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Friday 5th November - Shanghai
By Claire
Sunday, 7th November 2004 12:25

I dreamt that my mum got me a job as the minister of transport for Western Samoa because she said that no-one else is doing it and it may as well be me. I offered the job to my friend John, who knew about Eastern Europe (he's heard of Lithuania, you see) and told him all he had to do was be nice to bicycles. I woke up before I found out what happened.

We went to buy some travellers' cheques this morning, and I was very pleased with myself for finding a way out of our cash dilema. We discussed it most of last night, whether travellers' cheques could possibly be considered cash, and decided that they couldn't. We went out to the Bund, sort of Shanghai's heart, and where all the banks are. We tried Citibank first and they directed us to Bank of China, next door. So far, so good. Maggie, at the hostel, had written, "We would like to buy US dollars travellers' cheques with our visa credit card, please," in beautiful Chinese for us, and we showed it to everyone in the bank. We were given a ticket. There were about forty other people waiting, but within three minutes we were being seen. On the plus side, there was no problem with the Chinese writing, and the girl understood exactly what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, we can only buy travellers' cheques with US dollars or RMB, and if we had access to either of those, we wouldn't be in this situation. We tried a few other banks along the way, but they all recommended Bank of China. Nevermind, at least Mikey's card's working for now, and despite what Nationwide tell me, I'm fairly sure that in 5 working days, mine will too.

Surprisingly, there's a sandwich shop quite close to the banks, and we had brunch there. We decided that we should book some train or bus tickets if we're going to see the mountain I want to find, and the guidebook said that the best travel agent was a couple of miles down the road. We walked it, in the bright sunshine, and enjoyed the views of the kites (one looked like two little fishes chasing one another) and the skyscrapers and the old-fashioned European-style buildings all round the harbour. We found the street, and, right where the tourist office was supposed to be was a massive building site. The helpful people in a shop nearby did a little mime of a small shop being flattened. But we were expecting it, I suppose: the Lonely Planet actually has a disclaimer saying that all its information is probably out of date!

We wanted to go out to the zoo, and we needed an number 911 bus for that, which was apparently quite close to us. We walked for a couple more miles, showing random people Mikey's little picture of a bus with the number on it, and getting various answers. We asked an old lady on one of those street-corner multigyms for old people, and she pointed at a young man. He went into a hair-dresser's and came out with another man, covered in shampoo. A lady joined them, and between them they had a long, serious discussion and relayed it all tome in Chinese. I thanked them and told Mikey what they'd said (it made as much sense to him as it did to me!) and we stood around looking at maps for a bit. The delegation came back and tried to make sure we got on the number 11, and we thought that they were telling us to take the 11 to the 911 stop, but we ran away before they manhandled us onto a bus (it was a very real possibility - the entire neighbourhood looked like it had joined in to get the laowai on a bus.

We found ourselves in a residential area full of old shops and old people and buckets and bikes and broken pavements. There were several shops selling kitchen wares and we treated ourselves to a set of bamboo steamer pots that took about half an hour to buy and were very impractical to carry round all day but made us happy - we've bought hardly anything for ourselves so far! We eventually went down some pedestrian alleys and into some really remote back streets and then discovered that we were a single road from a major tourist area full of souveneir shops. We browsed for a bit and then, deciding it was now too late for the zoo, we took a taxi to the bund tunnel./p>

This was definitely the funkiest train I have ever been on. It takes tourists on a slow journey under the harbour to the opposite shore. It's a tiny capsule that runs through a tunnel filled with light shows and lasers and flickering patterns and projections and inflatable men and leather cushions on the ceiling and mirrors and electronic music. Voices introduce each change of lights with words like "magma" and "fossil varients". It was over far too quickly for me!

We climbed the Oriental Pearl tower, or rather, took a crowded lift to the middle viewing platform at about 700ft to watch the sun set. We played 20 questions which really annoys both of us (is a bottle of water a container if the water is actually in it? Is for entertainment or purely functional? How about Christmas lunch?) and then looked at the lights of Shanghai for a while. We took thee train back again and discovered that we had vouchers for free souveneir photos of ourselved beside a poster and we walked back to the main strip of shops and restaurants just off the Bund. The place was lit up even more brightly than Tokyo or Hong Kong and all the neon signs were moving and flashing. It was quite impressive. We found a shopping centre with a number of restaurants in it and tried to read the directory outside it to see what was on offer. People from seven restaurants tried to entice us with their menus, which happens all the time, and I shouted that I just wanted to look at the board. They all made room and then, in something resembling a well-rehearsed ballet, fourteen people formed a perfect semi-circle round us and held out menus for us to see. It was actually rather funny and I managed to eliminate a few of them by calling "Chinese Food!" into the crowd. The guy who got my vote was the one who had flipped his menu to the page showing Taiwanese dumplings and pointing to the carrier bag of bamboo steamers I was clutching - he obviously thought I was a particular fan. We were escorted to the lift by four men, and two of them joined us in the lift. One stopped it at the second floor and tried to get us out while another guy kept pointing to adverts on the wall of the lift for his place on the 3rd floor. We went with him, and even managed to feel a bit bad about it.

Supper was another of those things you don't expect - we sat on settees at a very low table, with all the food in tiny bowls, aeroplane style. We ordered two main courses and a salad and got entire meals complete with a mug of crab-flavoured set custard, a bowl of water with raddishes in it, a bowl of the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted - lumps of gelatinous flavourless milk with fish shavings, I think - and some very good main courses. The drinks cost more than the meal!

Feeling lazy and unwilling to fight our way onto a bus, we walked a short way to find a taxi (and even bypassed the nearby doughnut shop despite the impoliteness. Sorry.) The internet was too slow to use, and I went to bed instead.

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