Bonjour, mes chéries! I sincerely apologize for the delay. I’ve been bouncing from airport to airport these last two week and am so tired from constant traveling that I’ve slept for nearly two days straight. How people to massive tours with tons of destinations is a mystery to me! But on the bright side, I’m back for a while and with tons of stories to share!
The first place I’ll take you is Shanghai, China. Shanghai has become one of my new favorite cities, despite my stubbornly prideful Taiwanese spirit’s protest. In part one, we’ll be walking through the urban parts of the city such as the Financial District LuJiaZui (陸家嘴), the pedestrian street NanJing West Road (南京東路), and the newly renovated bar hopping area called New World (新天地). In part two, we will visit the more cultural and historical neighborhoods, the art district in the Old French Quarter TianZiFang (田子坊), and the ancient water town outside the city called ZhuJiaJiao (朱家角).
Financial District 陸家嘴
LuJiaZui sits across the HuangPu river in the Pudong New Area of Shanghai. If any of you have seen a photo of Shanghai’s skyline, you’ve probably seen a picture of LuJiaZui taken from The Bund, a famous large walkway by the water. It’s the home of many urban buildings, famous multi-purpose towers, and business centers. At first it may seem weird to see so many business buildings in a still Communist country, but other than maybe one or two towers, the buildings all serve as homes to banks rather than corporations. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t slightly alarming as a former business student my entire high school through college careers.
In this district, you can walk around on a beautiful and large overpass that wiggles around the area. There are shopping centers and chain food restaurants or coffee shops along the walkway. All exits down to the main road also lead you to your subway and bus stations. It’s truly a commercial epicenter. And if you’re ever walking along this overpass and wonder what one of the unmarked buildings is, assume it’s a bank or government owned and you’re going to be right 100% of the time.
Oriental Pearl Tower
One of the most famous buildings in Shanghai is it’s Oriental Pearl Tower. It serves as a radio and television tower for the city. There are 15 observatory decks and a revolving restaurant in the pearls. In the columns between the two pearls is the 20 room Space Hotel for guests to stay at. Further below is a shopping center and exhibition halls.
The tower at 468m (1,535ft) tall was the tallest structure in China from 1994 to 2007. In 2008, the Shanghai World Financial Center was topped off at 492m (1,614.2ft).
Shanghai World Financial Center
This building is famous for it’s design. The top of the building resembles that of a bottle opener due to the trapezoidal aperture. The SWFC is another multi-use skyscraper. As the 8th tallest building in the world, it houses offices for international banks and firms such as Morgan Stanley, Ernst & Young, and so on. The building also has its own observation deck, hotels, shopping center, and conference rooms. Apparently Google’s Shanghai branch sits on the 60th floor… Why they’re even there boggles my mind considering everything they own is banned to the general public.
The Shanghai Tower
Ah. The Shanghai Tower, known as 上海中心大廈 to its natives. This mix-use tower construction started in late 2008 in a prime location next to the Jin Mao Tower and SWFC, making these three the world’s first adjacent grouping of three extremely tall skyscrapers. The Shanghai Tower was designed by international architecture firm Gensler. It finally opened to the public in late 2016. While the architects of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa were about to finish their building, it was almost like they took one look at the Shanghai Tower plans for a 632m (2,073ft) height, gave it a big fat “F*ck You” and topped their Burj Khalifa off at 828m (2,717ft). But even though the Shanghai Tower has to sit in second place in terms height, it still houses the world’s fastest elevator and furthest-traveling single elevator at 20.5m/s and 578.5m (1,898ft) and the world’s highest observation deck inside a structure.
What is most unique about this tower is not it’s height. It’s the architectural design hidden in the building. The building is surrounded by a twisting exterior layer of glass panels, providing a layer of protection to the core of the building to help reflect harmful UV rays. This transparent façade is unique since most buildings do not have more than one shell and that one shell is covered in highly reflective glass to reduce heat absorption from the sun. Because of the double layer, the highly reflective glass did not need to be used, and the need for air conditioning is reduced. (If you look closely in the photo below, you can see the double façade.) The tower has other great sustainability designs as well. It collects for internal use and recycles its waste water. There are turbines that help power about 10% of the building’s electrical needs.Additionally, the building’s internal heating and cooling systems use geothermal energy sources.
The Shanghai Tower has 9 zones or 9 cylindrical buildings one on top of another, totaling up to 127 floors. Each of these zones has its own atrium full of gardens, cafés, restaurants and retail space. Some zones are for office and conference rooms. Others serve as halls or hotels. On the 127th floor, you can even see its tuned mass damper, the world’s largest at the time of installation.
The sightseeing deck opened April 26, 2017 which is pretty close to the day I visited. The view was spectacular from above. The pollution was not bad the day I visited, allowing me to see the span of the entire Shanghai. I found bits and pieces of Pittsburgh, Taipei, and New York from the view which brought a warm bittersweet feeling inside. At the deck, you see the confluence of rivers as cargo ships flow out to the ocean, the bridges that link people from either side of the river together, and tons of color coded rooftops of government built neighborhoods. Whether you’re for a democracy or pro-Communism, seeing just how of the skyline and homes the government build is quite astonishing.
But what LuJiaZui is most famous for is not just its buildings; it’s its night view from The Bund. Around 5 or 6pm, the lights turn on and the cameras (and way too many bodies) flood the walkway. The Oriental Pearl lights up with different colored LED lights, and the Shanghai Tower twist practically glows. I came here on my very first night and simply fell in love with the lights. The colors bring such personality and life to a very corporate and serious skyline, making the view from The Bund magical. And when that view got boring or there were too many people shoving you over the railing to get their photos, you could turn around and enjoy the old-fashioned government buildings across the street.
