Shanghai, mon amour

Shanghai, mon amour

My first time landing in Shanghai, I definitely made a newbie mistake. I was flying with British Airways in a pretty Business Class experience, even if I had just purchased an STA Travel Around the World ticket. I got a bit too comfy and I felt like home - so instead of sleeping, I binge-watched all the good stuff the flight entertainment service provided.

It was 2007 and long flights were the de facto Netflix. 

As you can imagine, when passing the Immigration Control in China, I was a mess. I felt hammered and I wanted to crawl in a corner and just sleep. Which I did 3 minutes after entering the taxi and telling my Chinese driver the address of my hostel. Another big newbie mistake - in China you better give addresses in written. I only found out about it once I woke up, one hour later, with no hostel in sight.

My drowsiness costed me 20€ after 2 hours driving the city on a taxi, don't you love China? I finally made it to my 5€ a night bed in a shared bedroom with other 3 people. I was staying one week in Shanghai on my way to Sydney, so I thought another quick nap wouldn’t hurt. Well, that was a 6 hour nap and for the first time in my life, I woke up without knowing where I was.

Those first 10 seconds are paralyzing. I know I am me, I know everything is fine, nothing hurts, nothing wrong happened - but I stare at the ceiling, at the sheets, around me, and I don’t recognize a thing and my mind cannot figure out how I had arrived in this place I cannot name.

It was the end of July and the city was hot, humid, therefore full of smog. I spent the week walking around what I guess is the most western place in China, completely under construction, getting lost in small lanes where you learn the full meaning of micro houses with a teenager playing games in a computer basically on the street. I got some fruit for 10 cents from street vendors and got frustrated every time a local refused to talk to me in English.

I went absolutely crazy in the malls and in the silk markets and I paid the price when leaving the country. 200€ on suitcase overweight to be exact. I even risked my life getting in a taxi bike with a guy who again didn’t get the address right but thought my tight was the right place to rest his hand. I remember looking up in the sky, having a full moon and thinking, if I end up dead here, who the hell is going to find me?

I'm ashamed to admit that I had chosen the motorbike instead of a taxi when the train station closed on me just because it was my last night in Shanghai and I didn’t want to get the 100 yuan minimum ATM withdrawal. So yes, I risked my life for 10€.

That’s life when you feel you got nothing to lose.


This time around, our way to Shanghai was quick and clean: 11 hours from Frankfurt am Main to Shanghai, 20 minutes of Tai-Chi tutorial on the plane, 10 minutes in the high-speed Maglev train, 8 hours in the city center - enough time to find out that the once unspoiled Pearl Tower is now surrounded by tourist offices. The pinky answer to the Fernsehturm (well, I really don’t know which one went first) used to be in a roundabout all by itself, in full glory. Not anymore. Now there is even a pedestrians platform on top of the car roundabout. 

Shanghai didn't feel changed, just more finished. The buildings that were still half way done 9 years ago are now completed. There was no shopping craze this time - we are traveling with one single carry-on backpack and we cannot buy a thing. Seems crazy, but it gives you peace of mind: no need to go see shops, or scouting for souvenirs. We just stroll and discover.

9 years ago I took hundreds of pictures, recorded my full visit to the top of the Pearl Tower and vlogged my full week in Shanghai. I never took the time to edit the material, I didn’t even transfer it to my computer. My Sydney adventure started right away and those tapes are right now in one of the 10 boxes stored in Berlin. I never replayed them in my video camera.

It took me 9 years to write down my memories of my first time in Asia. 

Checking my lists of trips taken afterward, I still have to share my impression on Sydney, Los Angeles, New York, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Sharm el Sheikh, Tunis, Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and New Zealand. This year I’m taking the time to write down my memories and share my knowledge. Just out of pure pleasure.


For the ones reading until here AND speaking Catalan, here's a little bonus:

Singapore, the biggest mall in the world

Singapore, the biggest mall in the world

'Tis the season

'Tis the season