Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shanghai - beguiling, entrancing, captivating.

Grubby white sky, created by heat, smog or cloud, it doesn’t really matter which; lacks shape, interest and definition, like an unwashed sheep’s fleece blanketing this mega city, trapping the heat and humidity. No pure sunlight penetrates to create light and shade on earthly structures. A mono world, where dramatic architecture appears strangely shapeless and flat, all colour has been leeched out.
Futuristic and mundane on the riverfront.
The skyline comes into its own at night, colours are resurrected as dark descends, electronically and vibrantly enhanced, pulsating and energetic – unexpectedly entrancing, captivating. Gold ingots appear to stack perpetually, like an Aladdin’s cave unable to be emptied no matter how much gold is taken. One roof top structure, like a giant’s silver filigree crown, beautifully detailed, massive; oozes opulence and drama. Ladders of gems reach to the heavens being stacked and unstacked with frenetic activity, no need for words here, the symbolism crosses all language barriers!
Buddhist temple reflected in a massive skyscraper.
22 MILLION people (give or take a few), a similar number to the entire population of Australia resides and thrives in this city. Mind boggling, incomprehensible. But it works - appears to work well, like a perfectly oiled machine - to the outsider it seems efficient and runs smoothly.

TWENTY TWO million people: Han Chinese, minority groups, expats, transients from the world over, and of course, tourists, origamied into apartment blocks, hotels and dwellings which from the air look like a complex circuit board, laid out with efficient precision. Leafy lined avenues, lush and peaceful, modest homes and share housing with outdoor wash troughs men stripped to the waist, bathing (too intrusive to photograph) interspersed with opulent mansions and slick luxurious high rise apartments and offices. Rickety appearing, but solid old wooden homes, cheek to jowl with edgy futuristic architecture, demanding: “look at me”. So many styles; confusing in their diversity; jostling for space to breathe, a little room to stretch.

Old House Hotel and excellent Purple Onion restaurant
View from Old House Hotel, complete with ivy!
Street sleepers’ here - no different to Paris or Melbourne. Beggars too - mostly unobtrusive in their need, a low-key sign of a worldwide imbalance in wealth, of things not quite right. A darker side is here too, the dispossessed, ill, unwelcome people who also belong to any city, the flip side to all the apparent wealth and glamour.

I find this a beguiling city, full of complexity and contradictions. This pulsating metropolis seems comfortable in its own skin, firmly set with its roots in different times with different players vying for power, but clearly looking to the future. Historic buildings meander along the riverfront, some beautiful art deco, solid, steeped in history. Ferries full of excited visitors skitter across the river, thankfully avoiding container vessels and massive barges, reminders that this is a working river, not just a beautiful foreground for the eye-catching buildings.
The Bund
Postcard Shanghai with the Pearl Tower desperately trying to penetrate the grubby sky and find some blue, (it must be up there somewhere). The flagship Apple store all reflecting shine and squeaky clean glass, Super Brand Mall housing the kind of brands where price-tags are discretely hidden from view. Where the air-conditioned ambience seems to be more opulent than elsewhere - a blessed relief from the relentless drippy heat and humidity.
Apple store and Pearl Tower
Reflections shimmer on the Apple
Family groups gather on The Bund, promenade, slurping frozen treats – mung beans or peas are very popular, as well as what we think of as more traditional mango and fruit flavours.

Traffic, which at first seems to be a muddle of cars, taxis, bicycles, electric motorbikes and men pulling carts laden with painfully heavy loads settles into a pattern, a dance of weaving elegance and tolerance. Perhaps there’s an awareness or acceptance that to house such a huge population, arrogant aggression and selfish road rage have no place - would upset the delicate balance. Against all odds it works, and I feel envious of a culture where ‘giving the finger’ and vicious, ugly and profane words and phrases are not part and parcel of one’s daily driving experience.
The old and new.
I’m also envious of the subway - cheap, efficient, and oh so easy to navigate! Melbourne, are you listening? Why can’t we get public transport right? And wifi? Our antiquated system, outrageously expensive, is positively archaic – How wonderful that I can sit in a café in Shanghai, enjoy an excellent coffee, and communicate easily via email with friends around the world (as long as I don’t want to use Facebook or look at a Blog – but that’s a can of worms I won’t open) but shamefully, free wifi is not commonplace in Melbourne cafes and is an additional expense in many Australian hotels.
Low rise streetscape and umbrellas always ready
for rain or shine!
Odd being a lone foreign woman walking, it feels safe though, there’s no nasty edge, smartraveller.com is worth a look for the common scams. One takes care and doesn’t put oneself in harms way. Not enough time, sadly, to do a walking tour to discover the history of Jews seeking sanctuary here. But the Propaganda Poster Museum is fascinating, secreted away in the basement of a building, no signage at all - word of mouth is a wonderful thing amongst travellers!
Leafy lined boulevard in The French Concession -
note the lady with the umbrella on her electric scooter.



Jan Morrison said...

Thank you for taking us with you on your trip! I doubt I'll ever get to Shanghai, but I've enjoyed it through your eyes and thoughts.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. loved both your posts .. so interesting to read .. I'd love to see old Shanghai .. I hope they're not obliterating too much of it - the old tenements etc .. I fear they are.

Yet the Jewish Propaganda Museum sounds fascinating .. I hope I remember that WHEN I get to visit!!!

Cheers ... loved your tours and the descriptive terms you've used .. Hilary

Ms. Becky said...

wow, you've captured the essence of this mega city to be sure. it has it's charms and detractions it seems. looking at these photos, and knowing how populated it is, what I'm thinking is how much I would not want to be there if a natural disaster occurred. yeah, I know, that's an unusual thought to be having, but it is what it is. thanks for sharing these superb photos Sue. I'm intrigued! happy week to you.

sue said...

Jan, thankyou! I thoroughly enjoyed trying to capture a few thoughts.

Hilary, My understanding is that it's not as bad in Shanghai as in Beijing where so much has been destroyed.

I really like your confident attitude - it's a fascinating place to visit, and different every time.

Becky, I'm so glad I didn't think of that when I was there! If I'm honest, I don't want to be anywhere near a natural disaster - but hope I'd manage adequately and without too much panic. May your week be full of wonderful photo opportunities.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. great to know about .. and I hope we'll be in touch for me to tap your knowledge base .. cheers for now and sweet dreams for me in the future!

Cheers Hilary