April 15, 2020

Shanghai, China

May 2014

Shanghai accounts for 1.7% of population and 4.3% of economy of China. 26 million people and $ 540 billion per annum.  Quite large, quite prosperous, and quite efficient.

Shanghai is a fine blend of China's rich past (colonial era buildings with ornamental facades and wide pavements) and prosperous future (skyscrapers housing multinational business enterprises).  Shanghai has XIX century "concessions" with elegant residences for its foreign residents and XVI century "walled city" with temples, markets, squares, enclaves, and dragon walls.  Shanghai speaks its own dialect of Chinese; and American style English.  Shanghai has a unique international feel and yet less than 1% of its residents are foreigners.

Shanghai has a unique division between its (a) "houkou" holding residents (about 60%) and (b) immigrants from rural hinterland (about 40%).  The city would have a poor rural girl working in Shanghai, rooming with friends, and visiting home about twice a year to see her siblings, uncles, and aunts.  The city would also have a rich urban boy with a Ferrari and several apartments inherited as a lone heir from two parents and four grand parents thanks to three generations of "one child policy" with no siblings, uncles, or aunts to visit.

Shanghai is located at the estuary of Yangtze.  Huangpu river flows through the city cutting it into Puxi, the western half and Pudong, the eastern half.

Shanghai was the birthplace of Chinese Communist Party.  Shanghai has provided more than its share of leaders to Chinese politburo.  Deng Xiao Ping came from Shanghai.  Current chairman Xi Jin Ping comes from Shanghai.

Shanghai is the fifth largest international financial center in the world (after New York, London, Hong Kong, and Singapore) and has the largest stock exchange in the world by market capitalisation.

When you stand on the wide terrace of the Bund on the Puxi side of Shanghai and have a look at the Pudong side, you can sense this.  The skyline is full of skyscrapers.

Pudong Skyline as seen from the Bund

The Bund is a waterfront boulevard showcasing the pre 1949 colonial past of the city.  The Bund is a congregation point for celebrations, or just enjoying a walk by the river.

The Bund

The Bund

Though Shanghai Tower, 632 m high, is the tallest in Shanghai (and second tallest in the world), and Oriental Pearl Tower is an iconic symbol of the city, we preferred to see Shanghai from "Shanghai World Financial Centre".  SWFC (the locals call it "bottle opener") has a glass platform through which you can see all the way to the ground below!

Century Avenue, where SWFC is located

SWFC from ground level (Shanghai Tower is at right)

SWFC has a glass bottomed 100th floor with a scary downward view

View from atop SWFC.  The Bund across river, Jin Mao Tower & Oriental Pearl Tower full of spheres

View from atop SWFC

View from atop SWFC

SWFC Tower: Back to Ground level

People's Square is a large Public square where residents stroll, practise Tai Chi or fly kites.  In the evenings you can see ball room dancers holding group lessons and practice.  The metro below People's Square is the busiest in the world handling more than 700,000 passengers every day.

People's Square

The Shanghai Museum, located in People's Square, is designed to look like an ancient bronze cooking vessel called Ding with a round top and a square base.  Some say this is symbolic of a round heaven and square land as well.  The Museum houses over 120,000 exhibits of cultural relics, ceramics, bronzes, sculptures etc.  The bronzes are from 2200 BC to 200 BC!  The Ceramics are from 1600 BC.  The porcelains are from 900 AD.  China is an ancient civilisation indeed.

Shanghai Museum:  Round top and Square bottom

Shanghai Museum:  Airy interior with multiple levels

Shanghai Museum:  In China, Buddha looks like a Han Chinese

The best food one can have in Shanghai is from a Taiwanese chain of dim sum restaurants: Din Tai Fung.  Its specialty dish,  "Xiao Long Bao" (Shanghai steamed soup dumpling) tastes exquisite.  How do you eat Xiao Long Bao?  It is a complex process.  Dip the dim sum in soy vinegar.  Place it on your spoon.  Bite a small corner out to let the soup leak out.  Slurp a bit to see how hot it is.  After it cools a little, chow down the rest of the dim sum.  (Thanks to the chain being widespread in Singapore as well, we have become experts in the process).

Quite next to the People's Square is the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street.  This five kilometre stretch from Jing'an temple to the Bund is Shanghai's Fifth Avenue, full of shopping malls, luxury brand stores, and Chinese boutique shops.  Yes, it has the world's largest Starbucks coffee shop.

Shanghai's Fifth Avenue:  Nanjing Road

The old town, a walled Chinese city dating to Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) is the heart of historic Shanghai.  It has colourful pagodas, decorated bridges, pavilions, corridors, open courtyards, and intimate enclaves separated by dragon walls.

Old Town:  Yu Yuan Garden & Market

Old Town:  Yu Yuan Garden & Market

Old Town:  Yu Yuan Garden & Market.  Restaurants

Old Town:  Yu Yuan Garden & Market.  Dragon walls separating enclaves

Old Town:  Cheng Huang Miao Temple (City God Temple)

Shanghai has many water towns in its vicinity.  Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, 1700 years old, is one of them.  In the town buildings are accessed through waterways and bridges.  Artisan shops and restaurants line up the banks of the waterways.  The town, an hour's drive away from Shanghai, merits its label as "Venice of China".

Zhujiajiao Watertown

Zhujiajiao Watertown

Zhujiajiao Watertown

Zhujiajiao Watertown:  Yuanjin Buddhist Temple (dedicated to Guanyin - female Bodhisattva)

The Jade Buddha temple in Shanghai is about a hundred years old and built in the style of Song Dynasty.  When temples were getting destroyed during Mao's cultural revolution, smart monks in the temple posted portraits of Mao on the compound walls of the temple.  The Red Guards who were looking to destroy the temple did not want to tear up Mao's posters.  So, the story goes, the temple escaped the destruction that befell most other symbols of ancient Chinese culture. The 2 m tall Buddha statue is made of White Jade and with a robe of precious gems, all brought in from Myanmar

Jade Buddha Temple

Jade Buddha Temple:  Buddha made of white jade from Myanmar

Jade Buddha Temple:  Pond with flowers and fish

Do you know that Shanghai has a People's Park Marriage Market where parents flock to find matches for their children.  Posters of singles are pinned to umbrellas and left in the park.  Physical version of Matrimony.com!

When it was time to leave Shanghai, our guide for the week, Emma left us at Shanghai's railway station (for our four and a half hours bullet train trip to Beijing which was 1,318 km away - almost the distance between Chennai and Mumbai!).  The maglev train from Shanghai's airport to city centre does the 30 km distance in slightly less than eight minutes! 

The railway station in Shanghai is as modern and well designed - with passenger areas in one floor and escalators taking passengers down to the platforms one level below - as any airport in South East Asia.

Shanghai Railway Station

What would we remember Shanghai for?  Emma.  Emma was our guide for the entire week.  She comes from rural hinterland, has a Chinese name that she anglicised to Emma (which her mother does not know), speaks fluent English, has a deep knowledge of her city, and dozens of tips for dining and shopping.

Wife and Emma

Without exception, every Chinese we met in Shanghai and elsewhere had significant goodwill for India, and Indians and went out of the way to make us comfortable. 

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