I arrived in Shanghai after a five hour bullet train ride from Beijing at 310 km/hr. The ride was so smooth and unlike the American Amtrak Acela train – it puts the U.S. rail to shame!. Shanghai is SO different from Beijing. Beijing is steeped in the past and Shanghai is about the present and future. Unlike the Beijing apartment complexes that are identical and look like they were just plopped down, Shanghai consists of apartment complexes of varying styles and skyscrapers of every size, shape, and material. This city has a very different feel from the nation’s capital.
The first day I walked the Bund which is made up of buildings from colonial times. It was originally a towpath for barges – and barges galore still populate the Huangpu River. It was transformed into the banking area and the Bund is where the majority of art deco and neoclassical buildings were built in the early 20th century. Today, it is filled with fancy shmancy hotels and retail stores like Cartier. Across the river is the Pudong area where they have built, in the last 20 years or so, the futuristic part of Shanghai. This includes the site of the famous Oriental Pearl Tower. I also walked along Nanjing East Road which is a pedestrian mall with simple stores, primarily, but some fancier stores too, and Chinese delicacies and tourist shops. Nanjing East Road is where the first department stores in China were opened in the 1920s. There are still many neon signs from the bygone days that mingle with the contemporary shops.
I stayed with my new Italian friends, Laura and Luca, who I met in Yunnan Province and whose company I enjoyed very much. Their children, Vanni and Ada, are a pleasure and Luca has a great sense of humour. I spent time with Laura talking about the arts and exploring parts of the city when she could join me. I was so fortunate to have met such gracious and welcoming people. My whole 3.5 months in Asia, in fact, was virtually nothing but pure pleasure and wonderful people. I was very lucky.
One of the only sour notes was that on my first day out and about in Shanghai I was scammed. I kind of realised it was happening but I do believe that one tends to doubt oneself. And the funny thing is that I had approached these people. Had I not done so I would not have lost $320USD. I read in the guidebook, after the fact: Beware of English-speaking students asking you if you want to walk around and spend some time together and then wanting to take you to a tea house… Two days later I knew better when I was approached…
On a happier note, I took the time in Shanghai to go to a few museums: The Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. I tried to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art but they were closed and in between installations; that was a disappointment. I went to M50 where, unlike at the very vibrant Art Zone 798 in Beijing, I saw a lot of mediocre to bad art. There was though, one truly wonderful exhibition, “Across the Waibaidu“, at Island6 Gallery. I also spent time wandering The People’s Square and Park as well as the Yuyuan Gardens.
I had the opportunity to dine with the brother of a friend and his girlfriend. In typical Chinese fashion they treated me to quite a feast and it was nice to get to know them a bit.
On my final day in Shanghai Laura and I went to the French Concession. As the Lonely Planet says: “Once home to the bulk of Shanghai’s adventures, revolutionaries, gangsters, prostitutes, and writers, the French Concession is the most graceful part of the city. Today a residential, retail and restaurant district with atmosphere tree-lined streets… The cream of Shanghai’s old residential buildings and art deco apartment blocks, hotels and edifices are preserved here… The district naturally tends toward gentrification, but it’s also a trendy and happening enclave, excellent for random exploration…..” The neighbourhood was excellent for walking and exploring and I was tempted into splurging a bit.
Shanghai, so different from Beijing. How I love Shanghai!