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Waking up in an incredibly comfortable giant bed under an unfeasibly incapacitating duvet at 7.50am when you are still slightly jetlagged and are supposed to be meeting a human metronome in the hotel foyer for your airport transfer at 8am is, ordinarily, the precursor to frantic ungainly lolloping around a hotel room, checking every drawer just one more time just to absolutely convince yourself you didn't hide anything astonishingly valuable underneath the King James'.
This ritual is made more exhausting when you've spent the past 2 nights in a suite with 5 rooms. The flat in which I live only has a total of 6 rooms (7 including the 'magic cupboard'). I was checking in drawers that I'd only found whilst looking through other drawers.
Suitably satisfied that I never owned a valuable anyway, we managed to be behind elevator doors on time and performing the self-frisk dance confirming passport and ticket availability before our final voyage with Katherine, the wordsmith guide, back to the airport at Xi'an.
Shanghai was our next stop, and traveling from the airport to the centre of the city gave some incredible views of the skyscrapers that donate to the famous city skyline, which I'd previously only known as a regular on the BBC News New Years fireworks montage bonanza. Skyscrapers are generally best viewed from afar where their scale can be properly appreciated and a jesting Squish! photo can be attempted, and are not at their best when craning your neck into pseudo-yogic positions and peering through a car window, as was our view at the time. A much better view can be attained by walking down the Nanjing Road to The Bund area, and do as we did. Stand on your tippy-toes and lean slightly precariously into the busy road, and your view is great if still a little uncomfortable.
Alternatively, walk to the footbridge, and cross over the road onto the wharf, where the views are uninterrupted and require little or no peril. Go straight for option three if you have taken a Kodak disposable camera and are limited to 24 mystery photos. If like us, you own digital technology, you can take loads of photos of the same vista, then find the better view and take some more photos, before crossing a bridge and really go just a bit mental with your shutter finger.
As you wander away from the Bund area and back up the East Nanjing Road, back towards the main shopping areas of Shanghai, you will no doubt be approached and advised by some friendly local to "Watch your bag!"
And then another will tell you to "Watch your bag!" within minutes.
We were beginning to think that perhaps Shanghai wasn't all that safe if people were so concerned about us having our bags nicked that they felt compelled to warn us at every opportunity. I was bear-hugging my rucksack for a good 5 minutes before it became apparent that what was actually being said was "Watch OR bag?" as in, "Would you like to buy one" not "Grip onto yours for grim death"
The Shanghai PR is quite probably the friendliest incarnation of the most annoying job in the world - In Turkey, the street PR is a local trader who will rarely take no for an answer and will gladly follow you up the street trying to force their wares on you. In parts of rural Greece, at night, the street PR will hail from Yorkshire and will have owners permission to drag you by your ears kicking and screaming into an Irish Karaoke bar. In Shanghai, once approached and offered the opportunity to follow a stranger down a darkened side alley with the promise of a dodgy Rolex, a simple "No Thanks" results in a smile and an apology before you nonchalantly wave back and continue on your way.
Our 9th floor room in the Sofitel Hyland Hotel gave fabulous views of the Nanjing Road, and over a square
that rivalled London and Midlands favourite Leicester Square where each morning there were hundreds of sprightly old agers practising perfectly synchronised Tai Chi. One morning, for reasons that are still unclear, they all had red silk scarves to use in a rhythmic gymnastic style that added nicely to the spectacle. Alarmingly, there was also the day they brought their swords to wave about instead. It made the pretty wavy wave wave of scarves come over a bit Mr Miage, There were no dramatic slow motion final fight scenes, but I did keep my eye on one friendly dodderer for some time afterwards.
Our first guided day in Shanghai took us to the 'Old Town' area of YuYuan with Chris - the third guide for us on the break so far but still only the two of us, a driver and a guide on any trip we'd taken across the whole holiday. This gave us more freedom than we'd expect to have if we were amongst a larger group - as seemed to be the case for the majority of other tours we saw, albeit mostly Koreans with matching baseball caps, Chinese with matching t-shirts or Malay excitedly waving mini non-descript flags, or a combination of the three.
