With only weeks left before leaving Hong Kong we suddenly realized that we had never visited one of China's most famous cities, Shanghai! Many people that feel that this bustling city of 13 million represents China's true heart and soul. So we rushed there for a couple of days and also made a side trip to the town known as the Venice of the East, Suzhou, which is just 90 minutes from Shanghai by train. In Shanghai, we stayed at the famous old Peace Hotel on the Bund (it was apparently voted 'most famous hotel in the world' by a Swiss organization). This was probably a mistake, for we suspect there is more to do and see in the tree-lined French Quarter.
'Shanghai' literally means "City on the Sea". Shanghai's privileged position near the mouth of China's longest river, the Yang Tse (5500 km), accounts for its booming economy (one sixth of the country's GNP). Another factor is the character of the Shanghainese themselves, reputed to be (according to the Fodor guide) proud, arrogant, quick to learn, sly, sharp, shrewd, open-minded, glamorous, sophisticated, vulgar, business-minded, and money-driven!
The most striking feature of Shanghai is how young the city feels. I'm not referring to the fact that it was a fishing village until 1842 (when the British named it a treaty port). I'm referring to the fact that most of the buildings in the city center seem almost new! There was a most amazing building boom here in the nineties, when the number of towers went from 200 to more than 1600. The building continues at a slower pace now, except in the Pudong area east of the Huangpu river where development races ahead, including the construction of what will soon be the world's tallest office tower. It is said that one fifth of the world's construction cranes are located in Shanghai.
At left is Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai's two main shopping streets. It's pleasant enough since it is closed to cars (but not to trains!) We were told this road is more popular with tourists whereas locals prefer Huaihai Road.
Below is the famous 'Bund', a collection of colonial building along the riverbank recalling the days when most of Shanghai was divided into various 'concessions' belonging to various countries such as Britain, France and the USA. The Bund is much more impressive at night. We were surprised at how small it is - just 1500 meters long, You can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes or so.
This somewhat attractive female specimen at right reminds me that we were quite disappointed that Shanghai did not live up to its reputation as home to China's most beautiful women. There are many more beautiful women in Hong Kong than in Shanghai!
This photo is also interesting for the statues. People were queuing up to have their photo taken with the exotic western family! It's worth noting that all over Asia shops prefer western mannequins to Asian ones - would someone please explain why that's so.
We spent several hours in Shanghai's major tourist attraction, the Shanghai museum. Many Hong Kong people have their roots in Shanghai and it was largely with Hong Kong money that this museum was built just a few years ago. The exhibits are varied and beautifully presented.
In addition to the section showing Chinaware (the art form that gave the country its name), other sections include pottery, calligraphy, brassware and more.
There's also a section showing the arts and crafts of China's various minorities, such as this beautiful costume (not practical when taking public transport!).
Near the cramped and overcrowded Yuyuan Garden is a lively and very touristy market - we noticed this very large dragon made out of very small china bowls and spoons.