Shanghai

Quite unbelievably, what strikes you most about Shanghai simply didn’t exist in any form 30 years ago.

The incredible skyline that has gone up here in the past couple of decades is pure eye candy if you have any interest in architecture, and by night, it must rank as one of the most beautiful city views there are,

I was spending this leg of the journey with my aunt and uncle who had also come over from the UK for Nick and Maxine’s wedding. They had already booked flights and a tour by the time that I signed up for the trip, so the itinerary was already pretty much set, and of all the parts of this trip, this was always going to be the most expensive pro rata.

We were staying at the four star Courtyard Marriot in Pu-Dong, the financial district of the city. My arrival in the city was my first visit to mainland China properly, as although in the past I have spent time in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet – each one of these regions has some degree of claim to autonomy (or at least individuality). Anyway, what i am trying to say is that this was the first time I needed an proper visa to visit.

It was evening by the time we had settled in, and we took a cab into the heart of the new part of the city which sits to the east of the river. The lights were spectacular, although I’m unsure how much was a consequence of the World Expo (which finished after six months on the day that we left), but it really demonstrates how a city can show off their streets and urban furniture when the town planners put their mind to it.

We’d come to the Super Brand Mall – a colossal food hall on the main traffic roundabout in the city. Sensibly they have ditched pedestrian crossings and light signals in favour of a overhead pedestrian walkway that hovers above the whole island, and you get on and off it via a series of escalators.

Our first stop here was coincidental, but the taxi dropped us off outside a huge cylindrical glass tube, with a glowing white Apple floating in the middle.

This made life very easy for me, as I already had planned to purchase a camera connection kit while I was here (I’d run out of space on my memory cards and wanted to get my photos onto my iPad). This store is fairly new if I recall correctly, and very impressive inside (below ground level), as is the exclusive mall next door, which contains a Selfridges-esque food hall that was far too expensive, but great to browse.

The next day was our city tour of the old town on the other side of the river. Mr Yin, our nominated guide, led us around the various temples, often giving us some history and often little insights into the life of his son as a surgeon in Australia. It was very thorough, and I came away feeling fully educated on both topics.

The tea sampling was particularly interesting. Lodged high up above most of the old town, a girl dressed in scarlet poured out six or seven different drinks to try, then after all the formalities – tried to sell us a load of Chinese speciality tea (as you might expect would happen). The same sort of thing went for the silk manufacturing tour too, but I resisted the pressures until we finally ended up with three tickets to see a performance that Mr Yin personally recommended.

He was very good at his job, Mr Yin was.

By evening we had spent a good time exploring the shops on Nanjing Road (the main shopping district) and after G&Ts at the hotel bar, we went to see our show.

It was a ramshackle mix of acrobatics, dance, magic and performance – some bits better than others, but overall enjoyable. The highlight by far was the motorcyclists riding around the inside of a steel ball. The name of this act escapes me, but they managed to get six bikers in there and it was genuinely awe inspiring. It made up for one or two of the earlier weaker acts.

The final act of the day was to get food. Mr Yin couldn’t turn down the offer of a free meal once he’d found us a suitable restaurant (a very trendy mock-communist joint serving good food and beer, called Kommune) but it was a really good place to dine and we were grateful for his assistance during the day.

Our final full day was taken at a leisurely pace, exploring the Bund – a series of colonial style buildings that line the west bank of the river and looking up at their modern cousins on the eastern shore. A river cruise later and some lunch at the quirky signalling tower overlooking the water.

In the afternoon we retraced our steps back to the place where we had eaten the night before, and discovered that the area was far more of a rabbit warren of boutiques, art galleries, trinket shops, cafes and eateries than we had first realised. It was quite easy to get lost in these packed streets, but we eventually escaped as the city turned dark, and made our way over to the observatory on the umpteenth floor of the glittering Hyatt hotel.

This building pitches in near the top when it comes to height on the Shanghai skyline, but is not the tallest, and probably not the most beautiful of all the megaliths here.

My thinking was however that from this building we should get the best view of the city as a whole – being able to view both the extremely famous Pearl TV Tower (that orb like structure they always use as the backdrop during news reports) and the new soaring Shanghai Financial Centre, which looks like the result of something from Tron mating with a bottle opener.

The view was predictably spectacular, and not only over the city. One major feature of the Hyatt is that the hotel lobby ceiling rises 157m from the ground upwards to the viewing platform. With each floor of the building on a ring-like floorplan, it means that you can see directly down the heart of the building to where the guests are checking in several hundred feet below you. It’s understandably impressive.

To wrap it all up, we finished the trip with a meal at the Shangri-la on the recommendation of a friend of my aunt and uncle. Budget-friendly it was not (however I wasn’t footing the bill on this occasion) but the food was excellent.

Overall, Shanghai has a fantastic energy, and a totally different feel to Hong Kong, which I wasn’t expecting. I could probably do with more time here, as I certainly didn’t feel like I’d experienced everything this place could offer (how can you in three days?), but I think I could feasibly end up back here in the future.