Mart beckoned me. This place was a gadget freaks dream, 5 floors of all the tech you could imagine. Although I was interested (and quite badly need) a new laptop, the promises of a two year warranty were not believable, the caveat of buyer beware was at the forefront of my thoughts. So avoiding the big ticket items, I picked up a few leads, memory cards and spare batteries, all for next to nothing, well compared to London prices at least.
The most enjoyable part was the haggling. The seller gives you a price, you counter with a third of the price, then 10 minutes later you agree on a price just under half the original price quoted, but you do so with a smile on your face and plenty of gestures that his prices are unbelievably high, and then you walk off. Then the seller will tell you, "My friend, I give you best price" and if you’re not happy with that one, walk away, you will what you’re looking for, for the price you want to pay, it just takes perseverance.
As mentioned before, the prices of big brands are too expensive, the electronics were cheap, but probably fake, the amount of street hawkers out here are ridiculous. Fake rolex’s, iphones, designer bags and leather wear are the ones I got hit with constantly, all i wanted was a chairman Mao style cap!
I also managed to get a good traditional foot, leg and head massage, done during the day in a reputable establishment, none of those dodgy back alley places in the middle of the night for me, after all there is a reason Shanghai was once known as the "Whore of the Orient".
I even got my head shaved at a traditional Chinese barbers, the experience was nervous, I barely trust myself with a fool proof gillete razor, but a complete stranger with a cut throat, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a relaxing experience, or one designed to help your bowels become loose.
That about wraps up this update, chances are this may well be my last post from china. I’m off to Doha for a couple of days before catching the red eye back to london on friday morning, Insh’Allah in time for Eid.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my travellers log, it certainly does make it easier than sending out bulk emails, I’ll get a selection of pictures up for you in my next post.
I guess that’s over and our from Shanghai, but normal service will be resumed on the blog from next week, once the jet lag and the feedback sessions at work wear off, so please do come back and let me continue to serve you up with some thought provoking information big media doesn’t cover.
Jazak Allah Khairun for keeping me in your duah’s and thoughts, just as this traveller holds his people in his heart.
This is Akh the Angry Academic Activist
And I approve this message!