- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

SHANGHAI, China — With its grandiose colonial buildings, modern skyline and hyperkinetic downtown streets, Shanghai makes one heck of a first impression.

Though the city’s glamour may fade eventually under the stress of traffic, crowding and pollution, there is more than enough here to keep a short-term visitor enthralled and entertained.

Shanghai is China’s commercial hub. The city is bisected by the Huangpu River, with most of the older city on the western bank (known as Puxi) and the newer attractions and financial center on the east (known as Pudong).

Most sites are reachable by a combination of taxis, the subway and walking. Signage in English isn’t present everywhere, but possessing a decent, recent map and a passable sense of direction should ensure you don’t get horribly lost. The subway token machines, however, would be inscrutable even if they were in English.

It’s best to have your destination written down for cab drivers, but many people in shops speak a little English and can, in any case, punch the price quote into a calculator for you to see.

Shanghai overall is a safe city, but beware of scam artists. They come in several forms, mainly as overly friendly Chinese men or women who purport to desire only a warm chitchat but will steer you to cafes and restaurants to purchase overpriced drinks, for which they receive a cut from management, or to shops or purported art galleries, where they’ll attempt to hook you up with overpriced schlock.

Also be on guard against street vendors who sell phony designer bags and watches along Huaihai Road and other areas where foreign visitors can be found. Best advice: Ignore their presence.

Shanghai’s most famous site, and the one most evocative of its mercantile past and present, is the Bund, a row of hulking century-old banks and offices along the west bank of the Huangpu. Recent years have seen many of these edifices restored to their former glory and converted into upscale shops, restaurants and offices.

The former headquarters of the Shanghai branch of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., but now home to the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, is a wonder inside and out, particularly for its ceiling mosaics.

The Bund is most often photographed from across the river in Pudong. Here you’ll also find some of Shanghai’s most impressive new skyscrapers, including the Jinmao building, China’s tallest; the Oriental Pearl TV tower; and the Pudong Shangri-La hotel. Pudong has an impressive river walk as well, with cafes and a Starbucks where you can view the opposite bank and passing bustle of river traffic.

Back in Puxi, the Yuyuan Gardens offer a slice of the old Chinese city. The area centers on a teahouse in the middle of a pond, crossed by a twisting bridge. The gardens themselves are worth a visit, a compact example of classic southern Chinese landscape design. The entire area is surrounded by a bazaar of narrow streets offering all manner of knickknacks, along with shops offering traditional tea and snacks.

Within walking distance of the gardens is the Xintiandi development, a tastefully rebuilt warren of upscale shops and restaurants based on the layout of a traditional Shanghai neighborhood. The complex also includes a museum of Shanghainese architecture and a restored school where the Chinese Communist Party held its first congress in 1921; it’s also a museum.

Not far away is the former residence of Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen, restored to its former glory and now a museum.

The building is in the heart of the former French concession, whose tree-lined streets and 1930s buildings exude a Gallic charm. Fuxing Park is also worth a stroll, offering a faint reminder of Paris’ Tuileries, with a lively tea garden.

Shanghai isn’t the best place for temples, although the city has two standouts. The Jade Buddha Temple to the north offers a dynamic display of living modern Buddhism. The Longhua Pagoda to the south offers a succession of worship halls and extensive gardens in a slightly more peaceful setting.

Shanghai also has the impressive St. Ignatius Cathedral, along with the hilltop Marian shrine at Sheshan on the city’s outskirts. There also is a museum dedicated to the history of Shanghai’s influential Jewish community, located inside the former Ohel Moishe Synagogue north of the city center.

North of Xintiandi in the city’s heart is People’s Square, a vast park that once was the city’s racetrack. The primary attraction here is the modern Shanghai Museum, with permanent displays of Chinese bronze works, porcelain, furniture, paintings and handicrafts. Just to the west lies the Shanghai Art Museum, housed in the track’s former turf club. Both are well worth visiting.

Shanghai has a clutch of entertainment districts and boasts restaurants of all standards and cuisines. The area around Hengshan Road offers both noisy discos and quiet Irish pubs with gardens. Maoming Road is a tad racier, while Xintiandi and the Bund offer more upscale dining and entertainment.

Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s premier shopping street, starting with the more downscale stores near the Bund and growing progressively more tony at its western extreme. Huaihai Road is also a magnet for boutiques and department stores, particularly at the intersection with Shaanxi South Road.

Shanghai also offers numerous day trips to the outlying cities of Hangzhou, famed for its scenic lake, and Suzhou, known for its temples and classical gardens. The canal town of Zhouzhuang is also about an hour’s journey and offers attractive architecture and country vistas.

• • •

For more information, go to the China National Tourist Office Web site, www.cnto.org/shanghai.asp or call 888/760-8218.

Shanghai is about 11/2 hours by air from Beijing and about the same distance from Hong Kong. Flights from Beijing frequently leave every half-hour, and seats usually are easily available. A very comfortable sleeper train also travels nightly between Shanghai and Beijing.

International flights arrive at Pudong airport, about an hour’s drive from downtown; domestic flights arrive at the more centrally located Hongqiao domestic airport. The fast Maglev train runs from Pudong airport into town, but the terminus is in an inconveniently remote section of Pudong and isn’t recommended for those staying in Puxi.

Shanghai has excellent international connections from the United States, including direct flights from Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities.

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