When we planned our trip to Malaysia we had to have a layover in Shanghai, China. It could be an hour and a half or thirteen hours. We researched online and talked to the airline about the need for visas to visit Shanghai during a layover. The airline said we could stay 144 hours without a visa as long as we had a confirmed ticket to another destination. On the internet we got conflicting information, some said 144 hours and other places said 24 hours, but in either case we were OK.
After a 13 hour flight from Los Angeles, we arrived at Pudong Airport (what an appropriate name). We found a sign that said “24 HOUR TRANSIT”. There were only about fifteen people in line but it was more than an hour before we got to the front of the line.
In front of us was a tall, blond American man in kakis and a plaid flannel shirt. He was telling a young lady from New York he was going to the World Urban Forum in Malaysia. We told him we were going there too. He became very enthusiastic and said he had been to the Rio and Paris conferences too. Debbie Bacigalupi said so had she. He was now our instant friend. He wanted to know what our interest in the conference was. Debbie said she was from a ranching family and wanted to protect ranches and farms. He enthusiastically said he did too. He said he had been at the North Dakota Keystone Pipeline protest to protect farmlands from the pipeline. I told him there were millions of pipelines across America. We asked him what he did and he said he organized human artistic displays that could only be seen from the air. His name is John Quigley. He was going to do a display at the WUF9 conference. He said at the Paris conference he organized a display for 100% renewable energy. I couldn’t contain myself any longer and said I was against 100% renewables. I might as well have punched him in the face. He wanted to know why. I said, look around, just about everything you see is made from petroleum products. He said, yes, NOW. I wondered what substitute he had in mind for plastic. https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2018/02/14/giant-art-formation-to-spread-message-event-at-dataran-merdeka-to-promote-rights-of-the-disabled-and/
We finally got to the window and were told there was no “24 hour transit” and we couldn’t leave the airport. After a 13 hour flight, we now had 13 hours to waste in an airport. The view from the airport was obstructed by the quality of the air. You couldn’t see beyond the runways. Besides playing games on my iPad until I had to recharge, I did a lot of people watching. I noticed that every female flight attendant and every female airline employee was young, thin and wore her hair EXACTLY the same. No bangs, no tendrils, their hair was pulled straight back into a tight little bun. I assume there aren’t many anti-discrimination law suits happening in China. I also noticed Chinese people talking on cell phones and taking pictures with them, but not spending hours on them the way we do. I assumed again, they don’t have access to as much as we do.
When we finally reached Malaysia, one of the first things we did was find the Chinese Embassy and get an expedited visa so that we could visit Shanghai.
After our time in Malaysia, with our visa’s in hand we landed again at Pudong Airport, Shanghai, China. We got in a very long, very slow line to go through Passport check. They took our picture, fingerprints and checked our visas. After I passed through I waited behind the cubical Debbie was going through. I could see the computer screen the officer was looking at. There were at least three pictures of Debbie on the screen. I wondered were the other pictures came from.
Once through the visa check, we got in another very long, even slower line to go through customs. Once released from airport prison, we took the bullet train close to the city. The train runs on magnets and travels 19 miles in 6 minutes. We then changed to the subway where we were packed in like sardines. It seemed when people got off even more got on. I couldn’t imagine trying to take groceries home on the subway.
We ended up at the Huangpu River across from downtown Shanghai. We were the first that morning to wait by the gate to the ferry. As people started to arrive a family came with grandma, grandpa, two adult sons (one dressed in modern clothes, black skinny jeans, black sweater and sunglasses, one a Monk in red robes), and an adult daughter with her little girl. They took family pictures with the group. We suddenly realized that we were quite a curiosity to the natives.
Debbie knelt down to get something from her backpack and the young man in black sat on the ground in front of her and took a selfie with us. Then the woman with her hands on the little girls shoulders scooted herself and her daughter into the middle of us and had her family take pictures of them with us.
The city has very impressive modern buildings, much like any big city anywhere in the world. We walked along the river and came to a large mall. It had H&M, Zara, Coach, Forever 21, McDonalds, Starbucks…..all the stores you’d find anywhere. We left the mall, went up some stairs and found ourselves on an elevated sidewalk that encircled the the four corners of the intersection. After having coffee at Starbucks, we wanted to see the older, more authentic part of the city so we took the “Bund”, small subway cars, that travel under the river. It was like a Disney ride with flashing lights and sounds.
