Over to Shanghai
I boarded in the Flight to Singapore on Friday night, at NSCB Airport, Kolkata. Most of the flight members were Indians and the queue to check in the Singapore Airlines Flight was longer than any Air Deccan Flight. I was really surprised to find so many Indians traveling overseas, may be due to my lack of knowledge of Indians in Singapore.
My next surprise came with Singapore Changi Airport. My father landed there in 1989 and told me beforehand that it’s going to be an experience. The airport proved him right. You never have to walk to reach the appropriate parking bay; the floor walks (something similar to escalator) itself. The size of the airport is huge – it takes at least 15 minutes for the flight to reach the terminal after landing, that too without any disruption. There are lanes for flights to reach the terminal. There are total 68 parking bays as per wiki. The other interesting aspects of the business-oriented country are the shopping malls inside the airport. Although I did not buy anything, I saw almost everything’s available there.
The next flight took off in the morning and I was quick to notice the change in demography. Almost all the passengers are Mongolians now; we are a tiny Indian minority out there. There are announcements and displays in Chinese, those I don’t understand at all. Also, a major shift in male-female ratio of the passengers – something that I hope to discuss about in details – is in favor of women.
The next major surprise was the city of Shanghai. I was expecting a city of High-rises with a brand-new airport and a broad highway. It is more than those. The high-rises are taller, the highways are cleaner and broader and the airport is bigger than that I expected. It may not be as hi-tech as Singapore, but certainly out of comparison with any Indian counterparts. In fact I am really proud of that India is indeed compared with China, and it is estimated that India will reach the current Chinese state within next 10-12 years. The striking thing at the first glance is that people are disciplined a lot – may be because they are citizens of a metro city.
I was lodged in a Service apartment – near a posh area in Shanghai. It’s not bad, but not at all well-furnished. I need more utensils to cook (may be the Chinese don’t). Otherwise, there are ACs, TVs (all Chinese channels), five-star like bathrooms and first-class furniture. I tried to browse the TV channels and interestingly found Indian serials been telecast. Soon, I discovered that they are dubbed in Chinese and the particular channel is dedicated to Indian Soap serials only. I am still looking for information on how popular these channels are. The channel has a green maple leaf as an icon. The serial I watched was “Koshish”. The owner of the apartment is a company named Orient Manhattan Ltd, who owns a lot of similar apartments in around the area. The COO, Susan, greeted us. She can really talk in English but often takes time to figure out the correct word to express. She has a small office at a nearby place where from I was able to make my first call back to India. I also came to know that in the same compound, there are more Indians, mostly from Infosys and ABN-Amro. She bought a couple of calling cards for us, which I actually got on the next day. ISD calls are cheap in China and possibly come with lower quality than that in India. The China Telecom calling cards cost 30RMB for 100mins (1 RMB = 5.5Rs roughly).
I was out for a walk in the evening around posh Hongqiao Road area. I was a little bit helpless without Chinese money; they call it Yuan, officially named as Renminbi. I walked around to find the huge twin-towers, where the Microsoft office is located. The area around is full of malls and wide roads. Most of the buildings are 15-20 floored, with a few classic exceptions. There’s a football ground nearby, alongside a few small shops also. The security guards are similar to Indian ones, except a small difference. I wanted to confirm whether the Microsoft office is actually located in that building, they did not understand at all. When they called their officer in charge, a suited person came up. He also did not recognize Microsoft, even after I showed back of my T-shirt – “Microsoft” written in English. He tried to pattern-match it with some of the existing sign-book entries, but unfortunately, none of the MS-employees visited the office on that Sunday. So, his efforts were all in vain. He said “sorry” (how did he know that!!) and I understood the situation. None knows English – not even the minimum to carry an informal conversation – except a few privileged ones.
The next morning I were straight to the office. Fortunately, due to the previous experience, the office security persons did recognize IDC entrants and there were no problems to follow. The office was another Microsoft office, with an exceptional view of Shanghai skyline.
The lunch was supposed to be the next interesting topic. There was a restaurant in the same Plaza. I went there, along with my Chinese colleagues. They were delighted to know that I was non-vegetarian and can have beef as well. Though they didn’t order beef, may be some secret instructions or experiences before, I was prepared to have beef. The ordered items were fish and pork. The pork items were really delicious and I want to have them more while in China. The fish were sea-fish mainly and nobody knew which fish it was!! All the preparations were in fact marinated and boiled. The gravy was delicious; some of them were in fact soup-like. The favorite one was the kebab like pork-pieces colored like beets. It was simply superb!!
Yesterday I went to a KFC and found out that HSBC credit-cards were not accepted there. Today, I saw my colleagues are paying by some special cards, meant to pay restaurant bills only. Some of the restaurants accept these cards and one need to ask the acceptability before they enter a restaurant. The system is still mostly cash-based with a few sporadic efforts of cashless transactions. In India, most of the class one restaurants do accept credit cards and also the overall banking is mostly cashless. In the evening, I had some food where we used the Chinese currency – 754 for $100. I went to McDonalds and the serviceman was clever enough to help me with pictured menu-card. I had a McChicken combo at 18.5Yuan. Similar food would cost around 150Rs in India – Rs50 more. In general, food costs more in Shanghai than in any Indian cities.
While coming back, I used a Metro Railway station to cross a road. Although there are flyovers, they are less in number and pedestrians do depend on Zebras to cross the dangerous roads. The Metro Railway appears to be similar one like one in Kolkata. It’s not as clean as one would have expected it to be. The station I visited was Xujiahui (District – Xuhui, famous for the Cathedral), clearly written in English at the entry. Later from the Wikipedia I came to know that the station could be the best landmark for our place. Also, the Shanghai Metro, is much bigger railways service than single-route Kolkata Metro. Shanghai has five key metro routes compared to just one each in Kolkata and Delhi.
The similarity with India was also visible in the attitude of the people. The bus drivers are shouting at the passengers at the stops, although the buses are better ones. The hawkers and roadside beggars are present at footpath, although they are better dressed up. Streets are full of people, although they look different from Indians. They are Chinese, out to add themselves in the world order. The weather was similar to that of Kolkata – hot and humid outside, cloudy sky with occassional drizzles.
The topic I wanted to really talk about was the women in China. They are dressed scantily in Indian definition of dressing, yet they are comfortable with that. It created an impression that dressing should be different for different ethnicity – because the shape and the structure of the body are different. Mini-est skirts and string-tops do fit them. The variety of skirts and tops are really Moreover, women do heavily participate in jobs, both in formal and informal sectors. The ratio should be much higher than India. One step towards joining the big-league of nations is to employ more and more women to increase the work-force and to build a society based on equality. The employment of women in all sectors is a must. In China, there are women bus-conductors, restaurant-“boy”s, salesgirls, bank-officials and hawkers – a majority of them. Emancipation and empowerment of women should be the next Indian goal – if India at all wants to become a China in future.
As I explore more and more of China, I will keep everybody updated. It’s only tiny part of Shanghai I have travelled across; let me wait for getting a chance to draw a better picture soon.