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March 9-13

On March 7th Roy and I departed at noon from the Osaka International Ferry Port. We boarded a boat bound for Shanghai on a one-way ticket that cost US$200 and took 50 hours (we slept on bunk beds). Two days later, we arrived in the city of Shanghai, the economic capital of China, although it hasn't always been such a classy place. Here's how our Lonely Planet guide describes the city:
"Whore of the East, Paris of China and Queen of the Orient; city of quick riches, ill-gotten gains and fortunes lost on the tumble of dice; the domain of adventurers, swindlers, gamblers, drug runners, idle rich, dandies, tycoons, missionaries, gangsters and backstreet pimps."

Needless to say, we couldn't wait.

Arriving by ferry, we traveled the Hwang He River for more than an hour before arriving at port, getting a good look at the bustling industrial shore of Shanghai.

Of course, modern Shanghai is far more cosmopolitan and there are fewer shady deals taking place. For accommodation we stayed at a beautiful hostel right in the Bund river area. Our comfortable dorm beds were no more than 55 Yuan ($7) a night, which at the time seemed like a bargain (it was the trip's most expensive accommodation). We stayed there with some fellow travelers we met on the boat, and spent four days exploring the city.

Shanghai has many sides; the old and the new, the poor and the rich. We walked down narrow streets and saw housing construction upon housing construction

Old Shanghai, the original city and a beautifully preserved market, seen in the picture below. The Chinese people there were remarkably persistent. As we walked down the street we had plenty of young men accost us with shouts of, "Anteek? You see anteek?" It didn't matter how many times you said you weren't interested--they didn't let up. But we did get to see a number of stores, and I bought an English version of Mao's Little Red Book for just $1, which kept me company on the train rides west. Below on the left is the gate that led to the merchant district of the old town, and on the right is an pagoda in the market interior,

Then there is the developed side of Shanghai, the part of the city that is brand-spanking new. We went here and saw the Shanghai city museum, which charts the city's development from a quiet fishing town of a few thousand people to a teeming city of international commerce and trade.

The Chinese really don't have a good impression of the foreign influence on Shanghai. One exhibit at the museum was titled "The City Infested With Foreign Adventurers." (The Japanese was much more tame, Gaikokujin ga Atsumatta Daitoshi, which means 'The City Where Foreigners Gathered.' The theme of nasty imperialists keeping China down was a running theme throughout our trip.

There were plenty of markets and backstreets where you could lose yourself for hours looking at the live chickens and ducks, eels and crabs in buckets, noisy bargaining and smelly cuisine. China and Japan may both be part of East Asia, but they are quite different societies. On the bottom right, Roy, myself, and the two aforementioned travelers we met on the boat from Osaka (outside a Tibetan restaurant, wearing silk scarves given to us by our very friendly waiters and waitresses.

Our Tibetan food was great, but by and large, "real" Chinese food fell far below expectations. Now, granted we were eating at the cheap places for just a few bucks a meal, but I was surprised that, at least in this part of the country, the food was not good. I am glad to report this greatly improved as we moved to the far west.

A few other notes... few people speak English, but with a year of Chinese language study under my belt and a basic understanding of the grammar, I was able to communicate quite well by writing, using Japanese characters and a few words throw in at the right places.

On around noon on the 13th, we boarded a cramped train heading west, and we got off at Nanjing.

c. 2005 Christopher Gunson