YuYuan is very typically Chinese - the sort of Chinese that you think all of china will be until you actually get here - all the 2 story buildings have the upturned-corner roofs, there's a lake with a feng-shui cheering but crossing-impeding zig-zag bridge, and in the lake there's turtles and few Koi Karp, and all around you, the hollywood cliché continues down to the hundreds of red and gold round lanterns - like those lampshades you get from Ikea - the big one, but red and with tassels for added campness. There are also a wide selection of shops selling tea, trinkets and toys, there's the obligatory McDonalds and Starbucks, and the not so obligatory full Ox Head, complete with horns, boiling gently in a pan and a smiling man in whites brandishing a huge machete expecting you to pay for the privilege of eating a slice of Bull's Forehead.
Wise of avoiding such adventurous cuisine japes after my 'Snake in Beijing' debacle we didn't partake, and instead walked the long walk over the short indirect bridge and entered into a formerly private garden that was 20 years in its completion. YuYuan Garden was a 16th century Ming Dynasty creation by an army general as a gift to his parents, which makes my birthday-pleasers over the past years look somewhat trivial, and we were lucky that no one else related was around to get any funny ideas. Inside the garden, there were pagodas, halls and covered corridors all in the ancient architectural style, with a large wood carved dragon around the top of the dividing walls. If anyone is sitting incredulously at the audacity of a simple General to use the Emperors symbol of the dragon in a private garden, fear not. This particular dragon has only three claws, and not the five clawed beast that belongs solely to the Emperor. Not similar at all then. Nor ancient copyright infringing. And a bold move given the Emperors predilection for beheading people if they dared use the wrong door at his house. 3 claws Your Honour. Totally different.
The lake in the Garden contained such a large number of Koi Karp that it would be an Essex builder' wet dream; there were hundreds of them, sploshing around the surface flaunting their value seemingly without fear of a granny with a fishing net and a half hatched ker-ching! Retirement plan.
Lunch after visiting the Old Town and before heading over to a Buddhist Temple was a turning point for my own China experience; although I wasn't to know at the time that eating a 'meat of dubious origin' would have quite such an effect.
We were taken to eat early, at around 1130am, as was the form throughout our journey, but this still wouldn't dissuade our sizeable breakfast helpings and we were quite used to our new routine by now. This time however, the 7 course platter layed out ahead of us bore little or no resemblance to anything we'd seen previously and to add to the curious occasion, the inside of the latest restaurant that was not of our choosing was decorated using Emmerdale Farm's Woolpack as a rough template - five or six plane crashes ago, when it WAS a Farm and not a Hollyoak's sabbatical soap. There was even a print of the Yorkshire pub hanging proudly on the wall.
Laid out on the table ahead of us were safe looking crispy rice cakes in sweet and sour sauce, rice and beans wrapped in vine leaves, steamed vegetables, possibly a chicken, something a bit gloopy, a family soup made seemingly from a brave lone tomato, and a thinly sliced and unidentifiable dark meat covered in a cream that in fact might or might not have been tripe. With hindsight being the dark angel of truth that it is, I probably shouldn't have eaten so much of the special dark meat before asking what is was and then only to be told that it was actually "Pork". Now, I know my bacon and this wasn't Danish. I think it could have been dog. It was quite regrettably moreish though.
The afternoon was spent looking around a large and peaceful Temple close by to the old town and fortuitously we'd timed our arrival to coincide with the public prayers to commemorate the one year anniversary of the devastating 2008 Earthquake in the Sichuan Province. To hear the chanting and observe the prayers of the Monks, in an air thick with burning incense and on a day that undoubtedly still held onto a lot of emotion for all those present was one of those "moments" that being on this sort of holiday provides.
The next morning, and we were readying ourselves for an hour long drive out of Shanghai city to a town called Jhuijaijiao - best pronounced very quickly and as onemorphedword - when I had a glimpse of another "Moment." Going to the toilet before a car journey is a man-ritual often misunderstood by the opposite sex, and the fact I went twice in the space of ten minutes didn't put me of leaving the comfort of a 5 star hotel room and head out into an unknown quantity of a city, described by cheery guide Chris as Shanghai's answer to Venice.
Friend of copy-and-paste Jhuijaijiao isn't quite a Venice other than there's a waterway through the middle of it - it's more like Port Grimaud in the South of France, but the Chinese are apparent Francophobes and they mustn't think this comparison would sell as many tickets, or they've never been - but it is another stunningly attractive place to look at.
