Shanghai! The Paris of Asia of the last century had become the whore of Asia when Mao took over in '49. Capitalists fled and it stagnated, international trade going preferentially through Guangzhou and Hong Kong until recently. Now it is being born again and slated to surpass Hong Kong to become the trade and finance center of China and probably of Asia if not of the world in the 21st century. The venerable stone colonial buildings of the Bund shown here, are already dwarfed by high rise office towers behind them.
This sculpture in Huangpu Park at the other end of the Bund symbolizes the city's vigor. The Shanghai Mansions Hotel, seen behind the sculpture, has lost the distinction of being the tallest structure it had when I was here 24 years ago.
Shanghai's is an autonomous region like Beijing (11 million), Tianjing (9 million) and Chongqing (30 million). Its population of 13 million is not the largest but there is more construction there than in the other three combined as the new suburb of Pudong is being built on the other side of the Huangpu river.
By a strange coincidence, the Pujiang Hotel where I had a 7$ dormitory bed was just across the street from the 150$ a night Shanghai Mansions where I stayed the last time! I shared that dorm with interesting travelers, Barry from Wyoming who had travelled in more than 100 countries, Tobias from Sweden who was learning Chinese and Jason from San Diego who was desperately trying to start some export business.
Colourful river boats ply Suzhou Creek which flows into the Huangpu river in front of the Pujiang and Shanghai hotels on the west bank. The central commercial district just south of here is always full of people attracted by several large department stores and a multitude of shops.
This is Nanjing Lu, the heart of the commercial district. It is a good place to observe the milling human crowd if you are not shopping yourself. You can find anything here, I even found an internet cafe in a side street.
When I was here last, there was no TV tower and the east bank of the Huangpu was empty. There was no bridge and Shanghai had grown only on the Puxi (west bank) side. Now that two bridges and two tunnels connect Pudong (east bank) with the old Shanghai city, uncluttered land has become available for a unprecedented construction effort. People say that one out of five of the world's construction cranes are at work here. If this keeps up Pudong will look like Manhattan in one or two decades. There is a good view of this sprouting metropolis from the upper ball of the tower.
The modern Shanghai Museum next to the huge Renmin Square is one of the best I have visited in China. Its extensive collection of Zhou dynasty (1100 to 200 BC) bronzes and the displays on the evolution of pottery to porcelain are well displayed and particularly interesting thanks to recorded explanations provided by hand held electronic guides in any language you choose. It is worth a whole day. I went in at noon and left when I had to at 5 PM, wishing I had arrived earlier.
The area just south of the commercial district around Nanjing Lu used to be the French Concession centered on Huaihai Lu which is now full of exclusive up-market shops. The old Chinese city was just south of the French Concession. It has been completely rebuilt since the 19th century but a part of it has been restored as a Chinese style shopping area for tourists.
The Yu Yuan shopping center, as this area is known, is not very authentic but it is nevertheless a colourful and interesting place to visit and the prices in the multitude of shops are more competitive than could be expected of such a touristy place.
The beautifully done Yu Yuan Gardens next to the Yu Yuan Shopping Center provide a further attraction justifying a visit to what used to be the Chinese city when Shanghai was a European beachhead in the Manchu Qing Empire
My internet friends Wang Xiao Zhong and his wife Jin Yan in their one room apartment. The future may be bright for China but life is presently difficult for most Chinese. There is a severe shortage of living quarters everywhere. Most young couples have to live with parents until they can enjoy the privilege of having a place of their own. Xiao Zhong, an economics graduate working in a bank, and Jin Yan live in this small room allotted to her by the Fudan University where she teaches history.
This panoramic view looking East up the Huangpu river shows part of the Puxi district on the left and part of Pudong on the right. The Yangpu bridge can be glimpsed past the bend in the river.
This view north west of the TV tower shows the Suzhou creek joining the Huangpu with Huangpu Park on the left and the Shanghai Mansions Hotel on the right.
Looking south west straight down Nanjing Lu in old Shanghai one sees how the once imposing stone buildings of foreign banks and firms lining the Bund on the river's edge, are dwarfed by the forest of skyscrapers behind them. The elevated Yan'an roadway going west joins the tunnel to Pudong which crosses the Huangpu under the ferry terminal seen here.
The great Nanpu suspension bridge can be seen in this photo looking south. Pudong is on the left and Puxi on the right.
The unfinished highway seen in the lower left corner of this shot east of the TV tower leads to the entrance of the Yan'an Dong Lu tunnel to Puxi. On the other side, Yan'an Donglu becomes Yan'an Zhonglu, then Yan'an Xilu and finally Hongqiao Lu leading to the airport.
Bund is an Anglo-Indian term meaning muddy embankment. The flat plain the Huangpu flows through is part of the Yangzi's delta. Shanghai is built on unconsolidated waterlogged sediments. Building skyscrapers on this mud is a real engineering challenge compared to building New York on its solid limestone base. Actually, Shanghai's buildings float on huge concrete rafts such as the one you can see being constructed here. A similar technique is also used in Mexico which is built on waterlogged volcanic ash.
Shanghai's main train station is noisy and crowded like all train stations in China. The train is the major mode of intercity transport. It is cheap, reliable, safer than buses and it goes everywhere (the system has 52 000 km of lines). Train travel is very popular but it has drawbacks. The demand is such that buying a ticket requires not only patience but also brawn to fight your way up to the ticket wicket. It can get pretty rough at times. In some stations a policeman is posted on a high chair next to each wicket to keep the scrum under relative control. Another problem is that trains are so crowded that attendants have given up on trying to keep the toilets clean... if they have ever tried!
A big busy city like Shanghai attracts street peddlers of all kinds and the station is a good place for them to push their handicrafts. I have been told that these very short ladies are from Yunnan. If anyone reading this can identify which of Yunnan's 26 minorities they belong to please satisfy my curiosity and let me know by e-mail.
Like Nanjing Lu, the plaza in front of the central station is a good place to gawk at the river of humanity going by.
Getting to Suzhou was a short one hour ride on this comfortable "self-seat" coach. This trip was a pleasant exception to normal train travel in China; buying the ticket in the special office of the nearby Longmen Hotel was easy, there was no scrum to charge the train, the coach was comfortable, not crowded, clean and the people on it were relaxed. A sign of things to come?