I caught a cold in Changsha—well, we all did. It’s just a cold, but I was coughing and I couldn’t sleep, so I got up.
5:30 a.m. We were leaving Shanghai at 9 a.m.—train, taxi, we hadn’t decided yet. I wanted the guys to sleep a few more hours, so I stepped out of the room quietly and headed outside.
I needed to drink something hot but I had no idea what would be open so early. Chinese aren’t night owls—most restaurants close as early as 9 p.m., even in touristic places. Were Shanghai people early risers?
McDonald’s was open for my coffee fix. I drank it burning hot and went to Nanjing Lu. I wasn’t expecting any of the flagship stores or malls to be open—they usually do so around 10 a.m.—but I wanted to see what the street would look like empty.
It wasn’t as quiet as I thought it would be. Locals were walking their dogs and doing some morning exercise, lined up as in PE class: some were doing tai chi chuan, some were playing badminton, some were just stretching lightly. It was unexpected and quite fascinating to observe people doing traditional gym move between giant ads for Cartier watches or the latest fashion.
Then I walked to the Bund, and stepped into the Peace Hotel, an iconic art deco masterpiece. I walked around in the empty lobby—the perks of being a white woman, no one asked me anything.
I walked past the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building, the Custom House and its huge clock modelled on London’s Big Ben, the Bank of China and other heritage buildings. There was very little traffic and the sun was bright—Pudong, on the other side of the Huangpu, seemed to be a distant mirage-like vision.
Around 8 a.m., the city started to wake up and like locals, I grabbed my breakfast to go: two steamed bread, one savoury and one sweet.
Goodbye Shanghai, next stop, Manchuria!