This little piggy went to market…

Buoyed by the purchase of a football shirt for 35 RMB last week, we decided to go hard on the shopping today.

No, not Ikea and or Carrefour (I’m not sure I can go back to Carrefour for a while anyway, after shouting at a woman about vegetables the other day). And not Nanjing Road or even Huaihai Road. Going hard on shopping in Shanghai means QIPU LU.
Qipu Lu, also known as “cheap street” is a market in the south of Hongkou. There’s an indoor market or two plus some shops out on the street itself. Each market has 4 or 5 floors of cheap Chinese fashion. It’s a bit of an assault course of touts (bag! watch! copy!) and some of the stuff on sale is a bit crap, but there are some finds to be had.

Today we picked up:

  • Two pairs of Adidas trainers for Matt. Very good copies but the guy we bought them from was a total dick, throwing shoes around and swearing at us. I went for a wander while Matt tried on different sizes and while I was gone the guy showed Matt some porn on his computer.
  • A new wallet as I’ve been using the Hello Kitty one I only bought as a joke.
  • Grey and black skirt from the Korean market. Matt says it looks like two school skirts stitched together. I think that’s why I like it. What does that say about me?
  • A belt for my work trousers as they keep falling down.
  • A pair of pyjamas for me, because I’m so rock and roll like that.

We couldn’t find any football shirts but I think we were in the wrong place as I couldn’t see any sportswear at all. There must be another market for that, though when I asked someone he took us to his friends stall with a few football shirts and then barricaded us in for a bit. Maybe we have to buy the shirts at the games.

We were a bit overwhelmed by this point and wanted out. One stop on the metro and we were at the relative civilisation of East Nanjing Road, and the first restaurant we saw was a vegetarian place. It was meant to be.

One thing I haven’t seen on any of my shopping excursions is wool. I miss doing crochet! If anyone, by any chance, knows where I can buy wool in Shanghai, please let me know!

After all that shopping I got a manicure before I headed off to Chinese class, and managed to fall asleep mid-manicure. Hey, shopping is tiring work…

End of a long week – admin, eating and a very special visitor

It’s the end of my first full week in Shanghai. Another rainy Sunday. Does it rain every Sunday? This is probably the last Sunday for a while that I’m not working, and I don’t really mind too much if it does rain once I’m spending my Sundays teaching kids.

This week has seemed both long and short.

Monday

Training at one of the EF centres out in Pudong. I had waffles for lunch and went to Sproutworks for dinner. And had a cream bun on the way home. #YOLO

Tuesday

We had to be ready at 7am to be taken to the medical centre. This involved piling into the minibus (we’re getting good at this) and driving along one of the disorientating elevated highways until we reached the hospital. We signed in at reception and took a number, deli-counter style. Then we were sent from room to room: some stickers here, get changed there, blood pressure over here, ECG over there… It was all fairly straightforward – some of it quite amusing, like the eye check where you had to hold a spoon over one eye – apart from the ultrasound, where I’m not sure what the doctor was looking for but my ribs are bruised. 

Once we were done, we got back in the minibus and were dropped off at the metro station. By this point I’d spent a week biting my tongue, thinking that maybe people needed time to get used to travelling on the (in English and not confusing) metro. But it was like someone had dropped a basket of cats outside the metro station, people were wandering about asking why the visa officer wouldn’t take us to where we were going, and other people were wandering off in search of Taco Bell, and no one could make a decision or do anything autonomous… so I snapped and shouted at the group and went to stand on the other end of the platform from everyone else. Six days and it had come to this.

By the time we reached Xujiahui, I was a bit more chilled and rejoined the group for lunch, before an afternoon of training.

Excitingly, I had been receiving updates from Matt, who had arrived at Pudong and made his way to my hotel. When we finished training, I legged it to the metro and found him fast asleep in my room. It felt surreal but I was very happy.

We went for dinner at Vegetarian Lifestyle, a restaurant I went to last time I was in Shanghai, where I ordered (and ate) so much that the waiters asked several times if anyone was joining me.

