Published: August 6th 2007April 4th 2007
East Beijing Road
Quiet streets in the early morning hours.
From skyscrapers in Pudong, to thriving shopping, eating and nightlife districts in Puxi, to ship-building along the Huangpu river...everywhere you look, Shanghai is bursting with activity. This city is dotted with construction sites, signaling China's desire to become an economic powerhouse with Shanghai firmly at center stage. It's a booming, busy place with far too many cars and people, but it's flashy, fun and focused on money.
The roads are jam-packed with aggressive taxi and bus drivers who wouldn't brake for their own mother. Bicycles rule the side streets - sometimes with oversized loads - and they rarely obey traffic signals. Sidewalks are a crush of people, each one with a cel phone, and the touts are relentless. These days it's all about the bottom line, all while keeping a Chinese perspective. Thankfully the two are not mutually exclusive. Qibao
is an ancient canal town with historical architecture, crowded markets, and picturesque bridges over sleepy canals. It's managed to survive for 1000 years, but sadly it appears it might not be around for much longer. Bulldozers are slowly demolishing the quaint brick homes to make way for cookie-cutter housing blocks. It's a shame really, as the government seems to
A collection of posh restaurants and cafes.
think that everyone wants to live in standard-issue concrete apartments rather than in traditional homes and villages.
We saw the same thing in Old Town, where new development is encroaching on the borders of this historical district. The walls that used to protect the area are no more, and I get the feeling that the temples, bazaars and antique shops aren't too far behind either. What's keeping the area alive is the Yuyuan Garden
and Bazaar. It's a tourist haven, but the dumplings are delicious and the gardens are a peaceful respite from the noisy city streets.
But still, considering the kind of city Shanghai is, the kind of city it wants to be, you don't come here to explore Chinese history and culture (head to Xi'an or Beijing for that). What you will find is a city that's comfortably Westernized with European architecture and Chinese roots. It's a fascinating place with plenty to offer: take a stroll along the Bund or the elevated Hunagpu river promenade, or step into the French Concession for a taste of European villas and cottages. Dine at swish restaurants and cafes in the old stone buildings of Xintiandi
and wander the quiet
In the French Concession.
passages at dusk when you've had enough of the traffic. And who can forget Pudong? Barely 20 years in the making, this former marshland now boasts one of the most impressive skylines on the planet.
While not very Chinese on the surface, it's a diverse city with much more to offer than meets the eye. The sites aren't jaw-dropping and the pollution is killer, but there's some excellent food and architecture to be had. A place of contrast, it's where old and new, traditional and modern, East and West collide...and it works. Just don't get mowed down by a taxi while crossing the street. Camille & Denise
There are more photos below