Towering views in tiny shoes
03.04.2009 - 06.04.2009 20 °C
First things first, Shangai is big. It might sound obvious, but when you get there you really feel it too. Although myself and Megan had a more gentle introduction to millions on the move because we arrived off the night train on the main day of the Qing Ming festival. For the Chinese on this day, as on of my students put it: 'We visit graves. And eat a lot.'
Threading a little line around some of the principal areas using the metro is otherwise heavy and harried, as we discovered the next day. People move in packs of hundreds between platforms, like any other metro system I guess, but on a much bigger scale. Spotting the laowai (foreigners) in this case is rather amusing, as a white man tends to stride a foot or more taller than the 300 Chinese heading the same way.
Our top destination was the Jin Mao Tower, both because Megan had been to the Pearl TV Tower and because we could get a great view of same by visiting the taller one. Off we go 88 floors up - eights are lucky in Chinese, hence the Olympic start date of 08.08.2008. Here you don't feel the ascent at all in the 45-second lift, which makes it a bit more comfortable to oggle the view at the top.
Elegant, enormous and impressive it certainly is, but the Jin Mao is no longer the tallest building in Shanghai - the World Financial Center, otherwise known as the bottle opener - has that distinction at least until another, the Shanghai Tower, is built right next to both of them at a gargantuan 128 stories.
Elsewhere in the city, it's still all about eye-catching buildings. The Bund is an amazing spot for this, but it's oppressively crowded even in a downpour. The savant's way of, eh, drinking in the view to its full extent is to get up high nearby. The Captain hostel bar (below) is surprisingly quiet considering its considerable visual asset, but then it's really somewhere you have to know to go. Who needs a boat ride!
Tall tales aside, Shanghai also yielded much great food and drink, if you can ignore the price tags. Baozi (below), steamed buns with yummy fillings, are quite delicious, especially when you walk away from the shops outside the rather boring Yuyuan Gardens and get fresher ones quick and cheap.
Cosmopolitan delights also abound, especially for us small city dwellers - Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and a German brewery were all enjoyed, the latter especially for the pork knuckle. (Takes me back to Bavaria's Andechs Abbey and the sunny, swilling feast on the hill for Oktoberfest 2004.)
So while I'm not one to shirk from big city lights, you quickly get the impression that Shanghai is really too big and several million over a healthy population. The one time it felt small was on a walk through Nanjing Road, the city's main shopping street. Bright lights yes, but gaudy, hawker-filled and ultimately pretty tame in comparison to teeny 12-million Tokyo. It was strangely comforting then, dear readers, to remind myself - as I retreated to lean, green Lishui - that biggest and boldest does not always mean best. Until next time, zai jian.