By Anthony Dylan
A trip to China is always one of wonder. My previous other trips were to Hong Kong, Qingdao and Beijing. Those were done few and far between years. The other Chinese speaking country closest to China which I had ever been to was Taiwan. I travelled upwards from KL to Kaoshiung to Taipei to KL via every mode of public transport from planes, trains, buses and cars. Each one etched a memorable memory for me when you allow yourself to see with an open mind how beautiful the world is.
We decided to head to Shanghai on our own and had just a skeleton of an itinerary. Beforehand, the usual changing of currency was a must and this was done when the Malaysian Ringgit was at a good rate against the Chinese Renminbi. Cash is important as the Malaysian version of the WeChatPay and AliPay would not work. It has a few criterions like having a China based bank account. One of the ways around is to have someone send you some money and reimburse them with other methods but it can get a bit complicated if you do not know anyone. Going on Google would not help either as some said you can set up in Malaysia and use it in China. For that, we decided on cash just to be safe.
Another important item you must have is a VPN or a Virtual Private Network which allows you access to apps which are banned in China. Trust me; this is important if you need Google services which include translation. Without a VPN, Yahoo does not work either and neither are all the usual messaging apps like Telegram, Signal, Kaokao, Whatsapp, Line and Messenger. Your Facebook and Instagram would not work as well. So there is no need to think. Just get one. You can either subscribe one for your device and do note you need to check online in Malaysia as to which can work reliably. Not all VPNs work as the bans are dynamic.
We decided to use TravelRecommends Pocket Wifi. It cost RM24 a day for one with VPN and you can order one online and collect from the KLIA airport and return at the same place. Best part was that the 24 hour collection and return point is located in a bookstore near Café Barbera past the check in counters. There is another popular one we discovered which was Roaming Man.
As we passed through the usual check in procedure at KLIA, it is interesting to note that the auto gates to clear the Malaysian passports have improved tremendously. Now you would have to scan your passport before the first gate opens. Then you need to get in and take your thumbprint scan and picture. Once all verified, the second gate opens. It is much faster now compared to the old system.
The choice for MAS was due to its better value and pricing compared to AirAsia this time. We were also curious as to the quality of the airline food. Nevertheless, all we can say was that the food was getting better and shown tremendous improvement. The typical option this time was nasi lemak or chee cheong fun. The pre – ordered Oriental Vegetarian meal was also good. They even served ice cream chocolates or fruit popsicles.
Landing in Shanghai would be my first. It is the world’s 8th busiest airport. Only Tokyo and Beijing are ahead of Shanghai in this list of Asian airports. We were greeted with sign boards asking non citizens to get their finger printing done at the kiosks. Kiosks? This is very new to us and of course we felt a sense of trepidation. Anyways, we decided to follow the crowd and look out for notice boards. These were placed very prominently and there were staff to advise travelers to go where. The kiosks are self service. The best thing was that these kiosks provide you with language options. You just need to follow the instructions. It was easier than earlier thought. The kiosk would take in the end all 5 digits from both hands and your picture. Your luggage is also neatly arranged on the conveyor belt. This is amazing. How I wish Malaysia does this as well.
Shanghai is a huge city. It has a population of over 24 million and is highest in any city in China. It is also home to the world’s busiest container port. As we left the airport to our apartment in the city, we cannot help marvel at how courteous they are at driving and horns are not heard or used. Roads are shared with e-bikes and there are no noisy motorcycles or even smoke emitting vehicles in Shanghai. Buses are quiet. It is also a fun fact to note that Shanghai has the oldest and largest trolley bus system in the world. It began in 1914 and is over 104 years old now. Of course the buses are newer. Electric buses and hydrogen cell powered buses are an amazing feature. The metro system is superb and on time. Oh yes. They queue here and do not push. The cabins are well air conditioned, stations announced in Mandarin and English as well as flashed on their strategic LED screens. Passengers are well behaved that I thought I was in Japan.
Being a pedestrian most of the time, it is notable to say that the streets do not have the tight 1.5 meter walkways. Instead you get close to 4 meter walkways. Pedestrian crossings are well placed and the traffic lights have voice instructions and audible to people. There are no buttons to press as sensors are located within the system and there are cameras to ensure compliance. Even the embedded tiles light up at night to ensure visibility. Smart crossings really work here as people inclusive of domestic tourists from villages follow.
Nanjing East is the main shopping street which is connected to the Bund. It begins with Nike’s House of Innovation 001. Nike’s second after 000 in New York. At the end of the street you would be able to see a picturesque skyline featuring the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai Tower which rises 632 meters high. This is the 2nd tallest tower in the world. The Bund is a plethora of heritage buildings well kept and adapted for current use. Nanjing West however is home to the world’s third largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery after Chicago and Tokyo.
WeChatPay rules in China. So is AliPay. However, for tourists it is cash. Luckily cash is still the possible minority use as China now has progressed with cashless transactions to the point that everyone from the elderly to young uses them. Even the smallest of shops use them.
Heading home made me think. Innovation is really King here. I guess we should really prepare ourselves for the future. I will write more about the attractions next month.