Friday, January 29, 2010
You rise early - entry into Shanghai harbor is scheduled for 8 a.m. and you do not want to miss it. At about 6:30 a.m. we began threading our way down the Huangpa River, leaving the Yangtze to wend its way to the sea without us.
River traffic was something else - as crowded as it was varied with mammoth barges filled with coal, motorcycles, even mature trees sharing narrow invisible lanes with cruise ships, tiny sampans and tugs.
If Beijing is China's Washington, Shanghai is its New York City charging into the 21st century on speed. A perpetual motion machine pausing only when 12 lanes of traffic from two 2-lane streets funnels into a two-lane tunnel.
You'll be awed, intimidated and invigorated. Building cranes may have become Beijing's state bird during the run-up to the Olympics but they were Shanghai's way before that. Leave for a day-long side trip and you'll return to find something new.
The Bund, seen from Pudong.
West met East and liked it here. British, French and America staked commercial claims, the French to its cultural heart, the Brits to its banks, the Americans to its warehouses. There's still a small army of expats, including Wood Zapata, the company run by a Georgia architect and his Ecuadorian-born partner, preserving Xintiandi's Shukumen-style brick houses by turning them into restaurants, homes, nightclubs and bars.
Good news: You'll like it because it's flat, especially when compared to where we've been!
The Bund, a mile-long pedestrian promenade along the river - is a logical place for Westerners to start. Originally built as a dike against floods, it was faced by the city's international establishment. People flock here, from early morning exercise groups to late night party-hoppers.
Tip: Stand with your back to the river to get a feel of the city's layout. Old Town is to the left and behind it the French concession. The British section begins with the promenade, followed by the Russian and American sections. Locate the Peace Hotel, once center of the city's social life. Across from it on the Bund is a pedestrian tunnel under the river to Pudong with its high-rising hotels and office buildings. Also a stand-up tram that goes through a kitschy but fun sound and light show. From the right side of the hotel and back is Nanjing Road, a pedestrian shopping street. If you tire, hop the motorized sight-seeing tram. When cars take over the road, immediately to the left is People's Park then Renmin (People's Square) and the Shanghai Museum. Beyond the museum is Xintiandi. Straight ahead is the Shanghai Centre with the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Nanshi - Old Town
Warning: There are stairs, narrow ones, but it's doable. Just take your time.
Frazzled? Spend the better part of an afternoon in YuYuan, Yu Pleasure Garden just beyond the tea house. Begun in 1577 and completed in 1709, its five acres are a maze of ponds, rockeries, 300-year-old wisteria, paths, bridges and Ming Dynasty pavilions. Each detail - and there are many - is worth noting: Doorways shaped as vases, leaves or moons; double corridors wider for men than for women; winding paths to vary the view, river rocks composed to resemble sea and mountains. You soon forget there's a city anywhere near.
Nanjing Road area
Shopaholic? Go crazy in a silk shop. The fabric is fabulous, the tailoring is superb and your garments can be done in two days (including the initial and a second fitting) and delivered to your hotel for a pittance of what you'd pay in the States. Consider it investment dressing. Wish I'd bought more.