Shanghai: No Room for Foreigners!

Shanghai is the biggest city in China and hence its most multi-cultural. It feels like New York with Chinese subtitles. I survived one freezing day there in early 2012 on my way down to Shenzhen. With Japan eluding me yet again it seemed Shanghai was due a second glance.

So I picked a date, the 9th, yes flying on a Tuesday would be good or so I thought. What I didn’t count on was twin thunderstorms in both Guangzhou and Shanghai. The former’s Baiyun Airport may look international but its inner mechanisms are reliably Chinese. Chaotic with little information and limited seating available. Seven hours late I arrived in Hongqiao airport, lit up like a Christmas tree at 3am (instead of 8pm the previous evening). The positive here is that at least they wouldn’t let us fly which in a country where health and safety concerns are way behind the UK’s, is comforting.

The next morning I set about finding a budget hotel. Being in China for nearly five years I searched out familiar staples: the reliable 7 Days Inn, Motel 268, Home Inn, all in sweltering heat akin to my southern home metropolis – this was not fun. But the real shock was that almost everywhere I went, after a few awkward minutes of stilted Chinglish, it became clear they were actually trying to tell me something. NO FOREIGNERS! To me this seemed bizarre and absurd.

Shanghai Railway Station branch of Motel 268 cut no bones: ‘No foreigners’ they said: curt, blunt, direct. A little way up the road and the same with 7 Days Inn (who were a little nicer and gave me a bottle of water as they could obviously see I was a bit parched by then). Finally I sauntered to Home Inn for a similar story. What could be driving this? Had some foreigners trashed the rooms? Or caused so much trouble it wasn’t worth Shanghai hoteliers time? The G20 summit in near by Hangzhou was causing additional issues with some hostels refusing international guests a month ahead of time.

These are not what you would call classy hotels though the 7 Days are – despite their tacky seventies exterior – usually agreeable inside. No, these are slightly above ‘sticky carpet’ places that are just good enough to sleep. Sadly the days of reviewing the Dusit Thani are behind me. More to the point can you imagine the furore there would be if in London hotels said no to foreigners?

In the end I settled on a hostel I’d heard about but this too was a big mistake. It seems the age of Air BNB is upon me. Back in 2012 I got the vibe Shanghai wasn’t quite my town and this visit sealed my opinion of it. I have spent a total of three days in Shanghai and that is enough for me.

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