Finally... I've been Shanghai-ed
It has always been a blind spot amongst my travel itineraries and a noticeable empty void representing one of the region's most famous cities. My shame for the past two years of travel across Asia was that I had never been to Shanghai. Well, now you can check that box off as well, as I recently had an opportunity to visit this storied place after years of anticipation.
Although I was only in Shanghai for just three days, I found it much more refreshing than Beijing. Perhaps it was because the city was new to me, after having trotted up to Beijing so many times. I honestly think however, it was because of Shanghai's unique mix of both Chinese and western influences. There is the obvious Chinese touches in the older architecture and obviously the people, language, and the culture. But there is also the European architecture that makes up the showpiece of Shanghai's waterfront area, which is called The Bund.
The older section of Shanghai preserves some of the last remains of the city's past. Once you are able to pry yourself away from the hawkers and souvenir vendors and the ubiquitous Starbucks, the streets begin to narrow and bend as you walk by amazingly ornate structures. The pathway eventually leads you to the entrance to one of the emperor of China's favorite gardens with its captivating water ponds, curved stone paths, and enchanted archways. One could easily get lost in this place, but that would not necessarily be such a bad fate, as the entire garden emits a sense of serenity and tranquilness far removed from the modern and growing city that is just outside the masonry walls.
What Shanghai is known for today is its moderness, its embrace of things both East and West, and the manic pace of change and growth. If one views the skyscrapers of Shanghai today, you would surely expect to see George Jetson racing about in his motorized space car. That was at least the sense I got when I first laid eyes on Shanghai's landmark radio tower structure.
But for all of its moderness, the famous Bund waterfront area still harkens back to its colonial roots, as the wide riverside walkway is flanked by European-built structures. Here, old-world European architecture stands as one virtual riverbank across from its space-aged brethren across the shore. For some strange reason, this time warp of architectural statements seems to work for Shanghai, as it is a poignant statement on the city's rich past as well as its promising future.
Shanghai is known the world over for its night life and although I did not have the time to fully vet this claim to fame, I will tell you that the city's night time halo of colorful lights is extremely impressive. Reminiscent of Hong Kong's illuminated extravaganza, Shanghai also lights up its famous skyline to the steady awes of on-lookers. And even as the roman candle-like skyscrapers get much of the attention, the people of Shanghai are quite proud of their use of neon in certain districts with fanciful illuminated and strobing signs that beckon the common consumer to purchase. Who said China didn't believe in capitalism?
Now with all of this pressure to grow and the utter feeling of urban-ness in Shanghai, I will have to give credit to the central city planners who have tried to create a sanctuary for city dwellers in the form of a massive city park, which is located on the Pudong side of the city. Century Park, which is still undergoing some final construction and manicuring like so many other places in China, is a huge sprawling enclave of nature amongst the ever-evolving city. New York's Central Park was obviously a benchmark for the Chinese while constructing this site, but Century Park is even bigger with bicycle rentals and miles of pathways to walk, run, or cycle. Not to mention actual streams and rivers where park goers can rent boats (either paddle or motorized) to cruise these tranquil man-made tributaries. This place was easily one of my favorite spots in Shanghai and should serve as a common retreat for weary office workers who grow tired of their concrete jungle surroundings.
I am so pleased that I finally got to visit Shanghai and I am anxiously looking forward to the time when I can visit again. Even though the city's future lies with how fast it can attract business and capital and promote new job opportunities for its citizens, the city will always be a captivating portal to the past where both East and West mixed in delicate balance with one another.