It seems to me that just about everyone has heard about the remarkable effort China made in getting Beijing ready for the 2008 Olympics. Well, the country’s efforts for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai surpassed even that. More countries participated in the Shanghai Expo than ever in the history of the event. This Expo also attracted a record number of visitors. Today Shanghai shines.
Shanghai is the largest city in the world with a population of over 23 million. China and the West first met in this city almost two centuries ago. Those were the days when the West was into colonizing countries and after the Opium War in 1842 Shanghai was opened to trade as a treaty port; eight western nations were granted concessions where Chinese law did not apply. These countries built foreign banks and trading houses along the banks of the Huangpu River that runs through the city; dozens of these historical buildings still stand.
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Things changed in Shanghai when the Communists took over the country in 1949 and for many years the city kept a low profile. Today it’s a city where the Apple computer store occupies prime real estate not far from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Around the corner is the old Shanghai and the ancient is just as celebrated as the new.
If you stand on the west side of the Huangpu River where the British-style buildings are and look across to the east side you will be staring at some of the most cutting-edge structures in the world. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower soars 468 meters into the sky but it is overshadowed by the Jim Mao Tower, which is the tallest building in China and the third highest in the world. If you lose your bearings while walking the streets of Shanghai all you have to do is look upward and these landmarks will help you will find your way.
The avenue on the western side of the river is called “The Bund”. It is a good place to start your visit to the city. The views are spectacular and it is fun to watch the Chinese tourists pose for photos in front of the statues and the wall of flowers. You can take a river cruise from here or catch the hop-on, hop-off bus. There are even traffic police to help you cross the street, which is just about unheard of in this country where crossing the street is often hazardous. One of The Bund’s landmarks is the Peace Hotel, which was called the Cathay Hotel when it opened in 1929 and was said to be the most luxurious mansion in the Far East.
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Next make your way over to Shanghai Old Street. It is divided into eastern and western sections. The eastern section, called the Yuyuan Bazaar or the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, has been refurbished to represent buildings of the Ming and Qing-style architecture of 100 years ago.
Don’t be put off by the souvenir stores with their Mao memorabilia and t-shirts bearing photos of Cuba’s Castro and Argentine’s Che Guevara. There are lots of interesting finds here. Near the centre you’ll find the classical Yuyuan Garden, a must visit. Then wander down the narrow lanes of the western section, which is more authentic, and you will come upon the best food stalls imaginable. A popular dim sum is Xiao Long Bao, filled with ham, some ginger and pork skin jelly.
Once you’ve had lunch and a cup of tea, head to what was once the traditional center of Shanghai where you’ll find the People’s Square (one of the most famous squares in China), the People’s Park, the Shanghai Museum, the Shanghai Concert Hall, and the city’s largest metro station, which is underneath the East Nanjing Road pedestrian mall. People dance, make music and exercise in the Park and it is obvious that they enjoy all the green space.
The Shanghai Museum gets high marks from most reviewers and it is certainly worth seeing, although I found the newer museum in Beijing to be more impressive. The whole area is well landscaped and enjoyable to walk about.
Walk to the section of Nanjing Road that is closed to vehicles. It is called China’s #1 shopping street and its stores carry international brands. The place is bustling and you will be swept along with the crowd until you are once again at The Bund in this dynamic city of stunning contrasts in the world’s fastest-changing nation.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012