After long dilemma, I walked out of my home in this weekend at last. I went to see the real and fake marketplaces of Shanghai, as well as the riverside.
I started from my closest Xujiahui metro station. The station has a couple of lines passing through it – line 1 and line 4. My destination was the station named ‘Shanghai Science and Technology Museum’. In the platform, there was a set of ticket counters along with automated ticket vending machines. As a newcomer, I did not risk the vending machines, rather went to the counter and bought the tickets. Then passed through the check-in gate (similar to Kolkata Metro), and took the stairs to reach the platform. The platform looks similar to any of the Kolkata Metro platform except one piece of add-on. There is a single platform shared between up and down lines – and each end of the platform is covered by glass frames. The glass-frames also have doors placed in between. When a train stops, each of its doors stops at one of the doors of the frame, then both opens up simultaneously. The reason is crystal clear: there is no scope for anybody to jump in the line, either accidentally or to commit suicide.
There were five stoppages between Xujiahui and People’s square – the place where I had to switch to line 2. It took around five minutes a station. In People’s square, however, the add-on was missing. I felt probably safety is beaten by the cost – what is affordable for a posh station like Xujiahui, is not affordable for another station. However, I went up and then walked about half a kilometer through an underground tunnel, to reach the line 2 station. The directions are in English and Chinese, so there is no trouble if you follow them. But, please don’t at least expect anybody to speak English. The line 2 actually goes under the river to reach my destination, although there is no unique experience for that as the underground tunnel is as dark as it is in any other places. Ultimately, after five more stations, I reached the destination.
The metro is really crowded, even in the weekend. I can easily project the situation in a weekday – office time. It would be no better than a Kolkata Metro experience. The frequency of trains is high – a train in a couple of minutes. Even in the weekend, all seats are occupied in every train, although standing is comfortable. And there is crowd in the platform, at the escalator, inside the tunnel or at the shops. I heard that China is the most populated country in the world. I saw it today.
Most of the ‘Shanghai hawker’s market’ is underground, attached to these metro stations. The beggars and footpath-sleepers also find comfortable home out in the stairs of the Metro. There are escalators, but they are only to go up. To go down, you have to take stairs. Shanghai streets are almost free of beggars, may be because the authorities are too strict about them. The authority keeps the city ‘look clean’ but the real beggars come out of their den at night. I could see a glimpse of them underground. The pattern of the beggars is same as that in India – ranging from a blind playing a flute to a mother carrying a child. However, it seemed to me, they are a little bit better dressed than their counterparts in Kolkata.
Leaving aside the crowd and beggars, when I reached the station and came up to the open air, I was really charmed. The grand building of ‘Shanghai Science and Technology Museum’ is in front of me. It requires a little knowledge to estimate that it’s been a grand product of a huge investment (later I came to know that the amount is 1.78 billion yuan, i.e. 9 billion Rs) to promote science among the children. Although I am a little bit skeptic of how this kind of museum can promote scientific mind, I have no option but to respect the efforts made. After taking a few photographs, I walked into the market. I had already read about it in a site that asked foreigners to start bargaining at one-fifth of the quoted price. I did it and bought a kimono type dress along with a cotton shirt with Chinese handicraft. The cost was 80 and 100 yuan respectively. I did everything perfectly, from starting with one-fifth to sticking to it and act as I am not that interested in the object. Yet, at the end the owner was happy to sell it, and I was a little bit irritated as it seems I got ‘cheated’. However, the consolation is clear to me – how shamelessly can you bargain? Blaming my ‘shame’ to put lowest digits to bargain with, I started for Nanjing Road, again via Metro.
The interesting thing that I saw in that small market was a shop named ‘Gulistan’. As per the hoardings, it serves Turkish and Uighur foods, but they are no different from Indian kebabs. It is a gift of Chinese western part that is closer to central Asia and India.
The Nanjing Road is the shopping capital of Shanghai. It is said that an investment of $2 billion is being added to this road by 2010. It is not a traditional road as it was a few decades ago. Now it’s a pedestrian road, paved with tiles, with high-rises on both sides. I started walking towards the bund (river) and the old Shanghai came close to me. There are old style buildings, with arch shaped cantilevers, and red colored building supported by additional steel structures outside. The ground floors of these buildings are full of shops, mostly selling clothes, jackets and chop-sticks. It is absolutely a cousin of Kolkata Esplanade area, only missing a couple of cinema halls. The old narrow roads, the market beside, the traffic jams and red buildings, all point to a colonial cousin of Kolkata been nurtured by the British half a century ago.
I took a ride to the sightseeing spot of the bund (river). It was an underground journey, crossing the river in a small single compartment closed trolley. I bought the ticket at 45 yuan and ultimately it was useless. I thought I would see a bit under the river, but it was just another blind tunnel. On the other side, the arrangement for watching the river was fully perfect, with lash green lawns and pavements beside the river. The tallest building of Shanghai is also located nearby, although it’s difficult to recognize it as a ‘building’ at all. It looks more of a tower, with a couple of spherical balls attached to its belly. Later I discovered that those balls are basically restaurants with 360 degree view of the city. I am already planning to visit the place once more and obviously to visit the restaurant in the evening.
The river was another cousin of the Ganges, although less wide. However, the skyline is full of skyscrapers. After spending half an hour beside the muddy river water, I started back.
At the time of return, the Nanjing road looked closer to the fifth avenue in NY than Esplanade of Kolkata. The gorgeous lighting and the innumerable shopping malls does not only show the advances China has made in last couple of decades, but also signifies how we have lost our ways in a harsh, capitalist world. The Nanjing Road Metro station is full of beggars, yet nobody dares to come up and create inconvenience to the rich pedestrians, who are busy in window shopping. Is it a good move for the Government to deny them a few bucks more? Or is it good to keep them away underground? I know, it takes a full-length debate to come to conclusion. However, leave apart morality, that’s how China is going ahead.