The rivalry between Beijing and Shanghai runs pretty deep; it’s like Tom and Jerry, Ali vs. Frazier, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Beijing is the political and cultural capital of China, while Shanghai leads on finance and fashion. Beijing has smog, Shanghai is smug. And so on.
There’s no doubt which side we here at beijingkids fall on – the clue is in the name. However to live in China and not experience one of its great cities would be taking civic loyalty a step too far. So Andrew Killeen and his family set off for the town once known as “Little Suzhou,” to see what it has to offer.
Our first taste of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (SSTM) proved to be rather problematic, as we were unconvinced that the best way to save rare and endangered species was by killing and stuffing them. So we headed on to the Robotics exhibition in the hope of less controversial edification.
The robots on display were certainly smart. Two specialized in Rubik’s cubes: after solving the puzzle, they placed it on a turntable which you could rotate to get hold of the puzzle and mix it up before returning it to the robot, so you knew they weren’t cheating. Unfortunately one of the cubes had a missing face, so the robot stuck with the impossible puzzle would pick it up, contemplate it from every angle and then put it down again with what I couldn’t help imagining to be an expression of existential despair.
Getting “hands on” is what SSTM is all about, and there’s plenty of exciting things you can do with the robots: competing with them at archery, posing while they sketch your portrait, or watching them perform ballet. Unfortunately though we couldn’t get anywhere near them, due to the crowds. If you want to get the best out of the Museum, I would strongly recommend getting there early in the morning, preferably on a school day.
So we headed out to find something interactive which we might be able to interact with. Reasoning that the higher we went, the fewer people there would be, we made our way to the top floor, and the Human Body Exhibit. Here there were sporting activities which kids could take part in, such as a penalty shootout against a virtual goalkeeper.
The queues were shorter as we’d hoped, but the frustration continued, as kids pushed in, grabbed, snatched, and generally failed to observe any rules of courtesy or fairness. In many cases parents not only stood by and watched, but actively encouraged their children to jump the line, and our despairing cries of “ 排队 !” were in vain.
Eventually though the boys got their turn, and Noah managed to beat the virtual goalie, though he abandoned the cycling simulator as being “a bit rubbish.” By now we were all tired and hungry, and returned to the ground floor. We made our way to the exit via the Geology display, but the boys had had enough education, and pretended they were in an underground goblin-ridden dungeon instead of learning about plate tectonics and coal mining.
There’s much to enjoy at SSTM (we saw less than half of the exhibits), and if you’re visiting Shanghai with kids it should definitely be on your itinerary. However you should allow plenty of time, and go equipped with supplies of water, assertiveness, and sharp elbows.
Photos: Andrew Killeen