Shanghai is a clean, modern, HUGE city with weather as hot and humid as Beijing’s but more enjoyable because the city isn’t covered with a layer of smog blocking the sun. It also has some of the coolest, most architecturally innovative buildings I’ve ever seen in a major city. The Shanghai skyline is famous, I think, for how awesome it looks. My first day here, I set off in search of the skyline so I could get a closer look.
I stepped off the subway at Pudong Ave, mostly because I heard that the cool buildings are in the Pudong area, so I figured the avenue by the same name must be near there. I randomly picked a direction to walk in, and after a few blocks, the buildings started getting taller and more modern and then taller and taller. The World Financial Tower is an immensely tall skyscraper that has a square cutout near the top. Very cool looking.
It seemed like every building was architecturally unique in its own way. Then, between two buildings appeared the Oriental Pearl Tower, the colorful TV tower that looks like it’s made up of Christmas ornament balls and is what makes Shanghai’s skyline recognizable.
The Oriental Pearl Tower is definitely a tourist destination. There were tons of people milling about at the base of the tower and I had to pay 32 yuan for a water near there. (Normal price is between 1 and 5 yuan. I was pretty perturbed about it for a while, but a girl’s gotta stay hydrated!) Just a short walk away from the Tower is a promenade along the Huangpu River, the river that separates Shanghai’s newer Pudong side on the east from the historical Puxi side on the west. The promenade is very inviting for a lazy stroll. There was hardly anyone on it – I guess they were all at the Tower – which made the walk along it so peaceful. It was one of those times when I felt supremely happy. The sun was beating on my head (I love it when the sun makes my hair hot), the water was sparkling to my right, and a warm wind was blowing and carrying a fresh salty ocean smell. It was perfect.
After following the promenade as far as it went along the river (and passing tons of towering modern high rises, a few bridges, and the complex where the World Expo was held in 2010) my feet were dying to sit down, so I ventured inland to search for a subway stop. Right when my legs were threatening to give out, one appeared, and this small triumph felt like a major victory.
The next morning, after chowing down a pork bun for breakfast (free brekkie at the hostel!), I ended up at Jing’an Temple, a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple standing in the middle of a modern shopping area and surrounded by traffic-filled streets. Despite the honking horns, there is a definite feeling of tranquility in the courtyard of the temple. People light incense and throw coins into a tall fountain. Inside the temple is a huge Buddha shrine flanked by two smaller Buddha shrines, each with a pile of gift offerings of fruits and flowers on a table in front of him.
Across the street from Jing’an Temple is a park, with a small pond, lots of cypress trees and other greenery, and tons of benches. It always makes me happy to find parks in the middle of cities. It’s amazing how easy it is to escape the craziness and loudness of a city just by entering a city park. I rested here for a bit, then set off down the street to find The Bund area, which is a stretch of historical buildings along the riverbank on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River.
As I dodged scooters and bikes speeding towards me on the sidewalk (just a normal walk on the sidewalks of Shanghai) the sky started to look very threatening and gusts of wind blinded me with particles of who knows what. My rain-trained senses felt a storm coming on, but no one outside seemed to notice, so I thought, maybe this sort of thing happens all the time, with no rain.
No luck. A few drops hit the ground, and then an entire cloud emptied itself above me, and I had to run for the first shelter I could find – an Udon restaurant. Well, that was convenient, I was pretty hungry!
After the brief rainstorm interruption and delicious beef and egg Udon lunch, I continued on towards The Bund. On the way, I chanced upon People’s Square, the very spot where my initial adventure in Shanghai began. It was much more pleasant to be here by day without luggage, and I wandered around it for a while.
Finally, I reached The Bund, which is right across the river from the Oriental Pearl Tower and also happens to have a huge raised promenade along the bank of the river. Before setting off on what I knew would be a long promenade walk, and because I really love being on boats, I hopped on the ferry for a quick trip to the other side of the river and back. (People definitely thought I was weird when I got off and then got right back on.)
The promenade, aka The Bund Sightseeing Avenue, wasn’t as peaceful as the one on the other side of the river because this one was absolutely filled with people. But there is a great view of the skyline and it’s always nice to be by the water, so it was an enjoyable walk.
On my last day in Shanghai, I decided to venture out of the city to a small town about an hour away called Zhujiajiao. I knew that to get there I had to find the bus station called Puanlu, which was supposed to be near People’s Square, and then get on a pink bus. (A PINK bus?! I love pink and everything, but I’ve never seen a pink city bus before. I was worried I might have gotten some wrong information somewhere.) Anyway, there is no bus station in the near vicinity of Peep’s Square, and I certainly did not see any pink buses anywhere. Some Chinese girls who spoke a few words of English tried to give me directions, which, if I followed them correctly, led me to a hospital – a plastic surgery hospital actually, which I thought was kinda funny (were they trying to tell me something?!)
Right when I contemplated giving up on Zhujiajiao, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a pink bus whiz through the intersection a block away. Was I seeing things? (A PINK bus?!) I went a block over but there was no pink bus. Stupid eyes, playing tricks on me. Then all of a sudden, while I was waiting to cross the street, out of nowhere, a pink bus zoomed right in front of me. Of course, then I kept seeing pink buses. So I followed the direction they seemed to be coming from. Voila! I had found the bus station. There was a pink bus sitting there with its doors open, so I asked the driver if it went to Zhujiajiao. He told me, “please sit down.” I had no idea if this meant the bus actually went to Zhujiajiao, but I took my chances. It was full of people, so I figured it must be headed SOMEWHERE cool.
Turned out, it did go to Zhujiajiao. I was so glad I found that pink bus, because Zhujiajiao is a really amazing little town. It is set on a web of canals, with dozens of pedestrian bridges connecting the cobblestone streets of the town. There are shops, cafes, and restaurants intermixed with one and two-roomed houses. Everyone leaves their doors open, so it feels like you are a part of the neighborhood when you walk down the street. There is an ancient post office that was established during the Qing Dynasty, with the original boat dock where the mail was delivered and received still intact. I even got to satisfy my love of boats again by taking a gondola ride through the canals. It was a great end to my stay in China.
Well, China, it’s been very fun. I won’t miss your crazy anti-pedestrian traffic rules or the constant hawking/spitting by people on the street – so gross. I will really miss your bubble tea – man I love that stuff.
Now, on to Seoul!