Shanghai. The New York of the East. The Pearl of the Orient.
Twenty two years ago, it looked like this.
A rapidly changing, hyper developed megacity, yet still developing…
Stunning waterside skyline. Check.
Sprawling commercial centre. Check.
Shoppers heaven. Check.
Colourful colonial history. Check.
Large expat community. Check.
On the face of it, it’s not that different from Hong Kong. The key difference being that Shanghai is on the mainland, and still no-where near as well-developed as our beloved HK.
We spent our Saturday morning strolling around People’s Park, located in the heart of Shanghai. This is where middle-aged parents meet, compare notes and exchange details on their adult ‘child’ in their quest to find a suitable husband or wife that meets their approval and / or ridiculously ambitious standards. Key requirements include quite naturally; height (you’re screwed if you’re a short man) and salary. Hundreds of parents come here every Saturday, and dating agencies now also advertise in their thousands here. It was a fine, crisp late Autumn morning, and this incredibly bizarre setting had me thanking my lucky stars for a) Having parents who only wish for me to be happy, and b) Coming from a culture where it is deplorable for parents to behave in such a way.
I pity twenty-something single Shanghainese, I’d love to know what they make of all this. We laughed a lot, but if it was my parents trying to exert such control over my life and future – I’m not sure I’d be laughing quite so much.
We liked that you could wander for a minute or two off from the main roads, and you could feel like you were in real, old China again. This was a refreshing surprise, as we’ve heard and read so much about Shanghai’s development, we didn’t think there’d be much of the old city or old China for that matter, left.
Amidst the skyscrapers there remain low-rise, densely populated narrow streets which make a valuable contribution to the city’s character and ambience. Laundry hangs over the roads to dry, old men gather to play board games and have a smoke, delivery boys weave in and out of the throngs of people on their mopeds, frequently playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with other vehicles and pedestrians alike. The smells and stenches can sometimes be overwhelming and vary greatly depending on the nature of what is being concocted at the nearest street vendor, and the distance from the nearest sewer or manhole.
Stinky Tofu is my least favourite – the Chinese seem to love it, but in my opinion it is one of the most foul-smelling odours my nostrils have ever been unfortunate enough to experience. It is horrendous, and worst of all – it is widely available seemingly everywhere in Eastern China.
For our Saturday evening we decided to venture to the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower, where we enjoyed a ‘drink with a view’, as we relaxed and took in the glorious panoramic views on offer – and the overpriced beer and wine!
Before heading home, we took a walk down the famous Nanjing Road – Shanghai’s Oxford Street. The pedestrianised road was abuzz with life and energy. Karaoke, street-dancing, Tai-Chi and shoppers were intertwined into a mass of humanity, neon lights and noise. Several times I was approached by seedy looking Chinese men and asked “Would you like a ladies massage Sir?”, to which I responded “Unfortunately my girlfriends right there, maybe another time!”. Amelia even decided to join in on some of the ‘street dancing’, although it was a half-hearted effort on her part!
Our Sunday was spent shopping, the choice was vast, as was the range in prices. We finished off in Marks and Spencers, where I enjoyed good old British ‘Fish and Chips’ before catching the train back to Nanjing.
Shanghai is a fabulous, fabulous place. In terms of tourism, Beijing has significantly more to offer. In terms of quality of life, amenities and general living – Shanghai wins. If you want to live and work in China, I expect there is nowhere better than Shanghai.
In terms of our travelling, Amelia and I have now visited and experienced three of China’s largest cities. As wonderful and fascinating as they are – we are eager to get out and explore rural, in-land traditional China before it’s lost forever in the biggest development boom the world has ever seen.
Watch this space for more.