For Shanghai is a city with as rich a history as any, faster growth than most, and a culture unlike any city west of Samarkand, where the Silk Road that once defined the Eastern seaboard of dynastic China began. Yet for all its history, often stored away in mosques, temples and gardens, Shanghai is a truly bustling, ultra-modern megacity.
To gain the best understanding of Shanghai’s rich and golden history, whilst also appreciating the faiths that nestle amongst the modern metropolis, a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple is a must. Taking its name from the two magnificent statues that occupy its pagodas (onto which the sun melts on a hot and hazy afternoon) the temple provides a peaceful break from the congested streets surrounding it. Moreover, it presents a perfect starting point to explore Shanghai’s architectural revolution.
With styles ranging from neo-classical to gothic, and hosting possibly the greatest view in any modern city, The Bund is an essential port of call. A mile-long stretch of elegant promenade next to the uncharacteristically narrow Huangpu River, it is from here that one truly understands why they call Shanghai the ‘Paris of the East’; with former jazz cafes and embassy’s now occupied by a bizarre mix of gift shops, patisseries and company headquarters. In the afternoon it is ideal for a lazy stroll up to the uniformly stunning neo-classical former HSBC headquarters, taking in gothic, baroque and Romanesque design styles on the way. At night, the gorgeous Victorian lamps provide a romantic slow walk as the glimmering lights from Pudong bounce onto the murky water.
With shimmering towers reaching through the clouds, catch the sleek metro up to Lujiazui for a staggering viewpoint from which to see Shanghai’s four main skyscrapers- each echoing a different era of Shanghai’s rich history. The Oriental Pearl Tower is an intimidating, brutalist structure not dissimilar from those that occupy the former Soviet states, whilst the Jin Mao Tower Hotel wouldn’t look out of place in Manhattan. For a fantastic observation point of Shanghai’s two tallest buildings- the Shanghai Tower (which is also the 2nd tallest building in the world) and the Shanghai World Financial Centre (affectionately known as the cheese grater- travel up to the observation deck of the Jin Mao. It is quite incredibly totally free, just make sure you look confident enough to squeeze past the receptionists in the lobby without too many questions. From here, the LED’s lining the aforementioned two tallest buildings swirl and dance around, creating stunning patterns and designs that are truly futuristic, and emphasise Shanghai’s multi-faceted character.
If time allows there is so much more to see and do in the city; Yu Yuan Gardens is a glorious zen-inspired 5-acre oasis, at Waima Wharf Silk Hall you can watch an elegant demonstration of silk manufacturing, whilst shopping in Pudong’s chic outlets cannot be overlooked- if you have the cash and the patience of a saint.
Cuisine wise, Shanghai hosts a smorgasbord of choice, although I’d advise the former French Concession area is the best place in the city to sample the many culinary delights- from fresh hot steamed Xiao long bao sold by chirpy street vendors, to full traditional Chinese banquets served in giant theatre halls whilst dazzling cabaret shows play on stages. Try not to dine in Pudong, as its likely to cost not just an arm and a leg, but possibly also your dignity- such are the high end business- people that use the area as their playground.
Overwhelmingly though, Shanghai is inspiring. And as you travel back to Pudong airport; be it on the metro, taxi, or the incredible Maglev train (taking just over 7 minutes to travel the 30km between airport and city); the sense of earlier anxieties fade, and you are left with a sense of melancholy. Next time you return it’ll be a completely different city, with new areas to explore, new buildings to admire, and new cultures assimilating into the bubbling cosmopolitan cauldron. To cliché, one could spend an entire lifetime in Shanghai and never truly understand it, for 24 hours is hardly suffice. The skill, this time, is in cherishing your experience, and using it to understand the city from your own personal perspective- that’s the only way one can ever truly comprehend the geospatial-transcending beauty, bustle and urbanity of Shanghai.
Feature Image Credit: Wikimedia.com