Shanghai - Pearl of the East

Shanghai - Pearl of the East

Shanghai is the kind of city where you could stay for a lifetime and not see all of it.

 A trip to Shanghai should start with a walk on the Bund at the early morning. Along this walkway by the Huangpu River, 20th century buildings, mostly Art Deco, are symbolically facing the modern skyscrapers of the Pudong district on the opposite bank. 

The colonial era has left a strong impact on the city's architecture. In the old French concession district, the large villas and residential streets look completely Western. Xintiandi is a more traditional Chinese district, with its shikumen and narrow alleys. It has gone through an extensive redevelopment and is now a hot spot of the Shanghai night life. Tianzi Fang is another charming district, home to many art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

There are multiple temples in the city, the most impressive one may be the Longhua Temple with its 10,000 statues of arhats (Buddhist saints), all with a different face, and its tall pagoda. 

The state-of-the-art subway connects the main districts well. It's reliable, cheap, air-conditioned, super clean and easy to understand (stations are in latin alphabet as well). Otherwise there are 50,000 shifu (taxi drivers) in Shanghai that are reliable and affordable. They don't always speak English so be prepared to use some sign language and a map in Chinese!

The Shanghai art museum on People Square is an imposing building but holds treasures inside. Only then did I fully realise the depth and breadth of this 6,000 years old culture and the refinement of its arts across all disciplines. 

Nature is at the heart of Chinese art and the almost exclusive subject matter of poetry, ceramics, ink paintings and textiles. The Yu garden is a prime example of this and takes gardening to an artistic level. Built in the 16th century, its carved rocks, gingko trees, stone dragons, goldfish ponds, zigzag bridges and pavilions covers 2 hectares in the middle of the city. 

Based on the affluence in public parks around the city, Nature is clearly still an important part of life for many Chinese, even more so in a polluted metropolis. Unlike in the West, the green spaces are more a playground for the elderly than for the youngest. Any time of the day, people in their sixties and over can be found working out, practicing tai chi, dancing with fans, playing mah-jong or simply napping. 

In the evening, it's nice to wander on Nanjing Lu, the large commercial street starting from People Square. The neon lights of its hundreds of boutiques and shopping malls lead to the Bund again. The day can end with a drink on the highly popular Bar Rouge terrace and its breathtaking view of the illuminated buildings on other side of the river.   

To get in the mood:

  • Watch: Lust, Caution by Ang Lee
  • Read: The Blue Lotus, the adventures of Tintin by HergĂ©