Josh's Photo Blog

July 5, 2010

Shanghai

Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 8:11 pm

(last in a 4-part series on China)

I’ve heard this city described many ways, but the most thought-provoking description I’ve heard was one I heard from my uncle some time after I’d left China:

“The place has no soul. It has all the money but none of the history or the roots that other places in China do. But it’s one place I’ll definitely be coming back to”

He had a point.  A couple of centuries ago, the place was a sleepy fishing village; it was only after colonial powers began slicing up China that Shanghai became a noteworthy settlement. Because of this, it hasn’t got the kind of historical heritage that other places like Beijing or Xi’an do. What it does have, though, is money.

And yet, I don’t think there’s any better place to see China’s ambition, or the march of globalization.

Shanghai’s impressive Pudong skyline, dotted with huge buildings and animated signboards out of Blade Runner, is even more impressive once one realizes that it basically didn’t exist 2 decades ago. All of Pudong’s tallest buildings are recent constructions on top of what used to be rice fields, and more of them are going up by the day.

Like anything noveau-riche, there’s an element of gaudiness to some of Shanghai’s architecture and decor. The city’s government seems to love neon enough to deck its highways out in the stuff. While of questionable taste and even worse from an environmental standpoint, the overall effect turns out well on camera.

Shanghai’s famous Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings filled with soup and a meatball) are definitely worth lining up for – and the sheer number of tourists in the city guarantee that there will be lines, especially at the most famous places. Other street treats to check out include noodles in stir-fried and soup form, and hotpot skewers and veggies.

All the guide books and websites loved to gush on about Xintiandi (above), a commercial development built around one of Shanghai’s old housing districts.  I didn’t see what all the fuss was about – the place is comparatively tiny, and stuffed with expensive boutique chains and Western restaurants, both reeking of hype and inflated prices. While it’s certainly classy, I was hoping for something with a little more local charm. As it is, the old shikumen (housing units) are the only things separating this place from any other outdoor mall in any wealthy city of the world.

Shanghai takes great pride in its Maglev, the first commercial line of its kind in the world. The ride is exhilarating, if short, and the seats are comfier than those on the plane, even in “economy class”. You can get a VIP Maglev ticket for double the cost, though why anyone would spend more to get a slightly comfier seat and a soda for a 7-minute train ride is beyond me.

Shanghai left me wanting to come back with some local knowledge and some more time for a closer look. I am sure that I’ll cross paths with this city again in the future.

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