Nanjing Pedestrian Street 南京東路
Imagine Times Square stretched out a long 5.5km road. Then multiple the number of people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve by 5 and put that on this road on a daily basis. You have Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street. This makes it the world’s longest shopping districts.
The road is split into two halves: east and west. Nanjing East Road is strictly commercial. The eastern end features The Bund and the Peace Hotel used by The Gang of Four during Communist takeover of China. Nearby sits the Central Market which is a century-old outdoors market that now specializes in electronic products. It meets Nanjing West Road at the pedestrian mall where Shanghai’s biggest and oldest department stores sit.
Nanjing West Road starts past the pedestrian mall and People’s Park. It is home to office buildings, shopping centers, Shanghai Exhibition Center, and old beautiful mansions now owned and used by the government. Many luxury boutiques have bloomed on this road over the recent years. This portion of the road ends near Jing’An Temple.
The pedestrian street on this road has little alleys full of cute restaurants, bars, and cafés. One of the alleys is famous for it’s photoshoot spot where you can get a professional photograph with an antique car and actors dressed the part!
Shanghai has popular desserts such as the large mango ice cream dessert tumbler and it’s famous fresh yogurt drink. I couldn’t get anywhere near the venders enough to show you the large mango drinks, but I hope you can squint enough to see it in the photo.
As for the fresh yogurt, they come in beautiful white ceramic jars and are quite delicious! The flavor is perfectly plain: not too milky, not too sour, and not too sweet. The jars can serve as beautiful mini vases for flowers on your kitchen counter after you enjoy your beverage. For barely $2.50 USD a jar, you can receive a daily dose of healthy probiotics after a day of eating (usually questionable) street food. Trust me. You’ll need it if you ate any street food. Don’t try the street food. Just don’t.
But if you don’t want yogurt or ice cream, hop into the agricultural shops for all types of dry goods, fruits, snacks, and candies! Despite the fact that most Asians are lactose intolerant, popular candies are milk-based. *insert thinking face emoji here* Strange. I know. The most popular snacks include bars of some sort of nut or seeds, savory and sweet balls with red bean or sesame or peanuts in them, caramel-like pastes in the form of candy bars, glutinous rice cakes, sugar coated candied fruit, rice puddings, tofu, bean curd, and corn on the cob.
The one thing Shanghai is famous for is its buns. While they are certainly everywhere, this one particular bun shop has been in operation for over 100 years! Every time I stopped by, there was a ridiculous amount of people eating or waiting or both. Luckily, I woke up and bolted to the shop at 8am to make sure I had a bite before I left. There was no wait when I entered. By 8:30am, the room was packed.
There are two types of buns: the fried pork buns that have a thicker outer layer and the thin soup dumpling buns that have a slight bit of soup in them. Personally, I like the fried buns better in Shanghai. It may be because I’m extremely biased when it comes to soup dumplings. Nothing will ever trump the gloriously made soup dumplings in the now world famous Din Tai Feng restaurant from Taipei, Taiwan. But all bias aside, Shanghai makes a mean fried pork bun.
And if none of that entices you, don’t worry. Nanjing Road has a huge Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Innisfree skincare store, jewelry stores, and luxury department stores. There’s even a Häagen-Daz ice cream shop and Starbucks nearby! But if you do ever explore into the alleys, be careful in choosing which hotels you walk into. Many bright lights and signs lead you to abandoned or shabby old hotels that look like a perfect setting for a crime movie or ghost town. My one advice to you is if your intuition tells you something is off when looking at a room or that it looks like those mafia headquarters in movies and TV shows, it’s probably because it is. Let’s just say that was an experience that I don’t want to repeat. I felt quite bad for the one innocent family obliviously eating dinner in the corner with zero idea what was starting to convene at the restaurant.
New World 新天地
The last stop for Part One is New World. Although it technically is a historical and cultural spot, it’s new renovations make it one of the coolest places that all western tourists love. A newly renovated affluence-attracting area in the Old French Quarter, New World buildings are still the antique Shikumen walls and tiles of Old Shanghai housing while its interiors are modern, new, and booming. The mix of old and new modern buildings make it quite a fashionable street. The block is home to a large department store on the southern half and smaller upscale boutiques and foreign cuisines and bars sit on the northern half.
Outside this little block is a street of boutiques, Maseratis, and shiny Lamborghinis. If there weren’t guards in front of the parking spots, I could have snagged you all a photo. Maybe next time. I stopped by a few shops and a Taiwanese owned light bulb bubble tea shop. They were having a Buy One Get One 50% Off special and I couldn’t resist. Luckily, the light up glass bulbs can join my white ceramic jugs on my kitchen countertop.
After browsing and drinking bubble tea, I stopped by the New World block across the street at night again and WOW it was different! The entire place is live with music, performances, and friends gathering for a drink. I met up with a college friend at the German beer house Paulaner Brauhaus which highly resembled the one everyone always drank at back at school. I barely recognized the place. Do you recognize the same buildings after the sun set?
Despite the fact I felt like a middle aged man drinking beer and unwinding at the end of the night, I’ll admit it was quite a relaxing way to end touring the city all day. Maybe we’re becoming old dads or we’re just tired after a long four years, but either way, XinTianDi was the perfect youthful energy that mixed our western home and eastern heritages.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the urban part of the China Chapter! Put on your walking shoes, get out your cameras, and don’t snack too much because I’ll see you very soon in Part Two for some more buns, historical scenery, and the art of pushing your way through the infamous China crowds.
À bientôt, mes chéries!