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As my plane was descending to land at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, I could sense I was approaching the world’s most populous country. What’s more, I was going to China’s biggest city, with a population of 18.7 million.
The city rose before me in all its glory as I headed towards my hotel at Pudong, known as the financial center with its towering highrises and skyscrapers. I felt on was on the set of a science fiction film as we proceeded down the giant winding highways where overpass overloops overpass. After I settled into my hotel, the receptionist gave me a card with the names of the city’s major landmarks and their Chinese equivalents. He told me I had to use this in order to communicate with taxi drivers, and I came to appreciate the value of this card as the days passed insofar as it is no easy task to find a taxi driver who either knows English or can understand your pronunciation of the Chinese names. But they are extremely friendly and helpful nonetheless. If you prefer to avoid taxis, there is an excellent underground network with 9
FROM FISHING VILLAGE TO WORLD CAPITAL
Shanghai was a tiny fishing village until the beginning of the 20th century. In the period of the Republic it started to become known for politics, art and culture. Following the Communist revolution of 1949, the city center waned in vitality under heavy government taxation and the departure of the foreign investors. Until, that is, the founding of the Shanghai stock market in 1990, upon which the central government lent the city its full support to revive the market economy and Shanghai became the locomotive of growth of China’s economy and current level of economic power. The rapid economic growth that followed fanned foreign and Chinese migration to this great port city. But Shanghai is one of the rare cities that has succeeded in coping with the problems associated with such growth. With its skyscrapers, its modern lifestyle and its art and cultural activities, Shanghai is the symbol of China’s economic development. Preparing to host the Expo 2010 World Trade Fair from May to October 2010, Shanghai is a prime candidate for capital of the global economy.
THE ORIENTAL PEARL TV TOWER
The best way to understand what a city is like is to go to its highest point, and I do the same here. The 468-meter Oriental Pearl TV tower with its stunning architecture has become an icon of the city, and it’s possible to view the urban panorama from the revolving restaurant at its top.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
The Huangpu river separates Pudong from the Puxi district where the old settlements are located, and the Yangpu, Nanpu, Xupu, Lupu suspension bridges join them. You can take a boat tour through the city on the Huangpu, but I chose to walk along the river since it is here that the buildings begin to be steeped in history. This is the area that was called ‘the Bund’, and the stone structures along the embankment here, which call to mind traditional European cities, date back to the 1920’s when Shanghai was used by foreign countries as a financial hub. This part of the river was in any case the city’s old harbor. Like an open-air museum, all the buildings here display plaques explaining when, by whom, and for what purpose they were built, and illumined by night the view is particularly spectacular. Immediately to the west of the Bund, the 0 area known as East Nanjing Road Pedestrian area is Shanghai’s busiest and most congested district since this is the first place that comes to mind at the mention of shopping. Everybody you see here has their hands and arms full, which is not unusual when you consider the foreign tourists that come here in droves simply for economical shopping.
Wang, from whom I buy chicken on a skewer in the street, says I definitely must visit Xin Tian Di. Having come here from Manchuria in the north, he peddles street food rather than working at a more tiring and lower paying job in the coal mines. Shanghai has absorbed thousands of migrants from the provinces just like Wang. Heeding Wang’s advice, I stroll towards Xin Tian Di, not a little envious of the bicyclists whizzing past me. There are some 12 million bicycles in Shanghai. Xin Tian Di means ‘New, Heaven, Earth’. Seeing its one and two-story buildings, constructed of the grey brick typical of classical Shikumen (stone gate) style architecture, relaxes my neck a little, which aches from craning to gaze at skyscrapers. Cafes, restaurants, teahouses, art galleries, movie theaters and shopping centers crowd this district with its long square open only to pedestrian traffic. A display of a turquoise design called ‘Turkish Blue’ in one of the shops on the square confirms that Shanghai lies at the heart of globalization.
YU YUAN GARDEN
Yu Yuan Garden in this part of Shanghai, which we could term the old city, has been well preserved ever since the 16th century. This is a virtual fairytale land of winding paths, traditional Chinese stone buildings with ceramic tiles and dragon motifs, a diversity of plants unique to the Far East, and colorful fish swimming in pools.
A mansion at the exit, built in the middle of a pond where the cinema classic Teahouse of the August Moon was filmed, continues to serve tea and coffee. There’s good reason to try the jasmine tea here, which exudes a particularly fine aroma when made with cold water.
Shanghai impressed me profoundly as a modern metropolis where past and present and the culture of East and West come together in a harmonious blend. On the return I am thinking on the one hand about my experiences in this magical city and on the other feeling sad that I’m going to miss the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century, which will last for almost seven minutes on July 22nd.