Wednesday , June 19 2024

Shanghai: a city of contrasts

Shanghai is the second largest city in China: colourful, exotic and quickly making a name for itself as a must-visit long haul destination.

In the past it has been the domain of adventurers, swindlers, gamblers, drug runners, the idle rich, fashion dandies, tycoons, missionaries, dangerous gangsters and pimps; a dark memory during the long years of Communist isolation.

Today the sun rises on a city typifying the huge disparities of modern China: monumental buildings that reach for the sky and glinting department stores that swing open their doors to a stylish elite while child beggars, prostitutes and the poor struggle to live.

But travellers still love this city of contrasts, which has earned itself the accolade of the Paris of China and the Queen of the Orient.

Located at the centre of the mainland’s coastline, Shanghai has long been a major hub of communications, transportation and international exchange. The municipality covers an area of 6,341 square kilometres and has a bustling population of more than 17 million.

Shanghai is China’s largest economic industrial base and a famous historical and cultural city. It is home to the most modern stock exchange in the world, to one of the most advanced subway systems and to the third tallest skyscraper, the Jin Mao Tower.

Visitors to Shanghai are not only dazzled by the modern metropolis and gateway to a developing China, but are also able to immerse themselves in the unique Shanghai culture, a combination of Chinese and western elements.

Colourful festivals and celebrations litter the yearly Shanghai calendar, such as the Shanghai Nanhui Peach Blossoms Festival, Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival and Shanghai China International Art Festival.

The well-known Bund is a must for visitors to Shanghai. Here, 52 buildings lining the narrow shoreline of the Huangpu River offer a living exhibition of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architectural styles as well as combinations of Chinese and western looks.

The area of Huaihai Lu is all about shopping, with huge department stores blotting out the sun along a road colourfully lined with flower boxes, while the area around the hotel is littered with cafes, boutiques and antique shops.

Head down the side streets off Yan’an Lu for the tatty, down-at-heel fin de siècle architecture that is so evocative of yesteryear. Nearby, the Yuyuan Gardens and bazaar area of the old town offer some delicious lunchtime snacks and welcome greenery.

Nanjing Donglu (Nanjing Road East) has long been China’s golden mile, although these days it’s looking a bit the worse for wear beside the luxury option of Huaihai Lu. But shoppers still love it. A late 1990s renovation project pedestrianised the street from Xizang Lu to Henan Lu, and the shopped-out can catch the tourist train that runs along its length.

Even back in the dull Communist era, Nanjing Donglu had a distinctly shop-till-you-drop feel about it. Nowadays, high street stores such as Esprit, Benetton and McDonald’s have shouldered Marx and Mao right out of the way.

A visit to the Old City is easily combined with a stop at Yuyuan Garden, a well-restored Suzhou-style garden created during the Ming dynasty. Jade Buddha Temple, located in northwest Shanghai, is the most popular Buddhist temple in this city. It is famous for two jade Buddha statues, one of which is reclining and the other seated.

Culture vultures can immerse themselves in the fascinating history of China to be found in the Shanghai Museum where there are 120,000 works of art, one-third of which have never before been shown. Expect to spend half, if not a whole day here. It is one of the city’s highlights.

If you have a head for heights, how about a stay at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai? It is the highest hotel in the world — located on the 53rd to 87th floors of the Jin Mao Tower – in the heart of Pudong, Shanghai’s financial and business district, and with easy access to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shanghai World Financial Centre and the International Conference Centre.

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About Amanda Bohannon

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