Once at Beijing South train station however I was hugely impressed. It's as big as an airport, super modern and easy to navigate. Check in is similar to an airport with all luggage x-rayed, and only ticket holders can access the gates to the platforms (Europe could learn from this!), where we were greeted by chic hostesses and stewards. The high speed trains are super modern and stylish, a first class ticket is still cheaper than flying and if I lived there, I'd never get on a plane again!
Gradually the dry brown planes and windswept subsistence farms of the province gave way to signs of spring. Green grass shoots started to appear as we headed south and about two hours out of Shanghai we started passing through hills and even some low mountains. Then suddenly we were passing through the outskirts of a city...and arriving.
Now I know it seems obvious to say it, but Shanghai is really, really big. I hadn't realized beforehand that it's the largest city in China with...wait for it....23 MILLION residents. In fact I'd kind of been looking forward to a slightly larger Singapore, I suppose. Wrong. Shanghai may have a reasonable ex-pat population but there the similarity more or less ends. This is hard-core Asia whereas Singapore is Asia-lite. One of the biggest hassles? You can't just jump in a taxi and go anywhere unless you speak Mandarin. Almost no-one speaks English except for tourist places. If you go anywhere, you have to make sure you get a friendly local to write down in Chinese characters the name and address of any place you need to visit including your hotel so you can get back again. It felt weird to climb in a taxi, say hello, then point to a piece of paper and hope like hell you arrived where you were hoping to go. However it was all part of the fun and I was determined to squeeze in as much as I could during my time there.