Thursday, October 18, 2012

Shanghai

I didn't mean to go so long without a post.  I just realized that it has been an entire month since we got back!

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.
We started in the Bund, right along the Huangpu (Yellow River).  The Bund is the Western colonial area; Shanghai was host to French and British colonies at different periods in its history.  You can see the Western influence in the buildings right along the west side (Puxi) of the Yellow River.
The famous Pearl Tower in Pudong.
We walked along the River, taking pictures of Pudong and marveling at the size of everything. Pudong literally means "East of the River," and twenty years ago it was rice paddies and farms.  Now this is Pudong:

More of Pudong.  This is looking south (to the right) of the picture above.
It goes on and on and on, massive skyscrapers and apartments.  We didn't explore much in Pudong, mostly because the interesting older things are in Shanghai Puxi.  But look at that and try to imagine the quantities of steel and concrete, drywall and glass that had to be brought to that small area of the world.  I heard that at one point most of the world's supply of drywall was headed to Pudong.  I can believe it.


 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.
A third neighborhood we visited that day was called TianZiFang.  This was an artists' colony, chock-a-block with tiny shops.  We were shoulder-to-shoulder with other shoppers here in the narrow streets.  This would be a great place to film a spy movie--it is wildly disorienting because there are no big cross streets, no grid and often...no outlet!  Think corn maze but with four-story brick and tons of Chinese people. 

Finally, that evening we took a walk near our hotel to get a bite to eat.  This is the exterior of the largest shopping mall in Asia.  Wow!  Some very familiar shops, some less so, but pretty busy for a Sunday evening.  In hindsight, the lights and shops reminds me of Las Vegas.  This is yet another side of Shanghai, I suppose, all modern and Western-oriented.  The big names over there are just what you might expect:  Hermes, Chanel, Burberry...  And no bargains here!  Prices are pretty similar to what you would find at home.

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.

1 comment:

John Fraser said...

Thanks for all the pictures. I never would have guessed there was so much western influence in the architecture. That's pretty cool in kind of a "meeting of the worlds" way.