Thursday, 3 October 2013

My Shanghai Experience

The Chinese self-designed and own-built Nanpu Bridge
spanning over 8,346meters of alleviated, 6-lane 
highway over the Huangpu River at the Yangtze
River Delta region where the Shanghai City sites.
Completed in 1991 after 3 years of construction,
it links Puxi to Pudong, the two shores of Shanghai.

In the late spring of 2004, my colleague Robert and I embarked on a travel to Zhejiang and Jiangsu Province of China; that would bring us to historical, ancient and enchanting cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xuzhou, Nanjing and Wuxi. The trip lasted eight days and we were elated and raving to go for a short holiday abroad.

Spectacular night scene of Shanghai projects the
glamour of the ultra modern city of the East. 

I would have joined my wife for a similar trip to the same destinations and just about the same time for the trip. However after weighing about the cost and the tour's worthiness, it seemed to be wiser and cheaper to travel with Robert's group by RM300/- and it was even a day longer (8 days tour) than going with wife's company tour. (It was organized by my wife's company's Sports and Recreation Club; she travelled with a heavy subsidy.)

This is all too familiar - The most prominent,
 famous landmark of Shanghai-
The Shanghai Bund.

Came the big day, Robert was relieved to see me strolling into KLIA's MAS check-in counters leisurely. He was there much earlier from Subang where he resided, whereas I had to enlist on my brother's transport from Ulu Klang area. It was a group of 28 persons with mixed ages and genders. There was a family of uncles, aunties and their kids (fifteen of them), a couple of young sweet teenage girls and few old chaps to keep us company.  Besides there was a couple of formerly Malaysian Chinese, now Australians among us; they brought along their lovely 9-10 yrs old son and daughter. The young boy Colin kept sticking to me throughout the journey as he was my son's age, and we got on fine. I fascinated them (together with other children.) with stories I made up; whereas Robert won the hearts of the two teenage girls with his amateurish magic charms, like playing cards and making coins disappeared.

The ever popular shopping and food paradise
                                                               centre point of Shanghai City -
                         The Nanjing Road Shopping Centre.

Shanghai is a huge city with a population of more than 20 million (23 million as of 2010). The journey to the city took about an hour on highways, viaducts and flyovers. High rise buildings, condos and apartments lined both sides of the roads leading to the huge metropolitan, China's largest and most developed city. The Pudong Bridge, the 480 meter plus tall Oriental Pearl Tower (Dong Fun Ming Choo Tah) and the Shanghai Bund were all visible along the Zhejiang Delta vicinity. It was a fascinating and awesome sight to see the Shanghai Pearl Tower lit up for the night from the crowded Shanghai Bund where lovers strolled and rubbed shoulders with thousands of tourists.

Decades old Russian made bus was our touring coach during the entire
 8 days when we toured Shanghai and the adjacent cities. 
Surprisingly the bus was okay with all systems functioning, 
viz. the engine and the air-conditioning. 
One of the Rock Gardens we visited. 
The communist state took over the rich man's
 mansion when they gained power; eventually 
it was opened to the public.
The Yau Char Kuai of Shanghai tasted terrible.
                                     It's as awful as the one I tried in Beijing.

With our entire luggage still tucked in at the bottom compartment of the coach on the first day we reached our hotel for the night of rest and sleep. My goodness, it was not a hotel to be, at least it did not look like a decent hotel, not even 2 and half-star as I rated it. It was actually a lodging house situated at a remote suburban part of Shanghai City. It was not even a Pin Kuan but a Bier Xu, a villa. The tour agency favored this low-cost lodging place as it would save them a lot of money. Many Malaysian groups were destined to spend their nights here, the tour leader told us. As we carried our baggage into the lobby, I noticed that only half of the lobby was lit with lights. They were cutting cost, we were told. With darkness hovering over the half century-old building, it gave a haunting, eerie outlook and sent cold sweat down our spines. 


