A few months ago I was in China on a school trip. It was, I have to say, probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever, well, experienced. It wasn’t so much the old Beijing hutongs or the mile high Shanghai skyscrapers. It was the feeling of being somewhere I’ve never been before and never would be again. The feeling of being somewhere where millions of other people had walked and would walk but that I, Elspeth Nicholson, would only walk across once. It was the feeling of being part of this huge crazy planet we call the Earth and knowing that my life at home in Scotland wasn’t the least bit important. What was important was this massive rich country letting its old people starve to death. China is an important country and I felt like I was, by being there, experiencing something terrible and wonderful at the same time.
There was this one day in Shanghai that was probably the best day of my life. The days were packed with tourist-y activities and we visited about five different places each day broken up by dingy Chinese restaurants for lunch and dinner. We weren’t expecting much of Shanghai. We’d all been a little disappointed by Beijing though no one would admit it. We were expecting more blocks of dull flats and mad traffic. How wrong we were. The first day in Shanghai was different. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining (or as much as the sun can shine – through the smog of Chinese cities) and we were happy to be able to wear one jumper rather than three.
We went to the Oriental Pearl TV tower first. It was a weird looking building with a huge spike coming out of its top and three spheres at intervals as you went up. We were going to the second sphere which was 260m up in the air and higher than all the surrounding buildings. You could tell it must be pretty high as you went speeding up in the lift. People all around me were complaining of their ears popping as we ascended. Suddenly the lift juddered to a stop and the doors opened onto a huge round glass walled room. You could see everything for miles out of those windows. As one of my friends pointed out, we’d probably never seen so many people all at once. Looking out of those windows there were thousands of people down below. A person hiding behind every window in each block of offices. A person in every car. Being up there and up above everything and looking down on all those people made you feel like God. Like you were in charge of this little bit of the world.
And that wasn’t the best bit. Later that day after a surprisingly nice dinner, we went for a walk, all splitting off into little groups. We walked up some steps and were shocked when we got to top of them and saw this view:
It was amazing. Breathtaking. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. There were no words. There still are no words. I couldn’t describe the view of those lights even if they were right in front of me. The picture does in no justice but you get the idea. I have to admit, I was nearly moved to tears. So was my fried Beth. We stayed there for a good ten minutes after everyone else had left – leaning on the railings in silence. Just looking at it and thinking.
On the last night we went back to that place. I felt weird. Looking out over the river at that amazing skyline. I felt sad to be leaving Shanghai but happy to be going home. I felt weirdly indecisive. I felt like my life was on pause and I was in between two places. The old me and some new version I haven’t met yet.