Shanghai: European Opulence

Posted on August 28, 2011

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I arrived into Shanghai and faced a familiar problem, that of being unable to locate the hostel that I had booked online. It was unclear whether this was due to my own stupidity, an incorrect address on the website or the fact that said hostel no longer existed, but nevertheless it was a frustrating way to arrive into China proper. I managed to find an alternative, the excellent Mingtown Backpackers, and immediately set out on a  stroll down the famous Bund, the riverside walkway lined with famous colonial buildings and offering fantastic views of the Financial District on the other side of the river.

With night approaching I returned to the hostel via Nanjing Road, the main commercial street of Shanghai, which at this time was brightly lit and filled with throngs of people. It was here that I first encountered something that I had been warned about and would happen almost daily in my few days on mainland China, when a Chinese girl approached me and invited me for a drink. Though initially flattered, it was soon clear that her intentions were firstly to practice her English and secondly to scam an expensive drink out of a foreigner. More common in the days that followed were invites to have Chinese tea, at a no doubt astronomical price. With s shamefully small amount of cash in my wallet in any case, I politely declined.

The next day I walked around the extravagant People’s Square before visiting the Shanghai Museum, which houses large collections of Chinese art, crafts and calligraphy. I returned to the Bund in order to walk the full length of it and take in all the historical buildings along the waterfront, which combine the opulence of European colonialism with the grizzly dourness of Stalinist architecture. I headed down to the colourful Old Town for a walked down the bustling streets. I eventually managed to obtain a fish dumpling lunch, which was far from easy given the lack of English from both people in the area and restaurant menus. In the end food was obtained by pointing. After lunch I then hiked the large distance to take a look at the French Concession, which turned out not to be worth the effort, though it was certainly a pretty area. The main thing that stood out for me from walking the majority of Shanghai in a day was the insanity of Chinese traffic. There seemed to be very few rules at all, and those that were in place apparently did not apply to motorbikes.

I rose late the next day to catch the metro across the river to the Financial District, where I caught several lifts to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the tallest building in the city. The observation deck offers brilliant views of the city from 474m, though these, as ever in urban China, were obscured partly by smog. Panoramic views were to be had of the surrounding financial district, as well as a view of where I had been walking on the Bund just the day before. In the oppossite direction, one could see evidence of the continuing outward growth of Shanghai and thus a glimpse of the continuing growth of China itself. My last evening in the city was spent visiting a food street for delicious and cheap fried dumplings, followed by spicy fried chicken. I had enjoyed my time in Shanghai, but two full days had certainly been enough to see it in all its glory before making the trip north to Beijing.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel