Day 21 – Shanghai/Beijing

Confused / Day 21 of 64 / 30 May

So, here’s a little update. Due to an emergency, Sam had to return to Singapore. This happened last night, around 11pm. So we packed our bags and left for Pudong Airport, where Sam boarded a 6am flight bound for home. I’m doing this solo for now.

So after Sam left for his flight, it was about 4am, still a whole five hours before my train to Beijing at 9am. I killed time at a Starbucks and by lying on the floor outside the Pudong Maglev Station. Around 6.45am, the ticket counter opened, and I bought a ticket (50 CNY/10 SGD/pax) for the 7am Maglev to Longyang Road Station. The journey, which covers about half the distance from Pudong Airport to Hongqiao Airport, took around eight minutes. From Longyang, it was another 50-minute ride by metro to the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station [上海虹桥站, Shang Hai Hong Qiao Zhan]. I got there just in time to board the high-speed train to Beijing (CRH G2, trip.com, 612 CNY/122 SGD/pax). I got some much-needed sleep on the train.

Shanghai is living in the future.

No, this is not a time lapse.

Beijing South Railway Station.

The train reached Beijing South Railway Station [北京南站, Bei Jing Nan Zhan] at around 1.30pm. From the station, I took the subway to my accommodation, Leo Hostel (15 SGD/night), located relatively near Tiananmen Square. The area around the hostel is known as Qianmen, and the buildings there are all built in traditional Chinese style. Shanghai-style modern skyscrapers and walk-ups were nowhere to be found. In their place were two storey grey brick houses with pagoda-style roofs.

Beijing was formed from an amalgamation of smaller villages. This is evident till this day.

The Qianmen, or front gate, of the old Beijing imperial city.

After I checked in, my first objective was to find an ATM and a mobile phone shop. Surprisingly, the area around Tiananmen, despite being a popular tourist attraction, lacked many city conveniences such as ATMs, phone shops, or convenience stores. After about 30 minutes of walking, I eventually found an ATM tucked away inside a subway station. However, I didn’t manage to find a phone shop.

With some cash in hand, I decided to explore the nearby Qianmen Shopping Street [前门大街, Qian Men Da Jie], which resembled a Chinese version of Universal Studios Singapore. The street consists of Forbidden City-like buildings, and the stores there sell souvenirs and traditional Chinese foods. Although the district is historically conserved, the street, with its many touristy attractions, feels almost like a commercial recreation instead. Nonetheless, the street is very picturesque and is a great spot for photos: with an uninterrupted view running down Beijing’s north-south axis.

Universal Studios, Beijing.

Once I had my fill of Qianmen, I headed to the lesser-known 798 Art Zone. I reached the nearest subway station at about 4.40pm. Along the way, I saw a mobile phone shop and bought a SIM card. Strangely, the China Mobile outline didn’t sell tourist SIMs, so I ended up buying a Chinese line which cost about the same as a tourist SIM. Setting up the line took quite a while and I finally got a SIM at 5.30pm.

I was now back on track to the 798 Art Zone [798艺术区, 798 Yi Shu Qu]. The zone is home to many independent art studios. So much so that it almost resembles an art “industrial district”, a homage to the site’s former role as a military factory. The sides of the main street are littered with sculptures of all kind. And the surrounding buildings are painted with graffiti, both amateur and professional. Off the main street are many side streets, which host even more small studios and cafes. I also stumbled upon a graffiti alley, which contained some of the more powerful graffiti I had seen in the district.

Reminders of the area’s industrial past are everywhere.

The entire district feels unbelievably “relevant”. Almost everyone here seems in tune with the latest “underground” artistic trend. Walk down this alley with a film camera in hand and you’ll fit right in. If you enjoy being associated with popular street art culture, then this place is a must. And even if you don’t, at least pay a visit to the district to enjoy its many cafes: and sip some coffee while gawking at hypebeasts.

“No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative … it gets the people going!”

I decided to end my day early and head back. But first, I had dinner at a noodle shop in 798. The sweet and sour beef noodles were amazing, but the noodles were a bit too springy and chewy. You’ll need to chew quite a bit to get the noddles down to an edible length. I eventually managed to finish the bowl of noodles, with much effort. And with that, I headed back to the hostel to rest.

– Ryan

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