SHANGHAI - I never would’ve thought going 200 kilometers an hour would seem slow.
I had a chance to ride the magnetic levitation train in Shanghai on the weekend, as did a whole lot of other folks out for some entertainment on a rainy Sunday morning. I can't say as I understand quite how it works (I find electric can openers a marvel of science) but it was something else.
The round-trip from the edge of town to Pudong Airport costs just about 8 dollars, but you get 20 per cent off if you show your airplane ticket. It takes a couple minutes to get to full speed, but once it hits cruising power this sucker speeds along at a ridiculous 430 km an hour.
Villages and ponds and billboards pass in a blur, and I’m sure I was grinning like an idiot when the train clicked over the 400 km/hour mark. They smartly post the speed in the train, and I bet it’s a rare occasion that there isn’t someone in the car fixing his or her camera lens on the display when it reaches the 430 km/hour mark. I know I couldn’t resist.
Although it’s certainly a time saver, it’s not so practical for some folks as there isn’t that much space to store your luggage on board. Still, it’s hugely impressive. When you “slow down” to 300 km/hour it almost seems disappointing. When it’s at 200 you think you’re at highway speed on the 401 (some of you probably are). 150 km/hour feels like a crawl. Amazing.
An even better deal – it’s free – is the Shanghai Museum; considered by many the finest in China. Okay, it’s 40 RMB (about $7) if you want to rent an audio guide. But it’s a great way to get a bit of a handle on the history of China’s development.
There are displays of ancient coins and Chinese calligraphy, as well as row upon row of porcelain vessels of one kind or another. I was most taken by the bronze age materials; huge vats for wine and for cooking and enormous bronze bells from well before the time of Christ.
I quite liked the display on Chinese minorities up on the top floor, with wildly colourful costumes from all over this vast country, as well as ornate opera masks, jewelry, leather armour and other artefacts. In one corner there were a couple of white, red and black canoes with big, pointed prows. I don’t know why, as I realize there’s plenty of water in China, but I never really thought about a Chinese canoe before. These are pretty cool ones; built by the Gaoshan people near Taiwan.
There’s a temporary display on now with dozens of paintings on loan from the Uffizi in Florence. But the Chinese artefacts are what you should come for.
Also had chance to look around the “Old Town” of Shanghai near Yu Garden. It’s got some cool architecture but I thought it was overrun with tacky souvenir shops, not to mention Dairy Queen outlets, Kentucky Fried Chicken stores and Starbucks. Sigh.
Anyway, the garden itself is quite cool to walk around, and you also can see some interesting street life, including a woman drumming up interest in the coming Expo 2010 extravaganza. Nine points for originality on the costume, ma’am.
One of the things folks love in Old Town is lining up for dumplings at the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. They make about 10,000 a day, I’m told, and you can stand and watch them assemble the dumplings behind glass. The folks who work there must get used to it, but I’d feel an awful lot like an animal in a very small zoo.
I didn’t eat at Nanxiang as my tour guide insisted we instead go to Din Tai Fung, just a few steps away. The shrimp dumplings were great, as were the pork ones with crab. You bite a small hole in the dumpling first, then suck out the juice or soup before wolfing down the dumpling itself. Yum.
They have outlets all over town and in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney and other cities. None in Toronto. Yet.
Not that I can more than two words in Mandarin, but I still get amused by fractured English signs, such as the information booth at the train station that said “Desk of advising.”
When I was at the Shanghai urban planning museum the other day I spotted a sign that read, “Till 2010, Shanghai will establish a basic framework of eco-city.”
After 2010, who knows….