Day 4 – Beijing to Shanghai
The morning of day 4 involved a visit to the Confuscius Institute, the organisation which had sponsored and subsidised our trip. We played on the interactive exhibits, admired the educational resources and sat at the boardroom table while the directors talked at length about what they do, before swapping business cards. Happily Mr Cheah had taught me previously how to accept a business card (with both hands, looking interestedly at the details and then offering one’s own with both hands). Watching the local dignitaries, this was clearly the right thing to do and I got quite practised at it.
But what I’d been anticipating with childish excitement was the bullet train. And it was everything I’d hoped for – clean and comfortable and FAST! Apparently we were travelling at speeds of up to 350 km per hour and although I can’t confirm this statistic, it did seem as though the view was moving very quickly past the window. The next four and a half hours were absolutely fascinating. From Beijing city we headed into the country, where every single inch of land was used – to grow maize or cabbages or planted with trees. There has been a program of ‘greening China’, which has obviously worked, as there are rows of trees everywhere. It was strange to travel through tracts of land with nothing on it and then suddenly come across a huge collection of skyscrapers in the middle of nowhere. Who lived there? Why? What on earth did they do? The train stopped only twice during the journey and there were two minutes to get off (including all luggage) at each stop, which necessitated a very brief period of panic during which suitcases were lost and found and people urged on and off the train.
We arrived at the end of the line in Shanghai in the dark and it was just like a fairy tale Christmas, with zillions of huge tower blocks and buildings all lit up and sparkling. Very, very impressive and quite beautiful. I was reminded of Bladerunner and marvelled at the elevated roads and fast-moving traffic. We didn’t have long to get to know our new guide, Charlie, but were pleased to note that the new bus driver was this time a non-smoker, which was an added bonus and made everything a lot more fragrant.
Amongst various other facts, Charlie told us that Shanghai is the second largest city in China with a population of 24 million (quite different from what we had been told previously in Beijing; and I doubted that the population of Hangzhou had decreased from 44 million at the beginning of the week to 7 million today but again, with no Google to check these facts, I have no way of confirming this). He also said that there are 1.4 billion people in China, which I am finding very difficult to even imagine, even though it feels as though we have seen most of them. He continued telling us about the sub-tropical climate, the distinct four seasons, the two airports and three railway stations and how Shanghai is the political and economic centre of the country.
Dinner was very late and held at the club of a multi-billionaire (you did read that correctly) who also owns five schools in Shanghai. I found the idea of owning a school an interesting idea