Museums, phlegm and the founding of Communism
Two days ago we stepped off the Japan-China ferry and dove headlong into a culture shock of epic proportions. We had been previously warned by several people that we had met on our various travels that China was not the most savoury of places to be and that people with white skin and blonde hair (Rach) would be stared at incessantly. So we had no-one to blame but ourselves when we still managed to be surprised on our short walk from the terminal to the hostel, and in fact ever since. People stopped and stared at us in the street, not even trying to cover up the fact that they were doing so and on various occasions during the past two days there have been many attempts to take photos of us ranging from the subtle to the all out blatant. It has been very strange. Another thing to mention about the Chinese on the street is the spitting. Everyone, and we mean everyone, from the meanest looking guy to the cutest looking girl, will start coughing and straining trying to hawk up as much phlegm from their throats as possible. Then they will let fly with the most disgusting, large wad of sputum. And it does not matter where they are be it a shop, in a queue surrounded by other people, in the subway; they will discharge this stuff anywhere.
So, gingerly stepping around the still warm piles of snot and spit, we have actually braved the cameras, the stares and the language barrier and gone out and done some sightseeing. The Bund is an area of Shanghai famed for its architecture and as it was only a short walk from our hostel we ended up going several times. It is a pleasant walk, during the day or at night, and the promenade gives a lovely view of the city skyscrapers on the other side of the river. We learnt a lot about the area from our lonely planet guide and it is essentially the area where the European settlers came to Shanghai and built a lot of the grander buildings. As there weren’t a lot of buildings that we could go into, or many signs giving information about the various histories, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time there.
So we have spent the vast majority of our time in Shanghai doing some good old museum hunting. The first place we went to was the Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It is actually a really interesting place and many of the signs are in English so we got to understand the vast majority of what was being shown. There was however some amusing Communist sentiments being shown such as the sign that read “Since the British invaders launched the Opium War in 1840... the Chinese people had repeatedly made arduous attempts and launched heroic struggles to overthrow the rule of imperialism and feudalism”. Hearing the British referred to as overlords and as oppressors was definitely a different experience! Taking all the Communist panderings with a pinch of salt we had a good time and learnt a lot about the formation of the current Chinese communist state.
Another massive dose of Chinese history came in the form of the Shanghai Museum in the People’s Park. We only managed to cram in a half a day here before we had to head off to catch a train. As a result we missed out on the majority seeing only one floor out of the five in total. Luckily on our China tour we’ll be coming back again and so will probably have to go for another visit as it was a brilliant place. The first exhibition we saw was to do with coins and currency through Chinese history. Anywhere that can make this sound interesting has to be brilliant and it certainly was. The highlight was probably seeing a rare coin that had been minted during the reign of Genghis Khan! We then moved on to the stunning jade exhibition showcasing jade carving through the millennia with pieces from as far back as 6000BC. Sadly this was all we had time for and we can’t wait to come again.
We’re now sat on the floor awaiting our first overnight train. We’ll let you know how it all goes but we are pretty nervous about it as we are the only non-Chinese people we can see. Still, a little bit of staring never hurt anyone, right?
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- Don’t accept leaflets off vendors in the street. We have seen with our own eyes the leafleters taking discarded ones out of the bin and handing them back out again.
- People spit in China. A lot. Be prepared to be grossed out at regular intervals during your day.
- If you are a typical Caucasian or have generally pale skin, or worse blonde hair, you will be stared at like you’re an alien.
- They are tough on security. Every museum, train station, and subway station thus far has had security and baggage checks. A bit of a pain on a sightseeing day, a massive pain with all the rucksacks and luggage.