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Export to China, Mianyang
25th Aug 2016 - 26th Aug 2016
Shanghai visit part 1

Shanghai is very photogenic, so a few more photos than some other blogs. And it’s the place to see the world’s most … (choose superlative). To start early with these, arrive at Pudong International Airport. The Maglev (magnetic levitation), world’s fastest commercial train service, can then whisk you most of the 19 miles from Pudong to the centre in about 8 minutes. Like most visitors I spent the first three minutes watching the speed indicator, while the Maglev accelerated to 430kph, with a brief minute or so to snap the picture of the top speed before the deceleration. Speed does cost money – 80rmb for a return, just to remind one that Shanghai has western prices, and is the reason maglev hasn’t got off the ground elsewhere. Off the maglev, and straight onto the extensive Metro for 5 stops and I was at my hostel near the Central Square in less than an hour. The directions given by the hostel were of great help, as the People’s Square Metro (with myriad shopping walkways) has 12 exits.

I may have said this before: for the single budget traveller, hostels in China are great. This one, right in the centre but tucked away in a quiet alley, cost a Shanghai mark-up rate of 100rmb (£11) for a dorm bed, but with a nice bar with TV for the US Open tennis and air-con on 24 hours. We are keeping ourselves cool while destroying the planet. Outside it was hot though not as sweltering as Mianyang. I had time for a wander in the People’s Park, which takes up part of the Square. Difficult to picture now, but the Square was previously the No1 Racecourse Far East. In 1949 the course was handed over to the new regime and the land followed shortly after in lieu of land rent owed. Horseracing was made legal again in 2008, but not Chinese people’s favourite (illegal) pastime, which makes re-establishment of horseracing a little problematic. There is, however, a running track around the park, to encourage human exercise. One cannot just run anywhere in Chinese parks: they are not green spaces.

From the park I took an evening stroll down to The Bund, guided by the Oriental Pearl TV Tower lit up across the river. Bund is from the Persian word, band, for embankment, of course. So there are many bunds but this one on the west bank (PuXi) of the Huangpu River is pretty special. The view across to the skyscrapers of the recently developed east bank (PuDong) is impressive. I returned the next morning to compare day and night-time views and stroll along without the crowds. The guard at the Monument to the People’s Heroes (built 1993 in the shape of three rifles) had so little to do that he gave me a little explanation to relieve his boredom. A lot more people in central Shanghai speak some English. The street-side of The Bund, (or Waitan, by its independently derived Chinese name) is a monument to the sturdy neo-classical buildings of the International Settlement Area ceded after the First Opium War. There begins the modern Chinese history of foreigner oppression. Among the bank buildings is the previous home of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank set up here and in HK in 1865, which moving its HQ to London in 1941 before the Japanese takeover, continues to trade dodgely as HSBC. Incidentally the Japanese invaded at Shanghai in 1937, but didn’t occupy the International Settlement or French Concession areas (or Hong Kong) until after their attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941: that’s how foreign governed these areas were. Why two separate areas? the French dropped out of the British, French and American Shanghai Council to have their own French enclave. Adjacent to both areas is the now shrunken Chinese Old City which acted as the ghetto for non-foreigners. Its narrow streets, low rises, tiny shops and chaotic wiring are for now preserved as a ‘historical cultural scenic area’.

From the Bund, resembling Whitehall in London, through the Old City, I walked into France, or at least the French Concession. It’s all plane tree lined avenues and villas or low apartment buildings. This isn’t where the mass of people in the world’s most populous municipality (24 million) are housed. It is the area for boutique shopping. And expensive outdoor cafes. With delicious irony, the building where the first congress of the Chinese communist party met in 1921, is next to Xintiandi, the latest upmarket shopping and dining complex. Now a museum cum shrine, I had a walk through, mildly amused to read that Chen Wangdao had only completed translation of the Communist Manifesto sustained by his mother’s rice dumplings, and then went for my own café dining experience with the thought that the founders would be spinning in their graves at today’s outcome. I wonder if my fellow diners from the fortunately wealthy minority gave it any thought.

After viewing from The Bund, a visit to the Pudong New Area is a must. Until the 1990s this was boggy farmland. Now it is the most densely populated area of Shanghai (popn. 5 million); nearly all due to immigrant workers from elsewhere in China. In the middle is the new financial centre. All apartment and office blocks are put in the shade by the stand-out draw of the three mega-tall towers of Pudong. I suggest an evening visit to see them towering up into the darkness of the night sky: they are jaw-dropping. First built was the Jinmao Tower, which at 420.5m was the tallest until 2007. It’s the one built of steel wafers, making it easily climbable in 2007 by French Spiderman Alain Robert; in 90 minutes. It’s still supertall, and it does still have the world’s longest laundry shute, but it’s ever so slightly cute beside the other two newer beasts. Next up in 2007 was the Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC) at 492m, making it now the eighth tallest building. Originally the hole at the top was to be a circle, referencing Chinese mythology, but this was too similar to the sun sign of the Japanese flag. The design was changed to the instantly recognisable ‘bottle opener’. The last, with exterior completed in 2015 to tower over the other two, is the mega-tall Shanghai Tower. It has so much glass that no-one’s going to climb the outside now, but if you want sweaty palms, there is a short video on youtube of the 2014 ascent of the steel skeleton by a Russian and Ukrainian pair. It has to settle for being the second tallest building in the world, at 632m, but it is the world’s tallest building by height to usable floor level (floor 127) and it has the highest public observation deck (floor121) opened only in July. The 120 degree twist in the glass façade apparently reduces wind loads and construction materials.

I spent much time walking around and craning my neck up into the night sky and then decided I would come back the next day to try and ascent.

Next: Shanghai (and Suzhou) visit part 2
Previous: Decoding English and Chinese literature

Diary Photos

On the Maglev from Shanghai Pudong Airport

Shanghai Central Park Metro shopping and exit alleys

Jogging track in Shanghai Central Park

Shanghai Central Park fitness area

Shanghai's Oriental Pearl (TV/Radio) Tower

Evening crowds on The Bund look across to Pudong

Shanghai Pudong across the Huangpo

Late evening crowds on The Bund look at Pudong

Double decker (tourist) bus on The Bund

Shanghai Bund view

Ugly Art Deco Broadway Mansions Hotel next to twee Russian Consulate

The Bund by day

Wedding photo on The Bund with Pudong backdrop

The Bund Number 12 and 13.

Gutzlaff Signal Tower on The Bund

Within Shanghai Old Town area.

Typical drinks and confectionery shop in Shanghai Old Town

Site of the 1st Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921

Founders of the Chinese Communist Party

Translating the Communist Manifesto fueled by mum's Chinese rice dumplings

Alfesco upmarket dining in Xintiandi (Shanghai French Concession area)

Posing with a meercat in Xintiandi, Shanghai

Tianzifang trendy shopping and food alleys

The three supertall skyscrapers of Pudong, Shanghai

Luxury shopping adjacent to the Shanghai World Financial Centre

Flaunted wealth below the three towers of Pudong

The three towers

No 1 giant at night: Shanghai Tower

JinMao Tower, oldest and shortest of Shanghai's 3 tall towers

Shanghai World Financial Centre, now no 2 tallest

Looking up at towers in the sky

JinMao Tower, SWFC and Shanghai Tower

The view from Pudong (East Bank) across to The Bund on PuXi (West Bank)

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