taxi driver’s puzzled look told me that I was in for a much longer journey than I had planned. “Where to??”
he repeated. I spoke more slowly:
“To Chongming Island”.
“Which port?” he asked. “Not to a port; please take me to the island. I
want to go to Dongtan in the east; very close to the main highway.”
“Which port?” he repeated,
with more than a note of exasperation in his voice.
I was beginning to raise my voice: “Please take me to the island via the bridge; I don’t want to go by boat”.
isn’t a bridge; there’s a tunnel,” he said with a grimace.
“Then please take me to the island
via the tunnel,” I pleaded.
“I can’t. It won’t
be open until next year!"
This stopped me in my tracks. The
map I’d bought only the day before clearly showed a bridge – or maybe it was a tunnel after all – linking
the Shanghai “mainland” with Chongming island and another bridge (tunnel?) connecting the island with Jiangsu
province. I showed the taxi driver the map.
he said, “that’s what they say is going to happen”.
“Sorry,” I said, realising that my map was “before
date” as opposed to “out of date”.
“In that case please take me to the port”
port?” he asked.
We eventually arrived at Wusong, which is the closest port to the centre of Shanghai and I bought
a ticket for the next fast boat to Chongming Island, which would take about 50 minutes to cross the Yangtze. I had about 40 minutes to wait, which was just enough time to buy a thick tracksuit top in a
nearby shop (it was much colder than I thought it would be).
The hydrofoil docked on the island, and in a few minutes I had negotiated a round-trip to Dongtan
nature reserve and four hours waiting time for about the same price that the same driver had initially wanted for just taking
island falls under the jurisdiction of Shanghai and holds a population of about two-thirds of a million people.
If plans for an eco-city there are to be believed, then up to another half million people could be added to that figure
in the next several years. It’s never been very clear though just how eco-friendly the eco-city will
be – indeed many environmentalists have been up in arms since development plans were announced because the area that
has been ear-marked is very close to a nature reserve of international importance (the very reserve that I visited today).
Although, having said that, things have gone a bit quiet on the development front since one of the main supporters
of the project in the local government fell spectacularly from grace.
On the plus side, Chongming island is getting
bigger by the day; soil washed down from Yangtse is attaching itself to the island at an impressive rate. Indeed, the New Scientist reported in 2006
that the land area of the island had doubled in size since 1950 – and is now more than 100km long by about 30 wide.
Funnily enough, walking around Dongtan nature reserve and watching
the reed harvestmen (most of whom are migrant workers from Anhui) plying their trade as they sing their haunting melodies
to coax their reed-pulling water buffalos forward, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve been caught up in
a time warp that has whisked you back to the 50s – the 1850s that is.
This place is the proverbial million miles
away from downtown Shanghai and its boutiques and bars. Let’s hope it stays that way.