Be honest, have you ever heard of Yantai? I had not before they told me to go there on a business trip. Yantai is one of those many million people cities in China that you never heard of.
Googling Yantai revealed that it is a coastal town, even a resort town with a large beach and that it has a whopping seven million inhabitants. It’s about the same latitude as Sendai, at the Bohai strait and about 500 km East of Beijing and 700 km north of Shanghai.
There is no direct flight from Tokyo to Yantai, but interestingly there is a direct flight from Osaka to Yantai. So I flew from Haneda to Kansai international airport and then checked in for Yantai. The plane was full with Chinese shopping travelers who stuffed their trophies into the overhead bins to the point of bursting 😉 The plane was not fully booked, but well booked, it also only made a break at Yantai and went on to a place called Taiyuan. Never heard of that before either and it’s a four million people city you’ve never heard of.
The weather in Yantai was pretty bad in the day of our arrival, heavy rains and pretty cold with under ten degrees Celsius.
Yantai is an an old city and apparently has an old town, but unfortunately there was no time to go visit there due to the business nature of the trip. The place where we stayed and the place of our factory was all new and subject to city planning. There is a lot of conformity, streets at right angles, high rises for the millions of people, that look very uniform. The beach was nice, especially in the evening of the second day in Yantai when the weather cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies. It’s a north facing beach and I haven’t heard about many resorts yet with north-facing beaches. Funnily the large pier that reached into the ocean served no obvious function. They should make an amusement park out of it or something.
There was one interesting scene at the beach, some young Chinese were taking what looked like fashion photos, while old Chinese people were getting clams out of the sea trying to make a living off that. Old vs. new China, probably either way is hard to make ends meet.
Shanghai has two airports, Hongqia and Pudong, much like Haneda and Narita in Tokyo. Hongqia and Haneda are closer to town, Pudong and Narita are the airports at the end of the world. We took a domestic flight from Yantai to Shanghai Hongqia. The old Hongqia airport that I knew doesn’t exist anymore. It was a major construction site when I last visited, now it’s a glitzy modern airport, which is quite well organized. A company car picked us up and drove us through a copy of the planned high rises and right angle streets of Yantai into the industrial zone where our Shanghai factory is located. Greater Shanghai has become an incredible 26 million people strong…
When I was in Shanghai for the first time in 2001 there were mostly bicycles, from 2010 onwards mostly cars and electric scooters. Now it’s only cars and electric scooters. I saw not a single bicycle around. Maybe we were lucky, but there was no traffic jam and also in Yantai as well as Shanghai there are cameras over the streets every few meters and you get flashed constantly by speed checkers, those I don’t remember from 2015 when I last visited. I think they are new and a part of enforcing stricter traffic rules to get on top of the chaos.
I am living and working in and around Tokyo since the year 2000. Tokyo has officially thirteen million people and Yokohama six million. Nevertheless I felt that Tokyo is now small by comparison.
What made Shanghai so overwhelming for me this time was the endless high rise wood and its uniformity.
There was no time to go to the Bund unfortunately, our factory and the 43 floors high hotel close to it where we stayed were forty kilometers away from the Bund. You could not see the Bund due to haze. I don’t know how much of the haze was smog how much was moisture. The air didn’t feel too bad, I have had worse air days during previous Shanghai visits. The parts of Shanghai I visited this time looked quite wealthy and very orderly to me but they were all in an “urban development” area and not “grown” over time. The long ride by car to Pudong airport for the return to Japan lead through one and a half hours of high rises. So many people, so many fates, so many trying to make ends meet. It’s quite overwhelming. It was interesting for sure to be visiting China again and I suppose I haven’t been there for the last time. The very bumpy ride back to Tokyo due to lots of turbulence took only two hours and twenty minutes. I’m sure they’ll send me there again 😉