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The DSC Year - November


A mere week or so after arriving back from Japan and it was a sense of déjà vu as we trekked (and by now it did feel like a trek!) to Heathrow for the final round of the inaugural FIA WEC, We were Shanghai bound.

The upside was a Premium Economy seat, the downside was, by now we’d seen all the films (though a late discovery, the documentary ‘Searching for Sugarman’ gets the highest possible recommendation!

We’d enjoyed Zhuhai’s ILMC round with a hugely helpful circuit staff but local officials who were rather more process driven – Shanghai turned out to be the polar opposite, Immigration turned out to be a breeze, 2 minutes as opposed to the 2 hours in Zhuhai – and getting into the city gave us a truly world class experience too, the world’s fastest scheduled railway service, the Maglev, taking you from the airport to a major Metro hub in not many minutes flat, at a maximum speed, reached very quickly, of 268 mph, including a pretty sharply radius curve at over 200 – LMP1 drivers eat your hearts out!

Shanghai was our third mega-size city of the year after Sao Paulo and Tokyo, but the difference here was the scale, and the pace of development – in fact the polar opposite of Dubai early in the year, there were major developments everywhere you looked, residential, commercial and in particular infrastructure, with major road and rail construction dominating the views from the train.

There are though many problems, the pace of development is uprooting well established communities and, at least in part, the finished result sometimes seems – well unfinished – missing steps on Metro underpasses, some poor quality finishes and rather too much seemingly pointless use of stairways that indicated a lack of joined up thinking and planning.

One thing it certainly is though is cheap!  We met up with DSC’s European Ed Marcel ten Caat at our hotel, Marcel and his lovely wife Roseanne were already in China on vacation and the hotel proved to be everything you’d expect from its 5 star billing, except that is, a 5 star bill – Instead we had a room rate that would pay in the UK for a peak weekend Travelodge!

Our journey out to the circuit was almost door to door public transport a short hop on one Metro line and a longer run on another, around 55 minutes door to door and again we were treated to more, much more, building and development almost every step of the way, we were also treated to a very different public transport etiquette from Tokyo – Shanghai commuters take no prisoners in boarding or alighting – it is a full on charge, survival of the fittest, if we hadn’t had the more than averagely large (tall that is!) frame of Mr ten Caat on the team we’d have been trampled to death more than once!.

The Metro station at the Shanghai International Circuit opened only quite recently but there’s no getting away from it, it already looks old and not a little shabby, mucky concrete and non-operational water features, missing storm grates and little or no external lighting.  The car parks surrounding the circuit though were a hive of activity, with sponsor awnings and sideshows being erected and signage installed – the size of the place is stunning from the outside – but when you actually get inside…….. But first the problem is actually getting in!

The main gate was no problem, a Security guard posted there gave us one look and retreated to his hut, neither was the entrance signposted to the Media centre, a polite (but unsmiling) guard there waved us through, off then up to floor 9 by the lift, the Media Centre at Shanghai is situated on one of two almost sky high overbridges between the main grandstand and the pits complex.

Out of the lift and to the door of the Media room – which was locked! Around the side to the alternative way in – locked too!

What now, it was a hell of a long way round but there was no way to get the attention of anyone in the room proper, a large IT suite sat between corridor and main room – but an internal window was open – I monkeyed in with all the grace of a shot quail and found the internal door locked too – We finally arrived in the world’s most advanced media centre by clambering in through a waist high window and through the gents toilets!

Locked doors would be a theme throughout the meeting, never less so than on our second day, the main door had been opened on the first evening, and for the second, the lift taking us down to the main entrance – which was locked, as was the alternative door (can you see a common theme developing?

We finally exited by taking the only unlocked door out of the reception area, down to the pedestrian tunnel, down a further level, past two more locked doors and through a service walkway up via a lift to an external door which was barely 5 feet on the external side from where we’d been trapped at the main door!

Friday night gave us a chance to sample Shanghai’s main streets after dark – And what a strange mix they were – Karaoke is clearly a very big thing there, half a dozen roadside stalls were set up with PA systems and were drawing major crowds as locals and visitors banged out what we can only presume were Chinese equivalents of ‘My Way’ and ‘Agadoo’.

Beyond that there were small armies of ladies of a certain age dancing in unison – One group must have been 250-400 strong, all mimicking the same steps in long ranks, 8 deep, and all of this at around 10 or 11 pm!

The most prevalent ‘attractions’ of the street though were:

a) The omni present street traders peddling what can only be described as utter crap, flashy lighty, whirly neon coloured boondongles that wouldn’t even have been attractive prospects if I’d been hammered, which, unfortunately for them, I wasn’t! And.....

b) Pimps – most reasonably subtle with their urgings to come and be introduced to a no doubt not drug addled and desperate young lovely, one or two not at all subtle with a use of English usually only heard on the radio in the aftermath of a serious racing accident!  Helpfully these ‘gentlemen’ and there were dozens and dozens of them, even provided laminated menus of girls and services – All in all it struck us as terribly sad that a city on this scale and with such apparent wealth and potential was characterised by many overseas visitors by this level of antisocial debauchery.

There were though other attractions on the main street – at least 5 McDonalds and rather more than that from KFC!  There was a simply amazing aquarium too – with real Lemon Sharks far from cooped up in its vast tank, but this wasn’t a pay at the door attraction, nope it was the back wall of a major department store – Rather sadly last week I stumbled across this story on the BBC website – It seems that lack of attention to detail caught out this development rather badly!

Time for dinner for us and we sampled, over the three nights available, a variety of local eateries, with some distinct variations in the quality of the food on offer!

Our favourite though was the café we visited on our final night – Not because of the food (which was less than wonderful) but because of the menu – Here are just a few of its delights!

Roll on the 2013 season!