Wednesday

My group of 50 fellow teachers split up into the type of teaching that we would be doing: adults, kids, online. I’m a kids & teens teacher so I went to the headquarters for my training, which was really interesting. I am genuinely excited about teaching and hope that I’ll be the best teacher I possibly can be. Afterwards I went to meet Matt and we did things like go to the bank (this took much longer than expected) before eating lots of dumplings and going to the football.

Thursday

At training we went through the syllabus for one of the age groups, which was very interesting. The materials are so good, the teacher notes and interactive materials are extremely comprehensive. At lunchtime I got sick of trying to find places that had vegetarian food and had banana icecream instead. Afterwards I went to the mall and got Matt to come and meet me. We bought bedding for the flat, then we went to see the flat as Matt hadn’t seen it. Luckily he liked it!! He had a little nap, then we went to the French Concession. There was a restaurant in my guidebook that looked great, but it had closed down. I was hangry by this point but we went to a Japanese restaurant instead and all was well.

Friday

We had to prepare powerpoint presentations and videos about ourselves, which was a little chaotic as different people had heard slightly different things. I made a video of myself which was fine until the end when I garbled “okthanksbye”. Afterwards Matt and I went to Ikea and dropped more things off at the flat, meaning that Matt had only seen the place in the dark – which felt a bit weird for both of us. Afterwards we went to see the Bund all lit up, a real spectacle. This city is really awe-inspiring. We had dinner at a little restaurant, tofu dry hot pot and braised vegetables, plus prawns (for Matt) with what looked like icing on them.


Saturday

This was meant to be a productive day but we got up quite late, and by the time we’d had breakfast, done some work and done our laundry it was getting on. We packed up and checked out, remembering to pick up our pink temporary residents registration forms before we left. We got a taxi, managing to just about fit everything in the car (with begrudging help from the driver), and Matt fell asleep for most of the journey. The driver dropped us off almost at the door and we officially moved in.

After unpacking a little, Matt tried to get the smoke alarm to work but this was abandoned (temporarily I’m sure) as it was time to go out for dinner. We got on the metro (it’s less than 5 minutes walk away) and were whisked into town, to Sproutworks, where we met up with five of my fellow teachers. It was a hilarious evening and if Matt seemed overwhelmed by my noisy and raucous friends then he didn’t let on. We got a cream bun on the way home (#YOLO, etc) and then Matt managed to find Premier League games on our (all in Chinese) TV. Oh, and when we got home we found we were locked out of the block and had to knock on the downstairs neighbours to let us in (my Chinese really doesn’t cover “my landlord hasn’t cut me this key yet”).

Sunday

I did get up quite early… but then I went back to sleep. I woke up to the rain, which is loud in our flat as all the flats in the block have little metal balconies and it sounds a little like living inside a giant percussion instrument. The world’s largest gamelan, maybe. We had to go and register with the police, but the police station that the estate agent had so helpfully pointed out to me looked like this:

We went off to another police station and it was a very quick process – except the pink form from the hotel didn’t have a “to” date written on it, just a “from”. Thanks, Holiday Inn Express. Forms in hand, we bought some strange bread-like things from the bakery and went to the huge shopping centre at Zhongshan Park. We did a bit of wandering about (Matt liked the individual karaoke booths) and then bought some more things for the flat (washing powder! washing up liquid! a mop! three different types of crisps and three different types of oreos!).

This evening we walked about our neighbourhood and ate one of my favourite dishes (shredded potato) and drank my new favourite drink (pearl hot chocolate).

This coming week I have more training and we are planning some adventures for my day off. It’s due to rain all day tomorrow so I can’t use the hire bikes I’ve just signed up for, but there’s plenty of time ahead for that. 

SIPG vs Urawa Red – my first Chinese football match

Matt arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday, so it seemed fitting that we go to the football on his first full day. This week the Asian Champions League was on, with one of the big Shanghai clubs – SIPG – left in the tournament, and playing at home.

