Shanghai, China
June 2008

Flying in from Frankfurt, Germany, I had one of the best flights of my life. We took China Eastern – the cheapest flight available from Frankfurt to Singapore. They allow a stopover at Shanghai at no additional charges, so we chose to hang around for a couple of days.

Such airlines are really good for long-distance flights. Because they’re not really that popular, the flights are never fully booked out, so we each had literally one entire row of seats to ourselves in the plane. You can take off your shoes and lie down across four seats, and sleep through the flight. And because the plane is also understaffed, the cabin where they store the food and drinks is unmanned. So you can just enter the cabin anytime, open a few cabinets and grab whatever food and drink you like and walk off. Self-service. At the end of the flight, I had 11 cups stacked in my seat’s cup holder. It’s no first-class service, but you don’t get buffet dining on many other airlines.

We took the Maglev train into the city and tranferred to the underground train system. We asked a local for directions to our hotel, and he directed us to this station. We took a train there, and asked another guy. Guy says it’s the wrong station, and directed us to another station. Went there, asked around again, wrong station. Went to yet another station, and asked around. Wrong. Again.

So we got back up to the surface and navigated on foot.

On the different occasions I’ve visited Shanghai, I’ve always had different scenery greeting me in the morning. This time, a thick blanket of smog enveloped the city. It was awful. The view from the hotel was simply depressing, and visibility was no more than a few hundred meters.

We went to the usual sights, including the city’s skyline from the Bund. Not surprisingly, much of the buildings were shrouded. The waters of the Huangpu river were murky and brown.

And then I remembered my last visit here in the winter of 2005, braving the subzero temperatures to photograph the exact same scenery. The difference? It was beautiful. And it was at night.

Conclusion: Shanghai looks better at night, when the ugly is hidden in darkness.

On our last night in Shanghai, we walked the mile-long stretch to back to our hotel. We were done with Shanghai. While sightseeing hasn’t been great, shopping and dining at Nanjing Road never disappoint.

We were halfway through when a policeman started shouting from his van parked at the side of the road. We glanced. Oh wait. He’s shouting at us. We stopped, confused to say the least. And then a young lady approached us from behind, handed my aunt a mobile phone and hurried off. What? And confusion turned into realization over the next few seconds. As it turns out, the phone was my aunt’s. Her handbag, while clutched tightly under her arm, had its zip undone. And her mobile phone was missing. None of us even noticed anyone trailing us, nor felt something amiss. Young lady was really good.

Even more impressive was perhaps the policeman at the side of the street, catching her in the act from his vehicle. Either he’s really sharp, or an event of wonderful coincidence. Then again, what was the lady trying to achieve by doing it from where a policeman could spot her? Why isn’t she arrested for her actions at all? Heck, if she could just take off like that, she could’ve done it without returning the phone.

Oh Shanghai, you’re never boring.