Due to a layover, I would be spending 10 hours at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai.
I was expecting this. When planning our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, my girlfriend knew that, before coming home, she wanted to stop in Shanghai for a few days to visit with friends. I would come back to Vancouver though, which meant waiting for the next available (Air Canada) flight after our flight from Bangkok (which, btw, followed a flight from Chiangmai and a six-hour layover at the BKK airport the day before).
In case you haven’t been, Pudong Airport isn’t going to win any awards for amenities, aesthetics, or food and drink or shopping options (although it was awarded China’s “Best Cargo Airport” in 2012). The shops are state-owned and all the restaurants but a few are the HopeStar brand (Asian, with some Western influences). Shops sell Chinese knick-knacks and not much else.
And the yuan is not cheap. I realized this when I tried to check into one of the airport hotels, one of the Things to do at Pudong Airport when you’re dead, along with:
1. Store your luggage. Good luck! On forums, TripAdvisor people advise taking the bullet train, the Maglev, into Shanghai to experience the cosmopolitanism of the city, and the food. But we arrived at at 6 a.m., and Air Canada wasn’t opening up until 1 p.m. – seven hours away. Meanwhile, the storage area on the first level looks sketchy and has all these weird rules posted, like “You must have a declaration for storage.”
2. Check in at an airport hotel. There are two, as far as I could tell, a “north” and a “south.” One of them has wifi in the rooms and a buffet, the other doesn’t. They rent by the hour, if you wish. Get a quote from each (the one without wife is cheaper, natch), then a) pay with your Visa card if a charge for a five-hour stay in a Shanghai hotel is something you want to see on your next month’s credit card bill, or b) go back downstairs to the first level to find a money exchange that’s open.
3. Do some math. Figure out how far your Canadian dollar will go, and realize: not very! Exchange your Canadian dollars for yen, and realize that, after the fee, $90 Canadian gets you 350 yuan – enough for a five-hour stay in the cheap hotel, and lunch. Go back to the airport hotels, and find out the all the rooms in the cheap hotel have been taken.
4. Visit Starbucks. The Starbucks is on the ground, or first, level. Stand in line for 10 minutes, then realize the line isn’t moving and that, even if you get a venti, you’ll still have eight hours to kill before your flight leaves.
5. Wander around with a confused, befuddled look on your face. If you do this, you’ll be open season for the touts on the ground floor offering Sim cards and hotel rooms. In your delirium, talk to one of these people only because she’s standing behind a kiosk and looks vaguely like she might actually have a job at the airport that includes helping confused, befuddled people like yourself. Believe her when she pulls out two laminate cards, each with pictures of their respective day-hotels.
6. Take her up on her offer, even though she could be selling you down the Yangtze River. A few minutes later, get into a van that has broken brake-lights and no rear-view mirror and is driven by a man who speaks no English. Hope that he is taking you to a hotel that’s ten minutes from the airport, as the woman at the airport has promised (you think). At the 10-minute mark, or what you think is the ten-minute mark, panic. Tell yourself that this isn’t really happening, and that everything’s going to be all right.
7. Breathe a sigh of relief when the van pulls up at a building that looks vaguely like a hotel, or perhaps a former cannery. Tip the driver to show how grateful you are to him that he didn’t drive you into the countryside and stab you.
8. Don’t worry that the room looks like a breeding ground for bedbugs or that the bed is rock hard. Shower, and try to sleep through the loud voices shouting in Chinese in the hallway outside your door.
9. Go outside, have a smoke, look out on the river. Assess your life. Decide perhaps it’s best to go back to the airport ASAP.
10. Leave. Realize as you’re leaving that you’ve left your hat, your precious white-straw hat that’s come so far with you, behind, probably at the hotel, but that you can’t ask the driver to turn around because a) he doesn’t know English (it’s the same driver as before, but in a different shirt) and b) a man from Taiwan has found out that you’re Canadian and is talking at you non-stop about Toronto.
11. Check-in. Be grateful that the Air Canada staff have shown up on time.
12. Visit the garden. On the international departures level, there is a Chinese garden. It takes about five minutes to walk through. Do it twice. Congratulations! Only two hours until boarding time.
13. Visit the museum. It’s beside the garden and has lots of ships in bottles, or at least that’s the impression given by the postering outside (I never actually went in).
14. Have lunch. Did we mention HopeStar (if that’s what the restaurant chain is actually called)? You can find out how what your remaining yuan, after paying 215 for the room, will get you (a bowl of really good Kung Pao chicken and a Tsingtao beer, as it turns out). Look for a knickknack at one of the state-owned shops that you can buy with your last 15 yuan, which isn’t enough even for a panda pencil.
15. Enjoy your 11-hour flight home.