SIPG play at the Shanghai Stadium, and I read that you could just go to the Stadium metro stop and follow the crowds. I was a little apprehensive about it but it was true – we got to the station at about 7.20 and there were lots of people streaming towards the brightly lit stadium. There were a lot of touts milling about but their tickets seemed very expensive so we followed the crowds, looking out for a ticket office.

Once in the grounds, Matt spotted a stall selling shirts, the red shirt of SIPG. He asked me to ask how much they were: 35 RMB. That’s about £4. Matt was incredulous, to the point that I thought they might hike the price up. He bought an XL shirt and we went in search of the ticket office.

 

We couldn’t find the ticket office but we did find more touts, and I haggled with them until we found tickets for the price we wanted. “You can speak Chinese!” one tout said, after I’d been bargaining in Chinese for a few minutes. Yes, very observant.Tickets in hand, we bounded up the steps to the stadium. We were in block 19, on the other side of the stadium, so we started running as the match had already kicked off and we could hear lots of cheers from within. We didn’t want to miss any of the action!

By the time we got to our seats we were very warm, but were pleased to see we hadn’t missed anything. We found our seats, watched by everyone in the stand, and settled in. Within a minute – GOOOOAAAAL! I have no idea who scored but I jumped up and cheered with everyone else.

The stadium was absolutely enormous, with an athletics track encircling the pitch. The pitch also looked like it might have been a sheet of AstroTurf rolled out.

SIPG were clearly dominating the game, even to my non-expert eye. In fact, the Urawa Red players seemed to be falling over a lot.

The Urawa fans were in one little corner of the stadium, and were jumping up and down en masse. However I couldn’t hear their cheers as the SIPG fans were so loud. Lots of renditions of ‘we will rock you’. Lots of flags, drums and whooping (okay, the whooping was me).

By the 80th minute we were a little cold, and the score was 3-1, so we decided to sneak out a little early and beat the rush back to the metro. We found out later that we missed another goal! 

Back at the metro we picked up a pastel de nata (a bit eggy, but deliciously warm) and Matt fell asleep on the ride home.

I’ve now seen 3 football matches in my life: in Reykjavík, Milton Keynes and now Shanghai. I’m pretty happy with that!

House hunting

I mentioned the rather faceless hotel I am staying in in my last post. This was arranged – as was the driver pick up at the airport – by the school I am working for. They have paid for all the new teachers to stay here for two weeks while we look for apartments of our own, which is pretty cool. I thought this would mean I could relax for the first week or so but in our induction sessions on Thursday and Friday it was impressed on us that we needed to look for apartments as soon as possible. I was still quite keen to relax but Michelle (another teacher who’ll be at the same location as me) wanted to look for flats today, and I thought it would be a good idea to join forces.

Basically I thought I could piggy back on her, and see a few flats before I started my own search – in a nice relaxed fashion, of course.

Let’s just say things did not go according to plan.

We all went out last night, I left earlier than the others but still after the metro had closed so had a long walk before I found an available taxi. Michelle got home at 3am. However Michelle was still downstairs at 9.30am, the time we’d arranged to meet, whereas I was in bed and jumped out of the sheets like I’d been electrocuted at 9.32am.

We took the metro to Changshu Road and met our agent, Jason. He had a patent briefcase/handbag and was entirely uninterested in small talk.

