This weekend I got to go on a rather exciting trip to Shanghai to the grand Peace Hotel (formerly known as the Cathay, home to many a famous film star and political leader in the 1920s and for the most part of the 20th century. Their most esteemed guests include Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin and Muhammed Ali.
Apart from the excitement of a super luxurious mini trip to Shanghai and getting to stay in a hotel I will probably never be able to afford in my life (the perks of working in the dying profession of journalism), I was looking forward to a Fake Wedding as part of the entertainment.
Often, when five-star hotels celebrate a special occasion to make an even bigger splash they will organize a display wedding for the guests and media present. Sometimes the fake wedding is actually not so fake at all, my boss got to witness one of the hotel staff get married on such an occasion (which is of course a win-win situation for both sides, free wedding venue for the bride and free show for the hotel). I will be curious to see whether the fake wedding on my plan today is in fact staged or genuine. Yet, more than that, I am excited to see how the rich and famous in China celebrate their special day, and what the difference will be to my friend Cherry’s wedding; although to be fair, her husband being a national tennis star, they probably fall under the r&f category. In that case, I look forward to seeing how the glamorous Shanghainese handle things; they are after all famous in the entire country for their fashionable, modern stylishness.
The morning started out with a bit of the usual chaos; my train ticket was for quarter past nine on a Sunday morning, and so I got up at 6.30 (still way to early in my books) to get ready and go to Nanjing South, the high-speed railway station. After kissing my bus, I decided to take a taxi to the closest metro station and use the underground transport instead, as it turned out a case of fool’s luck. I maintain that my real name is Queen of Chaos as I am about the most clumsy and confused person I know. You might have guessed where I am going with this. After having been on the road for three quarters of an hour and two stops away from my destination, it suddenly dawned on me that I had note checked whether the train was in fact leaving from Nanjing South and not from the older Nanjing railway station in the a North if the city. And sure enough, there it was, printed in big and mocking characters on my ticket: departure 9.13am, Nanjing railway station. My heart began to race and so did I; out of the metro as soon as it pulled into the next stop.
Oaf that I am what I do have going for myself is a big portion of luck, but don’t ask me what I did to deserve it. The metro line no 1. In Nanjing runs directly from one railway station to the other and as I noticed my mistake I had about one hour before my train was due to leave.
Baidu maps did nothing to calm my hyper-ventilating self as it announced a 44 minute trip lay ahead of me; including the walk from metro exit to station entrance, security check and the trip to the right platform, this was cutting it awfully close. Thank heaven, Baidu maps is rarely right when it comes to estimating time of arrival, often adding 10 to 30 minutes onto the actual duration, which does make you wonder about the validity of its existence, but in my case it was a welcome misrepresentation of the facts. Plus, due to the older train station being a lot smaller in scale than the mammoth that is NJ South, in fact the largest train station in all of Asia by area, it only took me about five minutes from exiting the metro to arriving at my gate. Had the station been the size of the aforementioned, it would have taken about 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. It was 8.40 and I thanked my transportation paranoia for having left ridiculously early. Ironically, I glanced at my ticket earlier to see that my seat number was the number 13, which I consider my lucky number as I explained in an earlier post. Well, in the end I was incredibly lucky not to miss my train, so there you go.
I even had enough time to sprint to the loo and do my make-up, something I had originally intended for the train ride. In hindsight, that was probably a terrible idea; with the rickety environment of a vehicle moving at around 300 km/h, my face would have quite certainly ended up looking like a Picasso. As it was, and without wanting to sound immodest, I managed to do one of the best jobs with my make-up that I with my limited skills could have done. Maybe I should make a pit-stop at train stations to apply my face paint more often.
Arriving in Shanghai reminded me once again of the difference between the southern hub and the Northern capital. Where Beijing is wide and sprawled, Shanghai is tall. You almost get a crick in the neck as you crane it to try and see the end of the seemingly limitless skyscrapers as plentiful as there are stars in the sky (not that one gets to see stars a lot in Chinese cities; due to the heavy smog it is usually impossible).
The next feeling that enveloped me was severe homesickness as we pulled onto the bund and I saw the city’s Christmas decorations. As much as I am critical of Shanghai, and it of me (all I will say our Facebook status would be complicated, since I have terrible Shanghai charma), what Shanghai has down to a tee is creating a genuine Western feeling. The baubles and green twigs winding their way along rooftops were incredibly stylish, another reminder of how backwards Nanjing can sometimes be. As much as it pains me to say it, but the festive decorations here come about as gaudy and cheap as they get.
All of this splendor culminated in the lobby of the Peace Hotel, aka the former Cathay Hotel. What must have been a 10m high Christmas tree with what can only be described as gingerbread villas at its foot greeted our group of media representatives in the Art Deco interior of the Majestic piece of Gothic architecture with Egyptian elements, that was the tallest, grandest and most expensive construction in its time. Walking the halls of this historical place, whose original interior has been preserved, was an incredible feeling, a mixture of humility and pride.