The first couple of days in China were spent in Shanghai. My lingering impressions of Shanghai are the hustle and the enormity of it. Shanghai was bigger than anything I have ever seen. Masses of people everywhere, and businesses operating in every nook and cranny.
For the most part we took taxis in Shanghai. Traffic is very, very bad in Shanghai, but taxis are pretty easy to get. One advantage is that you can give the taxi driver the business card of the place you are going and--presto!--there you are. Our first sight-seeing day was spent in taxis criscrossing the city.
|Bill in the Bund.|
|The famous Pearl Tower in Pudong.|
|More of Pudong. This is looking south (to the right) of the picture above.|
From the Bund we walked to the FangBang Temple district, really a bunch of little shops surrounding an old temple. The temple wasn't a very big deal--we didn't even see it! We did see masses of people in the shops and restaurants. This looked like a good place to buy souvenirs, but I hadn't decided to spend money yet, so I didn't really buy anything here.
Shanghai is built on the Yellow River delta--you see canals everywhere. In the FangBang area most of the shops are built around bridges and over water. It isn't particularly lovely but it is a respite from the high-rises that loom over you in most areas.
Our next stop was the Xingye Road area. This is still part of the French Concession, I think, and the buildings reflect the European influence. These days there are Western-style cafes and shops, but in the 1920s this was a residential area full of traditional Shanghai homes called "long-tangs." They are two- or three-story homes built around a courtyard. The entrance to the courtyard is over a high stone threshold and has a large wooden door. All of the shops and restaurants try to preserve these entries, because they are so particular to Shanghai. Each long-tang had three or four bedrooms, including a tiny back bedroom that was usually rented out to a student.
One of my favorite facts about this part of town is that Mao had an apartment at 76 Xingye Road. Chinese communism was born in this little neighborhood where many radicals rented out the tiny bedroom. So the home to one of the twentieth-century's biggest mass murderers and haters of all things free and capitalist has become a thoroughly gentrified, Western, capitalist neighborhood.
|I don't even think you can see how crowded it was here.|
So that is four neighborhoods in Shanghai, pretty different from one another, some with MUCH cleaner bathrooms. I hope you can feel how disorienting it was--sometimes Shanghai felt a long way from home, but more of the time it felt like it just wasn't that different from anywhere I'd been before. For my next post I hope to share a little more of what we saw in Shanghai, including apartments and the suburbs.