“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Leaving Shanghai for Beijing
It was my last day in Shanghai so I thought I should actually book a ticket to get me to Beijing on the overnight train and a hotel for when I get there.
The hotel was no problem, but the train I wanted had sold out of sleeper cabins. Doh.
Nevermind, I managed to score a cabin on the fast train to Beijing instead. It was still an overnight trip, but it got into Beijing at 7:30am instead of closer to lunchtime. Not ideal (I wanted to watch the scenery all morning) but the fast trains are new and have great facilities, so at least it would be comfortable.
By now it was lunchtime and I'm at Shanghai train station. I've got time to kill until 9:30pm.
So I wander around looking for somewhere to have lunch. No shortage of restaurants around the train station, but most are a selection of eastern and western food franchises of the McDonalds/KFC/etc variety. Meh.
I wander into a dusty old shopping mall that doesn't look much bigger than a supermarket, past a couple of cheap trinket shops, and I see a staircase going up with a sign indicating it had something to do with photography. So I wander up to see what was up there... And I couldn't believe what I saw! Dozens of camera shops! In fact 2 entire floors of this mall were dedicated purely to photography, but you would never know from street level. Most shops sold pro-level video and still cameras and lenses (very few consumer products at all), but there were also shops dedicated to large and medium-format film, 2nd-hand collectables, pro lighting, photolab printing, etc, etc. Canon and Nikon reigned supreme with most stores dedicating at least one full wall to one or both of these brands, but the more exotic brands also got a mention (Hasselblad, Rodenstock, etc) and a number of stores had entire shopfront window decked out with Leica gear. Heaven!
But this wasn't some glitzy tourist trap - it was tucked away from the public eye and presented in a very matter-of-fact way. It didn't really cater for the compact-camera user. It was a supermarket for pros.
So I wander into a couple of stores and check their prices against what I know I could get the same stuff for in Australia.. hmm.. pretty good.. And now I come to think of it, I really do need to get a wide-angle zoom for my GF1...
So after a bit of shopping around and price-checking, I settle on an Olympus 9-18mm micro 4/3 lens for my Panasonic GF1. It's a fantastic little lens and I got it at a great price from my new friend Lee who ran one of the shops. He said the lens would take about an hour to arrive at the store, but instead of telling me to come back later he sat me down and made me tea and we chatted for an hour about photography, China, and Australia. He's such a nice guy.
So an hour later I was packed up with my new lens and jumped into another taxi. I needed to find a post office to send a package back to Australia. Luckily I had plenty of time as this took longer than expected. I've discovered that my miming gesture for "posting a letter" seems to be easily confused with "handing over money". Each time I ask where the nearest post office is to send packages, I end up getting sent to a bank.
With the package sent, I went off wandering around Shanghai's glitzy shopping district. It was getting dark now, and the neon lights of Shanghai were coming alive. I didn't buy anything except a few glasses of some rediculously expensive whiskey, and then I headed off to the railway station.
The overnight fast train from Shanghai to Beijing (train D302) is modern, comfortable and efficient. It reaches speeds of 250km/h, but you'd never know as it speeds so smoothly through the darkness of night.
It was so comfortable that I slept for almost the entire journey. The new Shanghai Hongqiao railway station (which only opened mid 2010) is beautiful and a joy to travel through, but the Beijing South railway station I arrived at was a bit more chaotic, with only one of the four taxi ranks in operation meaning a wait of over an hour for a taxi.