Shanghai - A City Looking Forward And Backward - China Travel Story

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Shanghai - A City Looking Forward And Backward

I visited China and Shanghai for the first time in June 2000. I found it to be a schizophrenic, wonderful, baffling, fascinating city.

To a western eye I found the general public to be rude and pushy but gradually it dawned on me that they treated everyone like that ! Imagine first day of the sales and the rush and the arguments to get the best bargains, now imagine that to be daily life for the lift, the bus, to pay for the underground etc. and you get an idea of what to expect. In most western countries we would expect to queue in a line. Queue in a rugby scrum and you will soon be like a local !

Having said that, I found on an individual basis the people to be kind and interested in why the round eye foreigner (me) was in their city. At least those that can speak English. As yet it is not yet widely spoken in the city. If you stick to the big tourist attractions then somebody will speak English but maybe not fluently.

Although the city is making large attempts to modernise itself through 5 and 10 year plans and to open itself to the tourist industry they are still learning how to do things. It will get better but for now think of the little hiccups as life enriching experiences you will laugh at when you get home. It was the only way I coped sometimes !

The city is trying to re-invent itself as a 21st century city and with the amount of new buildings going on, they could be right, but at the same time they still have plenty of crowded 2 storey flats with poor facilities. The new shopping centres all sell the latest high tech goods but two buildings along you will find a 1950s style shop with all the assistants and goods behind the counter. They also have crossing guards with whistles at busy junctions to look after the pedestrians. If you try to cross without permission they will soon let you know with a sharp blast of their whistle!

The guide books I found pointed you to the same expected tourist sights they do in every city. But to be honest, they are still worth going to, if only to say you have seen them and some are worth the trip to China alone.

Fortunately, I had as my guide a native Shanghaiese to show me all the things I would not have got to see. Taking me down alleys, on buses to heaven knows where and ending up at some place I would never have known existed.

Enough of the colour and onto the facts.


I stayed at the Jianggong Jinjiang Hotel on Jianguo Road in the "French Quarter". With some of the tree lined streets you could certainly imagine being in Paris. It is probably equal to a 3 star hotel, it had the usual bars, restaurants, health suite, shop etc with air conditioning and cable tv. The room was very nice, spacious and well decorated. The rate was 300 Yuan a night, at the time it was 13 Y to £1 sterling. It is about 5 minutes walk from one of the new subway station. At the moment there are only 2 lines but there are plans for more.


Try for the subway if possible. It is only 2 or 3Y depending on distance. It is clean, quick, reliable and at least it wont take a turning you don't know about !!!!!!

The buses or tram buses are many and cheap again only 2 or 3 Y. But unless you can read Chinese characters or speak one of the Chinese languages (Shanghaiese is the most common dialect ). I would not recommend it. The exception here being the tourist bus. It is identified by the Pepsi sponsorship all over, that the seat face along the side of the bus not towards the front and that it looks like an old wooden San Francisco tram.

Taxis – like home just stick an arm out and they usually stop. But they are not all that cheap and odds are you need your destination written in Chinese.

Airport - there are two international airports, one in Pudong and the "old" one. They are both within east reach of the centre though and taxis are readily available.


If you like Pepsi and KFC you will love it here. They are the most popular drink and fast food by far. There are some McDonalds, as well as Pizza Hut, Hagen Dazs etc. However, why come here only to eat food you can get at home. EXPERIMENT !!! Personally I love Chinese food and I had many new things that I would love to have here and some I would never touch unless you paid me (huge amounts of money !). The difficulty is again the language, it is more luck than anything, some large places didn't have English menus and some tiny ones did.

Try the dried fruit, all sorts of varieties including what looked and tasted like some jam made into a thin french crepe shape. Usually shops will let you taste a small amount to persuade you to buy.

Places to see

All these are within 10 minutes of underground stations

The Shanghai Museum – artefacts so delicate and beautiful you wont believe. Chinese history in a nutshell. Not to be missed.

Shanghai Exhibition Centre – this doubles as a conference centre and a permanent history of Shanghai. Very interesting, has a model of the city about 60m long by about 40m wide !

Jin Mao Tower – is across from the Pearl TV tower (which is probably the most recognisable building in the city with its twin purple observation globes). This is the tallest building in China and the highest hotel lobby atrium in the world. You can look down through 56 floors from the observation deck to the Grand Hyatt below. Not for those with vertigo though.

The buddhist temples of Longhua are only reachable by bus or taxi. They are two of the few that survived the communist regime. Thankfully they survived and are a beautiful counter point to the surrounding bleakness and uniformity.

The Yu garden in a few years will probably be a proper tourist trap. At the moment, the original beauty is still shining through but the antique, gold, silk etc shops around the area will soon overpower it. There are also various stalls, all of whom seem to sell the same fake watches, cheap souvenirs. Only every now and again here will you find something original after looking at the first few.

Circus World – this may delight or dismay depending on your view. The skill and balance of the performers is superb, the costumes bright and colourful. However, as part of the act they use a live panda. I must admit, knowing the present numbers left in the wild I felt very uncomfortable watching it perform tricks.

Night life

This depends on where you stay, there were plenty of bars and restaurants near my hotel for both locals and a couple intended of expatriate westerners. There are also a new night clubs as well with mostly Chinese. If you want to have a western beer, expect to pay a lot, Guinness & Cider 80Y for a pint.

If you come expecting to get bargains galore and experience a cheap way of living, this is not going to happen. The shops the tourists will probably be guided to or go into are not as cheap as you might think. This may have to do with the fixed exchange rates that are set by the government. The couple of local markets I went to selling fakes were not that good. So I don't know if I went on a bad day or not.

Story Courtesy to Doog2k

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