  1. Dingy dump with broken kitchen and decrepit bathroom. Made those “homes from hell” programmes look really luxurious.
  2. Marginally better but still bad. Jason knew he was taking the piss but this is part of the game.
  3. As scheduled, Jason showed us somewhere that wasn’t a total hellhole, a duplex apartment with a harried tenant and her grey cat (priorities….). It was nice inside but to get to the flat you had to climb some tunnel-like stairs with minimal headroom, and possibly a fake wall into someone else’s house.
  4. Jason had clearly never been to this flat as he tried the keys in the flat next door, to the bemusement of the tenant there, who came out to see if he was being burgled. The flat itself was big but had a shared kitchen and bathroom.
  5. Jason left us by the side of the road for a while and went to get the keys for two more flats. The first was a large-ish room with a bus-stop style bench near the doorway. To get to the kitchen you went into the communal corridor, up another flight and into the kitchen. The bathroom was off this kitchen, and was shared with another flat.
  6. Jason spent ages trying to get into the security gates to this apartment but had the wrong stairs. Once inside we found a flat with no kitchen, just a hob balanced on the stairs.
  7. The next place had more potential, although the bathroom was slightly smaller than the wardrobe in my hotel. It had a new kitchen, with a separate living space, though separated only by glass and you had to go through the bedroom to get to the living area and kitchen.
  8. We saw a studio apartment, with a nice-ish bathroom and a functional but functioning kitchen. Michelle said the whole place was smaller than her bedroom.

By this point, Jason, Michelle and I were all sick of looking at apartments. Michelle and I were really hungry and I think Jason was annoyed we hadn’t snapped up one of his flats. He promised to show us more apartments – like the last one but in better value areas – tomorrow.

As we walked off, three young lads in matching blue suits accosted us. They couldn’t speak any English and used a translation app to ask if we were looking for somewhere to rent. I said yes and explained in Chinese what we were looking for. Come and look, they said. We went into their agency, where a bank of nine estate agents stared at us. One agent showed me properties on his computer but not the ones we wanted to see. Finally they took us to see:

9. A dated, tired flat with an astonishing amount of cupboards.

10. A tiny flat with water coming through the ceiling.

I told the lads that we were tired and hungry and didn’t want to see any more flats today, and said we’d be in touch tomorrow.

 Michelle wasn’t feeling very well – I’d already bought some traditional Chinese medicine cough sweets at a pharmacy earlier in the day – so we went to another pharmacy where we bought western pharmaceuticals, and after sharing a pizza, we headed back to the hotel.I took it upon myself to carry on the flat hunt when I got back to the hotel, thinking I could line up some viewings for tomorrow. I was feeling a little spooked about how bad the flats were, and worried that it might actually take more than a day to get everything sorted. I messaged an agent who said I could come and see the place immediately… so I put my shoes and jacket back on, walked back to the metro and got back on the train.

11. The flat was clean, recently renovated (including electric toilet seat!), nicely laid out, good vibe, cosy living area, bright bedroom, quiet complex, a few minutes walk from the metro… It wasn’t in the same area as the others, it was a bit further out, but a similar commute time to work, and it was less noisy and hectic than the other flats.

As we walked back to the metro, I asked the agent what I would have to do to reserve it. He said I’d have to put down 2000 RMB so that the landlord wouldn’t show it to anyone else. Feeling reckless and giddy, I walked to the ATM while the agent called the landlord to tell him I’d take it. I texted Matt furiously. Should I do it, what did he think – very unfair questions for someone who has never seen the flat, or indeed any flats in China, or in fact China at all.

We reconvened at the flat and bits of paper were signed. I did a little bit of negotiating and got 200 RMB per month knocked off the price. I’ve lost my magic touch! The landlord seemed nice though and not lecherous like one of the ones earlier in the day. As we left, the agent and the landlord asked my age. They said I looked very young, but when they found out that I’m the same age as the agent, the agent told me that Asian people usually look younger than their years but I look younger still.

(I asked the agent if he was from Shanghai. “Oh god no” he said.)

I go back tomorrow to sign the contract and pay the rest of the money, and then as of tomorrow, we have a flat of our very own!

Arrived in Shanghai

I can’t believe I’m actually here. I’m here! After so many years thinking about it, and so many months planning it. And I’m in a Holiday Inn Express, so it feels like I could be anywhere…

Yesterday, several time zones away, Matt took me to Heathrow Airport. Originally he wasn’t going to take me the whole way but he took pity on me and my incredibly heavy bags (in total, 50kg luggage…). It was really strange to wave him off and I can’t wait until he gets here next week.

