Posted by: Alex | March 22, 2013

Shiny New Shanghai

My first stop in China was the country’s largest and most resilient city: Shanghai.

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Shanghai is characterized mainly by the dramatic rate of change the city has undergone in the past couple decades.

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Nowhere is Shanghai’s unreal rate of change more evident than in Pudong, the new part of the city. The eastern bank of the Huangpu River was, until the early 1990s, connected to Shanghai only by ferry, and thus sparsely populated and agricultural. Since its development was allowed, it has grown into one of the world’s most magnificent and modern skylines.

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Pudong lacks anything of much historical or cultural interest, but that’s no bother. You can wander around for hours marveling at all the unbelievable stuff they’ve built. Like this: the Shanghai World Financial Center is the fourth-tallest building in the world at the time of writing, and the tallest in mainland China.

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The hazy view from the top of the WFC.

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Next door, Shanghai Tower, on the right, likely be the second-tallest building on the planet when it’s completed.

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Down at street level, the IFC Shopping Mall is, without a doubt, the richest I have seen in my life. Every solitary storefront was a high-end designer.

Pudong is only one manifestation of Shanghai’s emergence as a world city. Shanghai is climbing the charts in every conceivable way. Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port, and nearby Ningbo is the sixth busiest. As I said earlier, Shanghai’s twenty-year-old metro system is the fifth busiest in the world. It’s airport system is ninth busiest. All are growing dramatically.

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The breakneck growth in Pudong’s skyline has made The Bund–the main riverfront drag on the old side of the river–into a world-famous tourist attraction.

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The Pudong skyline at night, viewed from the Bund.

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The Bund is probably the most photographed place I’ve ever seen. It’s almost obnoxious: everywhere you step you’re crossing into someone’s picture. Simply walking up to the railing can be a chore.

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The Bund is lined with historic buildings, which mainly served as international banks during Shanghai’s heyday prior to China’s communist revolution. The architecture actually reminded me a lot of commercial buildings you see in old parts of American cities: very grey and substantial-looking. Except here, Chinese flags fly atop every spire.

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The historic buildings of the Bund light up nightly.

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In front of this building stands a particularly photogenic bull, modeled after the bull on Wall Street. You can read all about the wacky symbolism and background of this particular statue here.

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Nanjing Road used to be the city’s premier shopping street. Pudong clearly carries the torch now with regard to high-end shopping, but Nanjing Road retains a Times Square-like feel.

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The scammers lurk on Nanjing Road in greater numbers than I have seen anywhere. The typical scam involves an invitation to a tea house or coffee shop by a friendly youth who wants to practice English. The bill will end up higher than expected by an order of magnitude. As a lone guy, I guy plenty of attention from these types. Their robotic knowledge of American sports was particularly amusing–“Atlanta? You must like the…Hawks!”. Me: “Umm…”

Also, there was no shortage of people asking if I want a “massage”.

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Nanjing Road’s impressive neon lights.

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China’s notorious counterfeiting culture rears its head on Nanjing Road.

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As you go further away from the Bund on Nanjing Road, you reach People’s Park–a wonderful oasis in the middle of the urban grind.

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People’s Park, brought to you by Samsung.

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Whatever your opinion on China’s recent fling with state capitalism, you’ve gotta admit: the Chinese children have more sophisticated park diversions than the Cuban children do.

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Responses

  1. I loved your latest blog about China. The photographs are marvelous. It’s quite alot to take in. And the weather looks good with blue skies which I didn’t expect. Patty

    • Thanks! Yes, my day of wandering around Shanghai was the only day with decent weather the whole time I was in China. Pretty lucky!

  2. […] gas-fueled business districts. It might not match the sheer size of Shanghai’s Pudong, but it still packs quite a punch […]


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