Shanghai


Festooned with colourful nicknames like “the Wh*re of the East”, “the Paris of China” and “the Paris of the Orient”, Shanghai has long been symbolic of the West’s rape of the East. In the years following 1949 its gaudy past and foreign appearance was a constant blot on the People’s Republic of China’s psyche.

The city is divided in half by the Huangpu River, with most of the city’s highlights located in Puxi. The city is said to have half the world’s cranes in it (and judging by the skyline this can’t be too far from the truth) but Shanghai’s past still lingers. The best times to visit are spring and autumn – winter and summer here are merciless in their respective extremes. Shanghai is 15 hours from Beijing by train and a hop-skip and a jump by plane.

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The Bund

The Bund is an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy waterfront. The term is apt: mud bedevils the city. Its muddy predicament aside, the Bund is symbolic. To the Europeans, it was Shanghai’s Wall Street, a place of feverish trading and an unabashed playground for Western business sophisticates. It remains the city’s most eloquent reminder that Shanghai is a very foreign invention. Still a grand strip of hotels, shopping streets and nightclubs, the Bund remains an intrinsic part of Shanghai’s character. Constant throngs of Chinese and foreign tourists pad past the porticos of the Bund’s grand edifices while the buildings themselves loom serenely; a vagabond assortment of neoclassical 1930s downtown New York styles, with a touch of monumental antiquity thrown in for good measure.

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The building identified by a crowning dome is the old Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, completed in 1921 with much pomp and ceremony. For many years it has housed the Shanghai People’s Municipal Government. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank has long been negotiating to get it back. Other Bund fixtures are being sold off, and will no doubt be dusted off and cleaned up.

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Definitely take the time to walk down this waterfront boulevard. Between the street lamps and nearby collosal buildings, I’d swear you could imagine you were on the banks of the Thames in London if not for the thousands of Chinese families milling around.

Memorial Monument

This memorial monument is located at the edge of the Bund and is dedicated to the brave Communist Chinese who fought against the tyranny of capitalism. Cap off an afternoon stroll along the waterfront with an evening of fine dining at one of Shanghai’s hippest eateries, M on the Bund. Affording one of the most spectacular views in Shanghai, M serves up some hearty Continental cuisine and truly out-of-this-world deserts. Or take in some jazz at the Peace Hotel, an old Shanghai landmark, where a swing band from way back still manages to bleat out big band classics.

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Oriental Pearl Television Tower

Across the Huangpu River from downtown Shanghai lies the once swampy expanse known as Pudong, or “East of the Huangpu.” In the early 1990s, the government declared its intention to turn Pudong into China’s business and finance capital, and the rapid change has been astounding as high rises shoot forth from the rice patties. The first monument to emerge on the eastern shore was the futuristic/retro Oriental Pearl Television Tower. A collection of orbs, spikes and spires, it is considered incredibly ugly by many, all the more so with the 1999 addition of the twin globes of the Pudong Convention Center at its base, but that doesn’t stop travelers from forking out 50 RMB to visit.

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Old Chinese City/Yuyuan Garden

The Old Chinese City, to the south of the Bund, was a walled fishing town when the British arrived in 1843. Modern Shanghai grew up around it. It used to be a maze of tiny alleys, but much of it has been torn down and rebuilt in recent years. The widened alleys are still crowded with tourists, domestic and foreign. The old city wall which once contained it has long since been demolished, but one gate remains on Renmin Lu. The southern portion of the Old City contains sprawling street markets of bric-a-brac and souveniers, while to the north lies the newly constructed “Shanghai Old Street” with lots of shops selling antiques, both genuine and otherwise.

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Yuyuan Garden is 16th-century garden, consisting of a maze of colorful pavilions, ponds, stone dragons, arching trees, and flowers, surrounding the instantly recognizable zigzag bridge. It is one of China’s finest examples of Ming Dynasty gardens and architecture. The Yuyuan, or “Yu the Mandarin’s Garden”, is characteristic of the architectural style of the Ming dynasty. It is a private garden in the southeast of Shanghai, with a history of more than 400 years. The Garden features more than 30 halls and pavilions. It is divided into six parts, each separated by a white brick wall, the top of which forms and undulating gray dragon. Each part of the park, although divided, has a balance and harmony creating a unity of expression. Yuyuan Garden’s Huxin Ting teahouse is very popular and numerous stalls sell delicious Chinese snacks and desserts.

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During my time in Shanghai, my greatest pleasure was wandering the streets and finding local tea gardens, shopping malls and restaurants. Many of the local tea gardens are packed with bao/bread shops, ceramics stores, temples and other local curiousities. Frankly, if you are looking for real Chinese culture, I believe its in places like this were you can experience and share with the locals. I consider myself a pretty seasoned Chinese cuisine afficionado but I saw some things that even I wouldn’t eat!

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