Shanghai: One big city, one day at a time

Shanghai – Day 1

We arrived in Shanghai around 9 p.m. after an exhausting 12-hour flight from San Francisco. As soon as we arrived, we began to realize that, as Dorothy so nearly said, “We’re not in Montana anymore.” This points out one of the reasons we have spent two days in Shanghai instead of heading straight for Hangzhou: culture shock therapy. Now, coming from Montana, the sheer number of people in Shanghai is a bit overwhelming. This wasn’t readily apparent since we arrived in the international area of the airport which wasn’t busy by any means. The taxi ride to our hotel, however, exposed us to our first glimpse of the sprawling city structure.

Buildings slowly passed outside the taxi window, seemingly making contact with the cloud-filled sky. The skyscrapers were a shock in their own sense, but I believe the most intriguing buildings were the apartment complexes. These apartment complexes are 20-30 stories high, with four to five buildings right next to one another. Of course these huge buildings are incredibly necessary, seeing as how Shanghai’s population is over 23 million people!  For all of you back home, we’ll put this in some good old American context: Shanghai’s population density  is 9,400/square mile, and Bozeman, Montana’s is 1,358/square mile.

We quickly arrived at our hotel and set off to see the waterfront area which was a quick two block walk away. Let’s pause for a quick geography lesson. Our hotel, and thus our group,  were located in the Huangpu District of Shanghai. This district lies on the western side of the Huangpu River, with Pudong on the eastern side of the river. The stretch of the city that we walked up to is termed The Bund, and it refers to the stretch of buildings stretching along the waterfront in the Huangpu District. Got all of that? We arrived at the river and looked out at the amazing skyscrapers just across the river. We lingered at the waterfront until finally heading back to the hotel for sleep and an attempt to defeat jet lag before it sets in.


The research group in Yu Gardens. (Photo by Christian Heck).


Shanghai, Day 2 –

Daniel Barta, Ian Underwood and Paul Germano, from left, explore the residential areas of Shanghai.

The acclimatization to China officially began today as we explored the city’s markets, gardens, historical sites, and residential areas. Our first step into Chinese culture was a breakfast of dumplings, donut bread, warm soy milk, pot-stickers, and a type of pumpkin treat. Obviously, this was quite different from the type of breakfast we are used to back in Montana; no eggs, no bacon, no biscuits and gravy!? The meal was fantastic, though, and it became apparent that our entire group was adventurous and open-minded enough to enjoy the cuisine throughout our stay here. From breakfast, we wandered throughout the city to a portion of Shanghai known as “Old City.” Old City is some of the last remnants of a Shanghai long gone, as the modernization of Shanghai has taken precedence over the preservation of some of the residential areas that make up this landmark. We saw this firsthand as a touristy shopping center had already impeded into the area.

We made our way around the shops and street vendors to Yu Garden, which means “Garden of Peace.” The gardens consist of stone bridges and traditional buildings wrapped around plant life of a wide variety. The streams and ponds are swimming with koi and turtles, which are all too happy to beg for food as you walk across a bridge. The gardens themselves were incredibly peaceful and relaxing and a good introduction to the classic Chinese architecture.

Koi swarm the ponds at Yu Gardens. (Photo by Christian Heck).


After the gardens we departed for a lunch of noodles down one of the many residential side streets. The noodles were delicious and incredibly spicy when some of us added a bit too much spice. These super spicy noodles drew many laughs from the workers at the noodle shop as some of us, I won’t name who, were drawn to tears from noodles. This unnamed person was not me…I swear…OK maybe it was me.

These noodles gave us the fuel to endure a walk down to the pet district. Yes, a pet district. The pet district is kind of a warehouse with all kinds of street vendors selling all types of animals. Turtles, frogs, squirrels, chipmunks, crickets, salamanders, mud puppies, kittens, puppies, and all types of birds. This little district was obviously incredibly loud and full of all types of smells. Overall, this was just simply something not seen in the United States and was truly an eye-opener.

Various species of turtles are on sale in the pet district. (Photo by Christian Heck).

The evening provided us with another group meal that led us to experimenting with more and more food dishes. We were unfortunate that we could not order the cooked turtle as we needed to call ahead for that wonderful dish. The night came to a close, and our adventures throughout the city have helped us come to terms with the size and stature of the Chinese culture in which we will be working in in the weeks to come.

Shanghai – Day 3

The first sights after crossing over to the Pudong region of Shanghai. (Photo by Christian Heck).

Today we took the path less traveled and decided to venture to the other side of the river to Pudong. We did this by taking a Willy Wonka style tram ride under the river to Pudong. This tram ride was full of neon lights, “meteorite showers”, and interesting English translations such as “Basalt and Blue Water.” On the other side of the river were immense skyscrapers, aquariums, and a 13-story mall. We attempted to explore the “district” but ran out of time and had to head back to catch the bullet train to Hangzhou.

The bullet trains are relatively new to Shanghai, but their train station was quite the affair. A massive train station that appeared to shaped more like an airport than a train station, provided yet another view into the immensity of China. The bullet train itself traveled around 150-200 km/ hr while we practiced our crude Chinese. The train station in Hangzhou was completely packed when we arrived and after waiting in an “elbow-to-elbow” line for 45 minutes, we finally grabbed a taxi.

Hangzhou is very clearly a different type of city from Shanghai. There are many more trees and vegetation here in Hangzhou, and it appears that there is a general sense of cleanliness here in Hangzhou. In Shanghai, there would be people just throwing trash on the ground while in Hangzhou that would be frowned upon. We seem to also be positioned in more of a central hub than we were in Shanghai. With our windows open, we are truly exposed to the hustle and bustle of a busy city center. Tomorrow we will begin our research and divide up into teams to develop our ideas on what we can find from these dinosaur eggs.

The Pudong skyline at night. (Photo by Christian Heck).

Blog post by Christian Heck


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