Through out the city and surrounding it are high rise apartments. 30, 40 stories high. Many people work and live in the same building. They range from old, poorly maintained buildings to new, high end buildings, but what was common to both were the clothes drying on balconies or in the front windows. Apparently, clothes dryers aren’t an approved appliance. With the air quality as poor as it is, I wondered how clean “air drying” was. Another custom you couldn’t miss were the face masks worn by so many. They went from the typical paper medical masks, to cloth cartoon masks, printed masks, fuzzy animal masks and ominous, Ninja looking black masks.
We also couldn’t help noticing all the surveillance. Cameras were EVERYWHERE, on the streets and in the buildings. Not only are you on camera at all times, they use face recognition so they know who you are. At one intersection we counted more than 30 cameras. We were told that if you commit a crime you will be arrested within seven minutes. I wondered if the masks were to protect them from germs and smog or to disguise them. The crowds, the masses of people were daunting. If you spoke to an individual they would smile and giggle and bow and be very polite but crowds would run you over. No “sorry” or “pardon me” if they stepped on your foot, tripped you or bumped into you. I think there are so many of them they know they have to push forward or they’ll be left behind.
We were there during the Chinese New Year and the entire city was decorated in red tassels. There were large cartoon like displays everywhere. They really like cartoons and they dote on their children. Although, they can now have a second child, they have to pay to have one and the fee makes it impossible for any but the rich. For that reason you still don’t see many families with more than one child.
In the old town were hundreds of small interesting shops. We spent some time in a shop that had everything from fabrics, beads, back scratchers, purses, cosmetics and expensive jade jewelry. Debbie bought some gifts to take home but didn’t have enough Yen and the shop didn’t take credit cards. The cashier said he’d take US dollars so everyone got out their cell phones to figure out the conversion. Haggling and laughing ensued as the conversion kept changing.
We came upon an old Chinese garden built within an unusual rock formation. There were temples and koi ponds that flowed through the rocks to other ponds. There were walkways and bridges that wound their way around the garden. The garden gave you a glimpse into how China used to be. I crossed a small bridge, as a young couple were taking selfies of themselves. As I passed them, the young man touched my arm and held out his iPhone. I thought he was asking me to take a photo of them, but instead he moved me next to his girlfriend and took a picture of her with me. Americans are so rare there, especially, blond, blue eyed ones, that they want to capture us on film. I wasn’t sure if I was a celebrity or a freak.
We decided to have lunch at a restaurant that had been recommended. We hailed a cab and told the driver the address. He put it into his GPS and I watched and listened as his GPS told him in Chinese where to turn. In about 10 or 15 minutes we arrived at the restaurant. As we exited the cab I looked in front of us and realized we were about a block over from where we started. I thought it was hysterically funny that his GPS helped his scam.
Later as I walked down a small street a young boy stopped in front of me and said, “Hello, my name is ???? and I’m from Shanghai, China, where are you from?” I told him I was from Los Angeles, California, USA. I told him he spoke English very well. He thanked me. I asked him how old he was and he said he was seven years old. As we talked, the little boys mother was video taping us. He kept looking at his Mom for approval and she kept smiling and nodding. I asked him if he learned English in school and he said he did. He got out a paper he had in his pocket and unfolded it. He asked me to write my name and where I was from. He said he was going to show his teacher and his class. As I wrote I told him he was a very polite young man and I was sure his mother was very proud of him. His Mom said she was. He bowed and thanked me as he ran to his Mom so pleased with his trophy.
A few days after we returned home I heard Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the end of term limits. This allows him to rule for life. I wish he had done this before we visited China. I would love to have asked the people what they thought.
Having just been inundated with praise for “diversity” and “migration” at WUF9, it was impossible to ignore there weren’t any hijabs or burkas in China. I can’t swear there are none anywhere in China but I didn’t see any Blacks, Latinos, East Indians or any other race in Shanghai but Asian. It makes you question why the UN is so insistent Europe and America take all the Muslim refugees. If “diversity” is so valuable, if immigration is so good for the economy, it humanitarianism is such a virtue, why are Asian countries not embracing “migration”?
Since we opened up trade with China, they have become very rich and powerful….mostly at our expense. If we don’t learn from this, we’ll all be speaking Chinese in the future.