I called China Eastern a few days ago to reserve a vegetarian meal but was told they couldn’t promise anything. But at check in they said I had a special meal, and didn’t kick up too much of a fuss about my visa (a non-standard port visa).

I went for dinner and then wandered over to my gate, where they were keen for everyone to board immediately. With half an hour to go I was in my seat and felt quite teary.

The flight itself was uneventful. Long. The in-flight entertainment didn’t work very well. I tried to sleep but couldn’t sleep properly. I had both of my special meals. For the final hour I stared out of the window as we flew over China. This is it! I wanted to take one of those clichéd “wings of a plane” photos but the cabin crew had already made me put my Kindle away, so I didn’t think they’d take kindly to me taking out my phone.

On landing, I went to get my visa. First I had to get some passport photos, as I hadn’t got any before leaving. This is why you don’t get passport photos taken after a 12 hour flight:

 There was a lot of activity behind the desk but eventually I was asked to pay 168 RMB (less than £20) and was handed back my passport. The last time I got a Chinese visa it cost £55, and Matt’s recent one cost £151!

As I walked over to border control, I was stopped by two guards who said my temperature was too high. They made me stick a thermometer in my mouth and write down my address and phone number. I don’t actually feel totally well but I think I was overheating due to all the clothes I was wearing.

Finally, passport stamped, I picked up my bags and went out into arrivals to look for my driver (yes, second time this year I’ve had a driver pick me up at the airport!). We missed each other initially, and when I found him he dragged me over to the other terminal to collect two other teachers, then on a long walk to the carpark, where we waited for another driver to atcually take us to the hotel.

The two other teachers are very nice (one South African, one Canadian) but after waiting around for the driver and then sitting in traffic for nearly an hour I could feel myself flagging.

We drove past the railway station and then did a casual U-turn in the road to get to our hotel. My room may be a little faceless but it’s huge, clean, quiet and comfy. I’m off to shower!

Moving day

I don’t enjoy moving house, but I’m currently in the middle of my 15th move since I left home. A few years ago I worked out how much money I’d spent on rent in my life, and it was horrifying. I imagine the amount I’ve spent on moving house is horrendous too, so I’m not going to work it out. Suffice to say, generation rent is not all that much fun.

This move felt more complicated as we had to pack things to take to China, things needed in the UK for work over the next few months and things to put in storage – then of everything else, what to recycle, what to donate to the nearby charity shops and what to throw away.

When we went to bed last night I didn’t think we were going to be ready for the van arriving at 8am, but we did it!

We hired a man with a van as I didn’t fancy doing the driving, and he turned up bang on time and managed to fit our worldy possessions (or what we were planning to store at my parents’ house) in about 1/8 of the van.

As I write, we’re hurtling up the motorway in the rain. Matt is asleep next to me and I’m fighting my fear of motorways in wet weather (I’m screaming silently inside). I’m looking forward to a cup of tea when we arrive.

Pre-China Czech weekend

I know this is a blog about my travels in China, but as I just got back from the Czech Republic I thought I might write about that too.

Last year, my mum asked if I’d like to see the opera Rusalka. I know very little about opera but I thought it would be an experience to see a Czech opera, in Czech, in the Czech Republic. Mum has been to Prague before but I’d never been. I booked tickets for the opera and Mum booked return flights with three nights at a hotel for £120 each – bargain.

We flew from Gatwick with SmartWings, a budget Czech airline. The airport and the airline have a lot in common, both are fine but seem a little old. Certainly no frills. But who needs frills on a short flight? It was a clear evening so we had a good view of the towns around Gatwick as we ascended. We may have had views for the rest of the flight but I fell asleep.

We had a taxi transfer booked from the airport in Prague, and even though we could tell that he was getting lost trying to find the hotel, we didn’t mind driving about and catching glimpses of the illuminated castle. We shared a Twix from the vending machine for dinner.

The next morning I went out for a run, then had three types of cake for breakfast, before heading out to explore.