My roommate was a senior widower called Leong. He had been our friend for some time when Robert invited him to join us for this China tour. Leong was okay with me as roommate; my only complaint was that he smoked in the room before sleep and when he got up in the morning. The senior retiree went inside the bathroom first for his body cleaning job. When he emerged from the bath room, he lamented that the shower at the bathtub acted funny. He did not elaborate. It was my turn to stand in the bath tub; I found it hard to mix the hot and cold water to an ideal temperature. Even when I got it done, the water oozed out of the shower was icy-cold for a moment then it turned boiling hot! Then I noticed that the tapes were tightened though I had just loosened it to allow water flow. I ended up taking a cold shower without uttering a noise. In the middle of the night I heard sighing and coughing sound from the toilet. Thinking that it could be Leong at the toilet, I took a deep breath to see him still lying there on my next bed.  With sleepiness overcoming me, I continued to seek sweet dreams with my anxiety unravelled.

The serene, enchanting West Lake of Hangzhou-Xi Hu  presents a picture of calm and placidity. However many well-known public figures, teachers and intellectuals were compelled to end their lives by leaping into the lake during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) so as to avoid further purging and abuse by the young rampaging red-guards. The famous novelist Lao Se 老舍  was one of them.
A comfortable river cruise at the Xi Hu was marred 
as the lake was shrouded with a misty 
ambiance that we could not see far.
The many attractions of the West Lake-Xi Hu. 

The journey went on smoothly for the next few days with very much improved accommodation. No one complained and everybody was in jovial mood, exchanging information like where one got a good bargain in shopping spree etc. We climbed many steps to visit ancient pagodas and temples, climbed even higher to see Dr. Sun Yat Sen's resting mausoleum in Nanjing, visited Yeh Fei's tomb, night market at Hangzhou and Nanjing, (a wonderful experience), went up the Pearl Tower and the Nanjing Bridge where the two teenage girls hugged me in cold wind while having photo shoots. We even took a boating cruise along the Xi Hu, (the West Lake) at Hangzhou. In Shanghai we had a karaoke session at a night spot and let our hair down in a disco where Robert had got his cigarette rudely removed from his lips by one straight faced bouncer at the dimly lit joint. That hoodlum was nonchalant when he turned to chat with some sordid Russian lasses who were all smoking, wearing revealing clothing. (Thank the Good Lord; just months after our trip to China, Robert kicked his smoking habit after his visit to his dying friend at the hospital, whose lungs had turned black). We had large bowl of beef noodle for supper (enough to feed two persons) and I had a Cappuccino at an imitation StarBucks coffee outlet at RMB 10/- That was simply exhilarating; we all agreed that this was a trip worthwhile.  

Modern China (Republic of China)'s founding father,
1st President  Dr Sun Yat Sen 孫逸仙 a.k.a.孫中山
 (1866-1925) & his wife Mdm Soong Ching-Ling
(宋慶齡 1893-1981) They married in 1915.
Climbing up to Dr Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum.
Looking down from Dr Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum, Nanjing City. 
Chinese Australian kid Colin and I tried ridding 
a farmer's motorbike for a short distance .
The ancient tomb of legendary hero General Yue Fei 岳飞 (1103-1142) during the Song Dynasty is situated at Qixia Hill, near West Lake of Hangzhou. Yue Fei was known as a patriot fighting against the northern Jin invading force. He was one who observed filial piety to his mother. He was framed and murdered for crimes he did not commit. In 1163, Emperor Xiaozong exonerated Yue Fei and his corpse was reburied at the present site.
Before his frantic rush to get out of the continent, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek  was holing up in the city of Nanjing. He made it the capital city of Democratic Republic of China after the WWII, and when Mao's red army was getting close to capture his last frontier of power, Chiang's entourage left in ships, boats, barges and planes to seek refuge and find his last stronghold in Taiwan in 1949. General Chiang considered the escape in leaving Nanjing as a great loss of face in shame, though he stubbornly refused to accept the fate of being defeated. Old Chiang died in April 5th 1975 without being able to set foot on Chinese soil again after his departure. His slogan of "Victorious return to the mainland 反攻大陆!" had never materialized.
The landmark Nanjing's Yangtze River Bridge was known to be a  totally Chinese engineering effort in designing and building during the difficult nation building years. It was completed in 1968 right into the turmoil of Cultural Revolution. Then Russian had already pulling out its advisors, technical and financial aids to China. The Russian polar bear did not anticipate a bright future for China; yet China persevered in self-reliance and succeeded in carrying out many more monumental tasks to remove obstacles to become an economical giant 3 decades later. The lower deck of the double-decked bridge is a 6,772 meter long double track rail line that connects Beijing and Nanjing. The upper deck is China's National Highway 104.
The majestic, panoramic view of the wide Yangtze River,
as seen from the bridge. 
Robert got his hands full, hugging the two girls in strong wind and 
cold air at 17 degree C. atop the Nanjing's Yangtze River Bridge. 

