Paris of the East

2nd December 2017

Take off 12.40 PM from Auckland Airport to Shanghai, China. The direct route is operated by Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 freshly purchased Dreamliner. Made in the USA this plane may carry 302 passengers with a take-off weight of 250 tonne at a maximin cruising speed of 910 km/h. Such a feat of engineering now taken for granted but nevertheless seen as remarkable from the wide eyed children I saw glaring out into the vastness night sky during takeoff.

It was 68 years ago, in 1950 when the “Kangaroo Service” hopped passengers with deep pockets from Sydney to London in 4 1/2 days via Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo and Rome. This was operated by Qantas Empire Airways and the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation with Air New Zealand operating the return service from Auckland to Sydney. This was the only rote from the Pacific to Europe by sky.

Until 1970 Economy Class was many months of toil at sea. The great ocean liners disembarked New Zealand ports bound for Southampton via Tahiti and onward through the Panama canal which opened in 1914. Those who decided to embark on the longest journey of migration in history often faced treacherous conditions and the reality of life at sea. From next year a passenger will have the choice to fly an astonishing 17 hours direct from Australia to London.

I was grateful that Economy Class has moved sky high. My boarding pass gripped like a good novel, I politely navigated my way through the plane to seat 43K. Due to the narrowness of the aisle, I was pleased to pull it off. Climbing into my window seat allowed for a few second assessment of the cabin. I was one of the few Europeans on board. Naturally, the passengers consisted of Chinese nationals returning home to the Middle Kingdom. Climbing to 5965 M with a ground speed of 869 KM per hour we left Middle Earth. 11 hr 18 Min to Shanghai. Outside air temp above Auckland -25 Degrees Celsius. ETA 07.07 AM China Standard Time (CST), Shanghai.

Breakfast of scrambled eggs , yogurt and a small fruit salad over the Japanese island of Okinawa in the East China Sea. I awoke around 5.30 AM CST after an inviting 7 hours sleep over the Pacific. The Asian Sun filling the cabin with dancing rays. Once again experienced the morning of December 2 now at an altitude of 11887 M. Clear Skies with a light Northerly wind. ETA 07.05 AM.

It was 7 AM when I landed in Shanghai Pudong Airport. Breezing through immigration and customs using crudely basic Mandarin. I caught the Maglev train from Terminal Two to Longyang Station in central Shanghai. This is the fastest commercial train in the world. It was the only sensible way to travel from the airport into the city. The Maglev uses magnetic levitation technology to reach speeds of up to 300 km per hour, thus taking 6 min to Nanjing East from Shanghai Pudong Airport. From Nanjing East I took a taxi to Pudong Ave across the Huangpu river. Now, in a taxi screaming in and out of the highways of Shanghai in an uncontrollable pace I could see China. I was charged 100 Yaun for that near death experience. (I later discovered that such a price is 50 Yaun).

Still shaken with Yuan feeling like monopoly money I checked into Novotel Shanghai Atlantis. From the 39th floor, room 3619 offered views of a ‘communist with Chinese characteristics’ skyline. Futuristic, ambitious and enormous. Shanghai is the largest city in the world consisting of 24 million people who live, eat, work and think between the Yangtze and Huangpu rivers that form the worlds largest commercial port.

I left my hotel on foot taking a path through Lujiaziu residential district, the city is a web of antonyms from the perspective of a first-time foreigner. I saw poverty alongside slick Ferraris. Commerce alongside communism. Tradition alongside modernism. One can see all these in an half an hour passagata in Shanghai.

The City God temple is located in the old walled city. As the ferry terminal was under repair I crossed the Huangpu to the old town via taxi and tunnel. The City God temple was first dedicated to the spirit of Sishan but converted in 1403 to dedicate the city Gods. The city Gods are Huo Guang, Qin Yubo and Chen Huacheng. I stood back. Much to the similarity of the Chinese officials standing back with approval. Thousands of Chinese with incense sticks spiraling smoke in confucius ecstasy. There was a great brazier in the central courtyard with which the faithful could light their incense sticks.

I was pushed back by the shear quantity of people entering the Temple. I decided to retreat to the Yu Garden. Not assuming but wishing for tranquility. The Yu Garden is Ming Dynasty work. Acquired by merchants in 1770 and then consequently renovated. It was first opened to the public in 1780 but during the First Opium War the garden was damaged. The most popular sight in the garden is the Currow ancient stone. In fact, it was such a popular sight I was again trapped by the crowd and never saw the stone. One of several stories is that the stone was intended to be part of the Imperial palace but was recovered when a boat sank close to Shanghai. Whatever the origin of the stone, its importance to the Chinese is unquestionable.

The Bund is the lifeblood of Shanghai. Living and changing with those many Chinese who go there to walk. They come to take it’s aspirational and entrepreneurial energy. The Chinese are a people of dreamers. They now here talk of a Chinese dream. A dream where happiness is achieved through the collective success of the country. The Bund reflects this dream with it’s view towards the Shanghai skyline reaching for the stairs themselves. I turned around and saw the many colonial era buildings. The Chinese never destroyed these buildings. In fact, they are all completely persevered with the exception of the red stair displayed above every door and on every clock tower. Here on the Bund I was treated to the Chinese story. Behind me its history. The Paris of the East and the statue of Mao. Out in front, over the river I saw the future of Shanghai, unshakably bold, ambitions and with purpose.

Back at the Hotel went for a swim followed with dinner on the 50th floor. I was surprised to find the restaurant was slowly rotating which offered a complete view of the night skyline. Shortly after dinner I called a cab to Nanjing East station. Maglav train back to Shanghai Pudong airport. Flew with Lufthansa to Munich Germany departing midnight CST. Arrived in Munich 5.06 AM Central European Time Sunday 3 December 2017.


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