After exploring the old town and seeing the astronomical clock, we went to the castle, where we visited the cathedral (too big to take a picture of, as you can see) and other chapels.
We made sure we kept our energy levels up with more cake in beautiful surroundings – this was at Café Imperial.

We made it across Charles Bridge once but the crowds were too much for me, and too much for this guy.

The next day, we went to the foot of Petrin Hill, where there’s a monument to the victims of communism. I read a little about communism in Czechoslovakia but as it retreats into the past it feels more and more surreal.

We went up the Petrin Tower, taking the funicular railway to the top of the hill and then the lift to the top of the tower (we felt we were doing enough walking as it was!).

After all that walking (around 20k steps per day!) we went for a foot massage before getting ready for the opera.

The opera was amazing! Beautiful theatre, clever set design, not entirely ludicrous plot – an absolute treat.

We left the next morning in the driving rain, having been cold but dry throughout our trip. 

Such a nice little holiday and so good to spend time with my mum – even if she does snore a little!

Taking the HSK exam

When I was growing up, I did a lot of exams: school exams (SATs, GCSEs, A-Levels, end of year exams, mock exams) as well as extracurricular exams (violin, piano, ballet, tap, modern…). 

By the time it came to my postgraduate exams, I knew how to revise for essay based exams but faced a new horror: Chinese language exams. I was so stressed revising for my final exams, studying endless hanzi that immediately flew out of my memory, and trying to understand grammatical concepts that had only been explained to me in Chinese.

Fast forward nearly a decade and I decided to do another Chinese exam. Partly because we’re moving to China and I wanted to have a piece of paper proving that I knew some Mandarin, partly because having a set date to revise for would force me to study even if I didn’t feel like it. I signed up online for the HSK level 2 exam at my old university.

HSK is an test administered by the Chinese government. It can be taken all around the world and passing different levels allows you to study at Chinese universities or – coming soon – gain points in the new resident permit grading system. Previously there were 11 levels, attainable through three exam papers. The highest level was known to be insanely hard. In 2010 the exam was restructured and now there are six levels, each with their own paper.

I was confident that HSK 2 would be achievable, as all the vocabulary would be revision. I downloaded the Anki app on my phone, then the vocab needed, and started working my way through. Anki is an SRS tool – spaced recognition software – where you see flashcards and test yourself on the vocab. If you know the word, great, you’ll see it again in a little while. If you don’t know then you see it a lot sooner. I ploughed through the 600 flashcards needed.

Along with revising vocab, I started reading a bit more. I have some graded readers from the Chinese Breeze series, and I read one called “I really want to find her”. It’s impressive that it’s possible to tell a story using only 300 characters but it’s also impressively inane.

All this didn’t stop me panicking a week before the exam and worrying that I couldn’t write every character on the test perfectly. I downloaded a couple of mock exams and realised that HSK 2 didn’t need any writing at all; it was multiple choice, yes/no or fill in the blank answers. I scored 45/60 and 50/60 in two mock exams, which put my mind at ease a little.

It was snowing on the morning of the exam, and I wrapped up warm and headed to SOAS. There were a few people standing outside the exam room, and we all ignored each other. Once in the exam room, our cheery invigilator greeted us and asked if we had 2B pencils to fill in the answer sheet. No one had the correct pencil and he went to fetch some spares. The answer sheet looked complicated, you had to block out little squares indicating your response, not just for the answers but for your name and candidate number and so on. I felt myself getting a little stressed but the invigilator was helpful.

And then… it began. The first part of the exam is listening. I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm, but I didn’t understand the very first part of the very first question and immediately felt like quitting. More deep breaths and I got to grips with the rest of it.

Some of the questions are hard because I feel it’s a bit ambiguous – for example, one section has pictures of activities and you have to say whether what you hear matches the picture or not. So if you hear a dialogue about drinking a cup of tea, and there’s a cup and saucer, but it doesn’t look like tea inside, it doesn’t really look like anything at all as the picture is black and white and pixelated…

Once the listening part was over I moved on to the reading section. I’m better at reading than listening (I think, anyway) and it was fairly straightforward but also a few slightly unclear questions.