The 88 meters tall statue of Grand Buddha 灵山大佛 stands solemnly at Wu Xi's picturesque Ling Shan.  Tourists and visitors climbed 217 steps alongside the gentle slope to catch a closer glimpse of the Buddha. Weighing about 700 tons, the copper statue was completed at the end of 1996.
A huge Buddha's hand greets visitors and
tourists at the entrance to the ascent.  
Our exhausted group members rested on the steps
 of a smiling, blissful Buddha statue, 
while waiting for the rest of the group to show up.
Below the giant-sized Grand Buddha statue there 
is a smaller replica at the foothill. 

An experience worthy of mentioning took place when we went for a leisure stroll for window shopping, after our dinner. The Hung Zhou shopping street was simply awesome, hundreds of shop lots with attractive bright lights lined both ways of the street, calling out to weary shoppers. Robert and I found a dark alley where we eased our selves, pissing into the drain below a high wall. Just when we were busy, someone tapped Robert's shoulder, speaking in a distinctive Northern Mandarin accent: 先生, 你要小姐吗? (Sir, do you want a girl's company?)We got ourselves back in composure, zipping up our pants in time to see two charming women smiling at us, without inhibition that we could have exposed ourselves to them inadvertently。Robert could speak some Mandarin Chinese though he was totally English educated, he said: 你是小姐(You’re the girl?) The two women then pretended that they were not the ladies of the night. We declined the offer and they left hurriedly. Later when we were in the hotel room for our well-deserved rest, the phone rang and a sweet speaking voice with a crispy accent asked Robert whether he wanted a lady’s company. He replied purposely that: 我们这里有小姐(We don’t have girls here). The caller tried to explain things and all she got was Robert’s ambiguous reply in half-past six Mandarin Chinese that she got fed up and hung up.

On another evening when we were about to board our coach heading for another day’s rest, two pretty ladies in their 30s approached us for some financial help, purportedly for buying milk powder for the babies they were carrying. They were formally dressed like going to attend a party or function. One would never expect them to be begging for alms. Robert and I gave them RMB 10 (about RM 5) each and struck up a conversation with them. I asked them few questions like: were you the mother of the baby you’re carrying? How old and what gender was the baby etc. Just then I saw some men at a short distance away from us, hiding and watching us from behind pillars of the shop lots nearby. In the obscure lights, things could be fishy and clandestine as the two women became uneasy chatting with us. One of them finally asked us whether we were interested to buy the babies. Oh My! Babies were not in our shopping list when we arrived in Chinese territory; albeit I liked to buy quite some items like souvenirs and books, but babies….oh no, never! We boarded our bus quickly after telling the two women an affirmative “no” and they disappeared as fast as they emerged.

The well-known ancient water village of ZhouZhuan 周庄镇
is an iconic tourism landmark for all visitors. 

The waterways of Zhejiang and Jiangshu regions link
 all the cities together as men-made canals; 
some were dug during the late Ming Dynasty and more 
during the Qing Dynasty, more than 300 years ago. 

