The world's oldest living civilisation, a country that governments and world leaders talk about every day, the one some are afraid of, the place people are still rushing to invest in, the country that is home to the world's largest population.

China is expected to one day overtake the USA to become the world's largest economy. People say China will one day become a superpower nation. From what I saw, that one day isn't very far away.

I hear and read about China every day but it is a country that I had never visited. A communist country, primarily Chinese-speaking, about 1.4 billion people...this cannot be the most accessible place for me.

My opportunity to visit finally came along 2 weeks ago. My partner Jiun had business in Shanghai. I decided to tag along and we decided to check out World Expo at the same time.

You know what? It wasn't what I expected at all! It did not appear to be a communist country. Far from it! Shanghai was colourful, bustling and for lack of a better word, really really full on! Jiun had told me that Shanghai doesn't exactly represent China. She said it was more like Hong Kong on steroids. Boy, was she right. I think Shanghai may have overdosed on it.

I was however right about people being primarily Chinese-speaking but hotel staff spoke sufficient if not fluent English. I even managed to communicate with the janitor in the public toilet with hand signals! Mind you, the toilet was exceptionally clean and not like what I hear about Chinese toilets!!! And it wasn't as inaccessible as I thought it would be.

But I must say, it did seem to me that the entire population of China were in Shanghai!! There were SO MANY people! On the streets, in the restaurants, in the shops, at the temples and not forgetting, at World Expo. More than 500,000 people visited Expo the day we were there. That's 5 times more than the population of Tauranga. All within 5.28 sq kms. That's absolutely insane!

30 million people live in Shanghai and probably several more millions of tourist from other regions and countries. Out of all these people, I met this young man, only 17 years of age. His name is Xiao Wei. He came over to talk to me while I waited for Jiun who was getting a late takeaway dinner. He asked me to buy him something to eat.

We saw the young man again the next day and he was wearing the same clothes. We saw him almost every day after that in the same gear. Xiao Wei is from Sichuan, where the big earthquake occurred 2 years ago. Today he lives in People's Park just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. That meant he is homeless. Yet he spoke English, good enough to communicate with me. I think that is significant because most of the young volunteers at the Expo couldn't speak English as well as he did. Why was he homeless?

Unlike the many people who approached me while we were in Shanghai, Xiao Wei didn't have anything to sell to me. He merely sat down with us for a chat, we talked, we laughed and we became friends. Eventually, I gave him 10 yuan. He refused it with tears in his eyes until Jiun told him in Mandarin to take it. 10 yuan was only 2 Kiwi dollars. It was nothing to me but it was enough to buy a decent bowl of noodles for dinner. Yet for 2 days after that, Xiao Wei tried to return the money to me.

We never saw Xiao Wei again even though we kept a look-out for him. A week after the day we arrived, it was time to go home.

Shanghai to me was a new experience. It was huge. Everything was huge. It was fast. Very fast! The Maglev train we took from the airport tops its speed at 430kph and made my speed in Bonneville seem like a walk (well, maybe a wheel!!) in the park. We drove on a 83-km long 8-lane elevated Airport expressway that the taxi driver said took only a little more than a year to build. World Expo here is the largest ever. Shanghai will become the next great world city that it aspires to be.

Yet it is this young man called Xiao Wei who will remain my best memory of Shanghai.