The Pudong skyline looking along Century Avenue
Shanghai is a city struggling to balance its past with its future. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the banks of the Huangpu River. However, the city was only sleeping and now ask any local and it is the Pudong side along with the future that they're looking to.
Words: Mark Andrews
On the banks of the Huangpu River you have the colonial early 20th Century architecture of the Bund on the Puxi side, whereas on the Pudong side there is the ultra modern skyline topped off by the triumvirate of the Jinmao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center and Shanghai Tower. Shanghai, the Pearl of the East, which in the early 1930s seemed to be a great world city, lost its lustre after 1949 and fell into relative obscurity.
Tianzifang has escaped the wrecking ball. The lanes of traditional shikumen houses and small factories are now home to a shops selling knick-knacks and small restaurants. My friend and I are on Zhaojiabang Road, which was the boundary of the former French Concession from the Chinese section of the city. We go to a market where local residents shop most days. The stalls are full of vegetables, meat and dried goods.
Most people in the area live in high rise apartment buildings and it is in one of these that we cook Shanghai style shumai, a steamed dumpling stuffed with meat, mushrooms and rice, along with kungpao chicken and beef with peppers.
Tranquillity is a precious commodity in a city whose urban population is 24 million. Venture into the City God Temple and it will seem that most of those millions seem to be with you. However, here the 2 hectare Yu Gardens can, if you're lucky, offer some respite from the crowds outside. Dating back to 1559 it makes use of stone, pavilions and carp thronged ponds to build various scenes similar to those in the famed gardens of Suzhou.
The region around Shanghai is famed for ancient water towns. Full of canals they are the Venice of China where residents traditionally largely travelled by boat. There are three within Shanghai municipality that can be visited, Qibao, Fengqing and Zhujiajiao. Of these Qibao is the easiest to visit thanks to Line 9 of the subway but is the smallest and very crowded.
People's Square, once part of the International Settlement, was home to the city's race track. Today it's a more proletarian park, which at the weekend is home to the infamous marriage market.
Bordering the park is Nanjing Road, one of the main shopping streets. In the partly pedestrianised east section well known international brands like Omega rub shoulders with Chinese brands such as Metersbonwe, while knock off sellers do their best to gain attention.
Lujiazui lies just across the water from where Nanjing East Road ends at the Bund. This is the financial hub of the city where shops give way to gleaming modern office buildings. The elevated circular walkway allows some appreciation of the area. It is however, best seen at night either from the Bund or driving down Century Avenue.
One of Shanghai's strangest museums is on propaganda art and is hidden in the basement of an apartment complex. While the main part of the collection is Communist propaganda posters from the 50s and 60s extolling people to work harder for the goals of the country, the story begins with colourful adverts from the 30s. Although the poster collection ends with the opening up of China, those seen all around the streets continue the story from the 30s as if nothing ever happened.
Shanghai is the ideal place to visit to unravel bygone secrets and indulge in a lifestyle that is truly unique.