Culture Shock!

Shanghai Travel Blog

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This is one of the streets we walked down on our first nights in Shanghai. We had dinner on this street.

         The most appropriate words I can use to describe our first day in Shanghai are "culture shock." Our American Airline 777 plane descended closer and closer, and even closer, to the muddy bay beneath us. Just when I thought that we were going to need our floatation devices strapped beneath our seats, a small sliver of land and a runway appeared to catch our plane, just in time! We appeared to be in a rural area of Shanghai; as we taxied to our gate, local farmers tended their crops not even 50 feet off the runway.

         Upon exiting the plane, on which we had spent 14 sleepless hours, we hurried through customs and located a restroom.

I chose a stall, walked up a couple of steps, opened the door, which extended fully to the floor, and stared in disbelief at a hole in the ground in place of a toilet. I turned around, walked out the door, and decided that I didn't need to go that badly anyways. We definitely weren't in Orange County any longer!

         We then took an hour long taxi ride to our hotel, called the Hengsheng Peninsula Apartments. Our room is situated on the 19th floor of a highrise building and offers us a remarkable view of the Bund and Pudong, located on the Huangpu River. Although we had been awake for approximately 19 hours, we were eager to align our body clock to Shanghai time, so we decided to shower and explore the city. We were excited to explore Nanjing Lu, which is considered to be Shanghai's foremost shopping street, which runs a total of 6 miles in length.

Street markets line every street.
After attempting to ask the receptionist for directions, we headed out on our own with a small map from our travel book. The receptionist, like most people here we found out, speak little, if any, English.

         From the window of our hotel room, we saw the glory of Shanghai: the majestic and towering skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, an image most Westerners would recognize. However, what we encountered on the street level, during our venture to Nanjing Lu, stood in sharp contrast. The world below the skyscrapers wasn't nearly as modernized. We passed by shop after shop that were no larger than bathrooms, appeared to be filthy, and were tended by shirtless and shoeless locals who were exposed to the sticky, humid weather.

Here is Jason on Nanjing Lu East, a major shopping street.
If you were to ask me what they sold, I couldn't tell you. It looked like whatever they could get their hands on: hoses, wires, camera bags, bicycle parts, etc. As we walked by, all eyes were on us. All evening, we only encountered one other caucasian, so we were something to stare at!

          We continued walking down dangerous sidewalks that should have been replaced decades ago and by piles of trash that seemed to be neglected for whatever reason. We learned that the green "walk" symbols at the traffic lights were a joke. They seemed to say, "I dare you to attempt crossing the street." We would wait at the edges of the streets as endless streams of bicyclists and scooterists, intermingled with a few cars, whizzed by us.

Here is the view of Pudong from the River Promenade.
When we found the courage, we dashed across the street, nearly missing a collision.

          We passed by women peddlers who carried bamboo poles on the shoulders and back. On each side of the pole hung large, wooden plates full of the fruits and vegetables they were selling. We had to turn our head as a girl used the restoom on the side of the road. At this point in our journey, we truly felt as though we were on the other side of the world, and we felt very uncomfortable.

          When we reached Nanjing Lu, we entered a completely different environment. Here the pedestrian road was clean and lined with department stores, small specialty shops, and restaurants. Although this looked more familiar to us, we were still experiencing some uneasiness. Although there were mobs of tourists and tourist groups, we were still the only caucasian couple, and were therefore the targets for all of the illegal street vendors. We couldn't take more than 10 steps before someone was in our face or running up behind us, eagerly showing us pictures of designer bag look-alikes for fake rolexes, and beckoning us to follow them down the alley to make a purchase. We rarely heard the English language, and when we did, it was small rehearsed slogans. People commented on my blue eyes and Jason was easily a head taller than everybody else.

          We were exhausted since we had been up for nearly 24 hours by now, so we only went into a few shops before we headed out to the River Promenade, which is a wide pavement on the river side of the Bund. From there, we watched the river traffic in the Huangpu River. There were throngs of people enjoying the river breeze and the spectacular lights of Pudong's modern skyline.

          On the way home, our stomachs were growling and were eager to be fed. We passed by numerous eateries, but could not find one that we were comfortable enough to enter due to the language barrier. We finally entered a restaurant. The waitresses, who did not speak English, silently took us to our seats and stood three feet from our table as we perused the menu with English translations. I turned each page, hoping to find something appetizing. I quickly skimmed past large intestines, bladders, and all sorts of unappetizing selections. We located the only chicken item on the menu, and we placed our order. When the food arrived, we popped the chicken bits in our mouth, and bit down to discover there were bones inside. We ate as much as we could, using our chopsticks, and then groggily headed back to our hotel for some needed sleep.

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This is one of the streets we walk…
This is one of the streets we wal…
Street markets line every street.
Street markets line every street.
Here is Jason on Nanjing Lu East, …
Here is Jason on Nanjing Lu East,…
Here is the view of Pudong from th…
Here is the view of Pudong from t…
photo by: Chokk