I have been very lucky since coming to Bali and starting The Travellist, so many incredible opportunities to work with some truly fabulous people. Last week I accompanied the fabulous people from Mahagiri Group and Bali Tourism Promotion Board to ITB China in Shanghai. ITB is a huge tourism trade expo which goes for 3 days and essentially it is where resorts and hotels connect with their agents and suppliers.
Sensory overload probably doesn’t accurately cover how I felt but it’s close. Shanghai is huge, the city appears to go forever and yet it’s actually quiet. I wouldn’t say it’s peaceful because with a population of over 24 million, it clearly has noise going on but it was not as loud as I thought. Perhaps that is in part because they don’t have motorbikes, well at least not the noisy motorbikes I am used to. Their motorbikes run on electricity or battery and don’t go very fast so they tend to share the road and footpath (that’s a little warning fyi). Plus the majority of people traffic in transit is underground in the subway, which in itself was impressive. The trains ran on time, there was order, and the train stop lines and maps were the biggest I have ever seen. Thankfully I had a colleague with me who is fluent in Chinese, otherwise I may still be underground navigating the stations and stops.
I can’t say I have ever really experienced culture shock because to me that always implies I wasn’t prepared for where I was going. Having said that, China was as close to culture shock as I have ever felt. English is not widely spoken or perhaps I am comparing it to Bali where English is more a second language now, rather than being an option. Initially we stayed near the expo centre which was a very local area – I felt like the only non-Chinese person in the area. Four mornings I went walking, listening and watching as that part of Shanghai woke up and not once did I see another non-Chinese person. It does make me realise how tourists to Bali feel when they don’t speak Indonesian or English – even reading menus is virtually impossible.
Speaking of menus, China is not a place where you can point to something and assume you know what it is. Different areas have different foods they consider delicacies and depending on your palette, this may be ok or like me, you may end up looking for food you can readily identify. I found a great street market that cooked amazing crepes so by the power of sign language and pointing, I managed to have breakfast with locals or while walking along the river. I did try to pay the chap $3 for something that only cost 30 cents, but he was honest and laughed and gave it all back. For that reason alone, I was happy for him to keep the $3. I felt very ‘Anthony Bourdain’ sitting on a plastic chair in the street with people I had never met and with no common language. Except I suspect Anthony may have been far more adventurous with his food choices than I was willing.
I do try to be tactful when travelling and mindful of other cultures but sometimes questions get the better of me and I find them falling out of my mouth before my brain can stop them. One night I asked some dinner companions about the one child policy. The policy was put in place to try to control the population explosion. It was eventually phased out in 2016 but the implications are fascinating. Not all Chinese had to abide by the policy, certain regions were allowed to have more than one child and in fact if the first child was a girl, they were allowed to have a second in the hope it was a boy.
This notion that the boy child is better is a part of life in Bali, where girls are basically just expected to marry and have babies (boys preferably). Rarely is consideration made for their education or desires for a career, if that is what they want. For a woman who has been told she can do anything she sets her mind to, I won’t lie – it’s hard for me to reconcile these beliefs so instead I choose to help the girls and women around me any way I can. But to experience this belief in Shanghai was quite odd. The women I met in Shanghai were educated and strong and many had their own businesses, earning great money and supporting the family.
One woman I spoke to said there is a whole age bracket of women who are being a lot more ‘picky’ with their boyfriends or husbands – because parents who had a boy child first, decided not to have a second so there are far more men than women. Perhaps those parents who chose to keep their girl babies are now the smart ones as their daughters get the great education and the choice of the better men to marry, if they choose to marry at all!
I couldn’t help myself and had to ask the obvious, what happened if a second baby came along unplanned? Some chose to terminate the pregnancy if possible. Some had the babies but those children would never be given the family name or a birth certificate. And like anywhere a pregnancy or child is hidden, I’m assuming some babies were left behind, or left with someone else.
My favourite part of Shanghai was wandering, getting lost, finding treasures like the Chinese umbrellas I brought home, and of course a bit of shopping. Not that I actually bought a lot but walking through the markets and watching the sales process was awesome! I thought Indonesians liked the haggling game, Chinese have them beat. It should be an Olympic sport. I don’t think they liked playing the game with me, I’m pretty useless at haggling and fairly sure I spent more than I should have; but I loved watching other people play the game and they play it amongst themselves as well.
The shopping in Shanghai is on steroids. The malls are skyscrapers with every brand name you can think of and there is nothing you cannot find. If you are looking for great shopping followed up by some fabulous little laneway bars and restaurants, Shanghai is it. I also recommend sitting for hours in a tea-house. You can eat there too of course but the different teas are divine and the stories behind how they are brewed and their health properties are an essential part to being there and enjoying the tea.
The trip to Shanghai came at a perfect time for me, a fabulous reminder that the world is a big place, full of incredible cultures, food and people…time for a few more travels and adventures!