There was an unnerving and distinctly increasingly urgent development from the previous day's gung-ho mystery meat ingestion that caused me to discard all previous notions of using only the "Western Style" toilets wherever possible, and forget the preferably clean ones equipped with paper and a door.
The choice wasn't mine. There was no alternative. It had to be a go-wherever-you're-allowed-to Destroyer Tactic and so to a public throne that cost me less than 1 pence in entrance fees to use, which upon unenthusiastically closer inspection, was mildly over-priced.
I didn't get much further down the road before I had to return to the same place, and it was at this point, as I paid more money to re-enter a place I swore I'd never speak of again that it became evident that I'd poisoned myself.
Not wanting to ruin a whole day for the two of us Chris carried on minus 50% of her audience whilst I opted to sit on an accommodating restaurant owner's balcony overlooking the river on the understanding that I'd continually buy drinks in return for wearing down their welcomingly familiar Armitage Shanks porcelain.
From the balcony that would be my new vantage point for the majority of day, I could see the arched stone bridge that was the primary connection point of either half of Jhuijaijiao, a bridge I'd just crossed about 4 times in quick succession. With each crossing having to dodge more and more determined old people thrusting a bag of water in your face and declaring loudly "FISH!" blissfully unaware of my sweaty top lip. What their monosyllabic sales pitch didn't include was the explanation that you were supposed to buy the fish, then tip it over the side of the bridge to "Set it Free" in a ritual that has Buddhist origins but is now deeply ensconced in tourist trapping and as I sat looking at the tiny fish slapping the murky brown water from 20 feet up, they looked less "set free" and more "condemned to death."
Feeling brave, I did attempt to leave the comforting proximity of a sliding lockable door and have a nose around some of the narrow cobbled streets, each building housing either an arts and crafts stall, or more bizarre foodstuffs that gave a guttural stench that even made the flies think twice, before it was back to old faithful for me to await the return of the others.
In the meantime, I had been supplied by and energetic driver with a blister pack of 8 Chinese medicinal pills, with the instruction to take 4 now, and 4 before bed. I took the 4, and then learned that this particular Chinese medicine is traditionally slow acting, which is exactly what you need when you're sitting on the big white telephone. Not chemically fast acting and problem solving but slow, and make-you-sweaty herbs. All they did was give me an insight into the menopause with repeated rush of hot flushes that just made everything near me damp. I skipped the other 4, as I didn't fancy sleeping in the bath.
I was still batting well below par with my golf stick when we were leaving Shanghai to fly to Hong Kong some 48 hours later, so much so that I sort of sat unmoved in the corner whilst we rode on the Maglev train back to the airport.
The journey from Airport to Shanghai Centre on arrival took around 45 minutes and involved quite a lot of traffic and noise, but the Maglev is, as the name might suggest to intelligent types a "Magnetic Levitation" train, and this one travels at a top speed of 432kph, making the return trip a mere 7 minutes. It pleased me on many different levels to know that I was only 7 minutes away from more plumbing facilities, and that I would also be going faster than I'd ever been on land since the first stomach cramp in Jhuijaijiao 3 days earlier.
We were sad to be leaving Shanghai, and we lingered for longer than most back down on the Bund on our last night, taking in the views and taking even more photographs, and Shanghai went from being somewhere where we had no expectation of before arriving, to a place where we've both said we'd visit all over again.
In the air, and filling out the fourth and now tediously familiar Health Declaration form inside 7 days, it became necessary for me to risk going the way of many a lost ancient army general and be beheaded by an Emperor by deliberately telling lies on official Chinese Paperwork. The whole questionnaire is quite straight forward to fill out, Name, address, where are you staying, flight number, and so one, until the very last paragraph.
"Are you displaying any of the following Symptoms of H1N1 Swine Flu?"
"Muscle Cramp!" Only every twenty minutes or so. "Fever!" Define fever in a 34 degree heat? "Diarrhoea!" And proud. "Difficulty in breathing" - this symptom had only shown itself once I'd begun to realise that I might have to convince a communist republic that I was not actually infected with Swine Flu, but I was merely trying to digest a Labrador for the last 4 days, with varying degrees of success.
Not wanting to take the entire aircraft into quarantine for a week, I lied like Little red Riding Hoods Grandma and hoped with everything crossed that I wouldn't get pulled over at Customs in Hong Kong Airports Fortress of Arrivals......