We were brought to the suburbs of Xu Zhou to visit a Chinese Tea Plantation where the famous Long Jin Green Tea 龙井茶 was planted, harvested, processed and sold at the factory’s sales-cum-show room. The green tea was sold rather expensively; it was priced at RMB 450 per 200 gm packed in a cylindrical can. Nobody showed any sign to buy; eventually the middle aged sales person announced loudly that 50% discounts would be offered, together with a small 50gm pack thrown in to be given as free. Just then almost everybody clamored to buy, but not me. Later in the city an old lady tried to sell me the same packing of the 200 gm pack for RMB 36, (about RM 18). When showing her one pack bought at the tea plantation, alluring that hers was fake. She retorted that what we bought at the production house was faked alright. I did buy one 200 gm pack from her. What made us unhappy and disgruntled were the unscrupulous attempt by the coach captain (driver) to take us to two similar outlets for promoting the pearl facial powder-cream for ladies within 40 minutes (one after another) when we should be visiting places of interest and landmarks. We were also unhappy on the last day when the tour guide and coach captain rushed us for dinner, just barely 2 hours after our lunch when we were not hungry at all.

This sweet looking teenager was not a Shanghai lass at all. She's Chinese alright, hailed from Ampang, she's a Chinese Malaysian. She was good company to us but her auntie, a member of the entourage kept a sharped eye on her and was all ears whenever we chatted. 

Just like everything in life, whatever that was fun and good would have to come to an end. No sooner we were heading for home like pigeons. I told my wife about the marvels of my travel and she anticipated for more excitement as she would be leaving for her Shanghai trip soon.

Three weeks after my return from Shanghai, my wife ended her journey happily and could not wait to tell me about her travel. 'You know Dear, the first night they put us in an old haunted hotel that was a lousy lodging house not fit to be called a hotel!' She continued : “ The shower in the bath room couldn't worked, it turned cold and hot by itself even when you had adjusted it; ...then the hot and cold water tapes turned tight even you had just loosened them. And there was always somebody sighing in the toilet….”  What the heck? Don’t tell me that you checked into the same hotel as I did..........

I dropped my jaw and the ceramic mug I was holding, with goose pimples all over me!

             For reading!

A true story by

Alan CY Kok

 Footnote: To my dismay, I realized that most of the pictures I took
did no turn up well. Upon checking, I found that all the lenses of my 
Canon SLR were contaminated  with fungi-infection. I stopped 
using the camera ever since, as the photographic world had 
entered the digital era. 


  1. Buddy pal Jeremy LKH sends in his comment via e-mail as he couldn't comment through the my blog. This is what he has written:

    Hi Alan

    It’s indeed a very interesting with capturing spell to lure one to finish when one starts to read your article on the fun and the unforgettable account of your China trip 10 years old. What take you so long time to write about your travel?

    The article starts with a slow and leisure tempo just like the ’Indiana Jones’ series. It gets excited when you share the room with a strange room fellow as the bathroom acts kept both of you wondering what went wrong with those eerie sound, sighing and disturbances. Wonder if you were dare-devil enough to find out why....Then that would be more exhilarating.

    And the offering of ‘Sir, do you want a girl’s company’ sounded invitingly, but again your moral thinking then forced you back; otherwise, we would love to hear It in camera.....

    Apart from the above, all the interesting and scenic places you visited were just stereotypical. However the ending part with your wife met with the ghostly bathroom encounter brings many to not a good ending, but a suspense that hovers in your mind.

    My suggestion is you re-visit the same hotel to close the chapter and suspense on who made those noises in the bathroom - All’s Well That Ends Well. Also, with many changes now taking place in China, probably you would not be surprised to hear someone call you in the middle of the night on your next visit, “Sir, do you want some company ?”


  2. Old friend Dora Miau of KK, Sabah sends in this comment through an e-mail: Hi Alan,

    Thank you for the "Shanghai" story! Nice experience that you will not forget easily for a long time. What's the name of the "2-and-half-starred" hotel again? Who knows when I go visiting Shanghai they put me there for the first night?
    You can sing too? I don't like karaoke. For one, too many people can't sing and they insist to sing. You are neat and cool in writing the story.
    Keep up with your good writing.

    Regards from Dora.