I finished with 8 minutes to go (the exam is 50 minutes long) and watched the invigilator looking out of the window at the falling snow.

On the way I bought a hot chocolate and downloaded the vocab for HSK 3. Maybe I’m going to get back into doing exams.

My very first day in Shanghai

Shanghai was the very first place in China that I visited. I took the train from Hong Kong, a 19 hour journey in Hard Sleeper class. I was the only obvious foreigner in my carriage, which provided some entertainment for some children in the next compartment who came to check me out a few times. I had a nice chat with the other people in my compartment, showing each other photos. I told one lady that her son was handsome; she pointed at a picture of my then-boyfriend and asked if he was my dad.

Before bed I read a book about magic and death, with a heroine that my friend had told me reminded him of me. I slept well, chugging through the Chinese countryside and passing through endless faceless towns, curled up in a ball as my suitcase took up quite a bit of my bunk.

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View from the top bunk on the Hong Kong – Shanghai train

I arrived in Shanghai and looked for an ATM. I had tried to get some Chinese currency before leaving Hong Kong but the ATM I’d been told dispensed RMB didn’t have any. All I had were a few coins. I scoured Shanghai station for an ATM, but there wasn’t one, or not one I could see. I decided to take the metro to my hostel, and bought a ticket for 3 RMB.

The metro deposited me in the heart of Shanghai, and I walked to the Bund. This is probably the most famous place in Shanghai, with historic imperialist buildings along the waterfront looking out across the river to the shiny new world of Pudong. There were a lot of people walking around – more than I’d expected. At first I thought I might have underestimated how busy a country with 1.3 billion people can be, but I later found out that it was a public holiday. I did not feel particularly appreciative of the history, or fond of the crowds, as I still couldn’t see an ATM and it had dawned on me that I’d come to China with the equivalent of 80p.

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Crowds out walking on the Bund

I came to a large intersection and, despite thinking of myself as a fairly savvy city-dweller, felt completely overwhelmed. There was so much traffic and so few discernible rules. I felt like one of the characters from Five Children And It – like I’d made a wish and it had come true and now I was ruing the day I’d thought of such a ridiculous idea.Thankfully I spotted an old lady with a look of determination in her eyes. Despite being a foot shorter than me, I used her as a human shield and stuck as closely as I could to her, all the way to the other side of the road.

My nautical themed hostel was just here, and I went in, feeling tired and thirsty and poor. The chap at the check in desk was as thin as a bean and told me there was an ATM just on the other side of the intersection, on the Bund. I asked if I could leave my suitcase with him while I went to it and for a second, I thought he would say no, and I thought of my very limited options if that was the case – mutter under my breath and then ditch my suitcase in the river seemed the best choice. But he relented and I was able to go to the ATM (sure enough, there was one right there) without my stupid heavy suitcase.

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Oh hai, Shanghai – view from the Bund

Cash finally in hand, I paid for my hostel, checked in and went off to explore. I wandered up to Nanjing Road, a major shopping street, and went into the First Food Hall but there was too much choice and too many things that I almost certainly wouldn’t eat, and I realised I wasn’t really hungry anyway.

I spent several hours just wandering: going to parks and getting terrorised by children on rollerskates; being asked my endless people whether I’d be visiting the Expo (I’d never even heard of the Expo, turns out it’s like the 1851 Great Exhibition, but not in the Victorian era and not in a giant glass palace in Hyde Park); visiting a wet market; losing my heart to a series of tiny kittens at a pet market. Blue skies, warm leisurely day – the whole afternoon was a salve to my soul.img_4253

That evening I went to a Japanese restaurant, where I ordered a beer and the only vegetarian option on the menu. The waitress came over to tell me that there was no meat in what I’d ordered. That’s great, I told her. She wasn’t convinced. Was I sure I didn’t want meat? No meat at all?! I assured her that it was fine and she told the chef and they both laughed at me a little.