Shanghai Here we Come - Part 2

More Shanghai attractions and experiences - June 2012

The Real Shanghai

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 29, 2012

Many friends and colleagues had told me that Shanghai was the most European of all Chinese cities. This is very true but one part of the city that is still very traditional is the Old Town. The hotel we stayed in was situated on the edge of the Old Town so I didn't have to walk far to investigate. On the second morning of our visit I went walkabout on my own and had a great time,so many streets, buildings, old temples to see.

Walking down the main stretch is just like all the other major streets in Shanghai, it was only when I turned off on to the backstreets that the hidden underground world opened up. The side streets are dark, narrow and crowded. People, people everywhere! It was fascinating to observe these small gentle people weaving between cyclists, traffic and carts as they crossed the streets. I had to keep turning around to see what was behind me as not all cyclists beeped their bells or drivers honked their horns. I could see with my own eyes how ordinary people lived in these tiny streets, how they cooked in the open with pots and pans lined on the pathways with a sort of gutter running down the street. I hate to think what the yellowy coloured liquid was that ran into the gutter. At a guess I would say it was a mixture of drained rice water mixed with urine. Some of the houses were so ramshackle that there was no way they had bathrooms or even toilets.

Life is definitely apparent on these tatty streets and all tasks are carried on outside. Mod cons haven't reached this part of Shanghai yet. Ladies sat on street corners with big red washing bowls washing and wringing out clothes, then hanging them on lines along the street so the clothes could dry by flapping in the warm wind. The smell of greasy cooking and petrol fumes permeated the wet clothes and my nostrils, at times I felt quite nauseous with the aroma of smelly drains, urine and the sweet smell of dumplings.

The noise of so many people chattering at once and the sounds from the traffic can be a bit off-putting and at times I thought I was going to go mad but it didn't stop me investigating every nook and cranny. I could never work out whether the small establishments that housed 2 tables with huge pans of rice on the top, 6 tatty chairs and a stove outside, were cafes or just the working kitchens of the people sat on the chairs. It was also exciting when I came eye to eye with a golden Buddha or a stone lion. These usually belonged to a mildewed temple or nunnery but I would never have known as there weren't any signs telling me this.

I was out and about in the streets of the Old Town for a full day and I would say that I didn't see many foreign visitors. My guess is that tourists like to visit the Old Town to go to the YuYuan Bazaar where you can certainly pick up a knick knack or two. This is an interesting and fun experience but I wouldn’t have missed my walk around the alleyways and dark streets of the Old Town for anything. I saw the real Shanghai and its inhabitants, one of the reasons I went to China in the first place.

Tinklin' on JinLing

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 28, 2012

I have always had a fascination with maps since I was a teenager and still think they are far superior to any Sat Nav system but there are times when I just like to wander off. If I like the look of a certain street then I usually toddle off to see what lies on that street. In Shanghai there are many weird and wonderful streets so I was spoilt for choice when I was there this year. From my room window I had a terrific view of East Yan'an Road but to the right of my view was a side street that always seemed to be crowded with people. On my second day in the city, I decided to take a look.

Jinling Street is the street I chose to investigate. It's a jolly name, has a musical ring to it which is appropriate as the street is full of musical instrument shops and is known as Music Street. A lot of the side streets in Shanghai had different names at the times of the British and French concessions. Jinling was called Ave Foch so this area was colonised by the British as it definitely has a Scottish ring to it.

The side road I saw from my window was a busy road filled with food stalls, hawkers and cafes called Xizang Road (Tibet Road). This leads on to Jinling Street (Jinling Xi Lu). My husband accompanied me on this trip and he wanted to walk in an easterly direction because he spotted a musical instrument shop. He was on the lookout for a new acoustic guitar but at that time he hadn't thought about transporting it back to Warsaw. At first we only saw a couple of musical shops intermingled with ordinary food and clothes shops but the further east we walked, more shops came into view.

Shops vary in size but most of them are very large with huge glass windows, packed with instruments of all kinds ranging from the smallest ukulelei, to a grand piano. My husband loves guitars and I could see he was dying to go into one of the shops to try some out.

The fourth shop caught our eye immediately as there were some wacky designs in outrageous metallic colours, the kind that glam rock bands loved to play in the 70s. These were a lot of fun to look at but the section we wanted to view was the acoustic guitar corner. In the window of this particular shop (I wish I could recall the name) we spotted a petrol blue semi acoustic guitar. This was the one my husband had his heart set on so we toddled into the shop to see if he could have a tinkle on the strings. There was only one man attending in the shop and at first we were both shy and didn't know what to say. We didn't say anything, only smiled and then walked over to look at the acoustic guitars. My husband picked one up and started plucking away and then the man came over to us and started smiling and speaking in broken English. My husband drew his attention to the blue acoustic and asked if he could try it out. It wasn't a problem; he went over to the window and came back with the most beautiful guitar I have ever seen. The man didn't do a hard sell or anything like that, I think he enjoyed listening to my husband play and said that he had a beautiful touch which of course he has. He’s a great guitarist.

After 30 minutes or so and twenty ditties later my husband decided that the action wasn't quite right and the sound was too harsh so even though he loved the guitar to look at and hold, it wasn't the right instrument for him. In a way, I was pleased because I would have worried myself to death thinking about transporting it on the plane back home. The man was very obliging and had a sweet smile. Before we left he asked my husband if he would like to try out some Chinese traditional instruments. Of course he said yes and was fascinated with the erhu, a sort of Chinese fiddle. We thought this was only used in traditional music but we were informed that contemporary musicians use the instrument and it is a very popular instrument played in rock and jazz bands. Another interesting instrument he tried was a guzheng, a zither type instrument that you pluck and has moveable bridges.

The Chinese percussion section was amazing and this is something else my husband is interested in and couldn't wait to start beating out some rhythms. There are so many drums to choose from and all different sizes. The ganggu was one he liked, a large drum that was designed in the shape of a flower pot. The Bangu was an opera drum but my husband wasn't too keen on the pitch of this so he soon stopped tinkering on that one and went out to try a zhangu. He really liked this drum of war and made a bit of din when practicing. I felt sorry for the poor bloke in the shop but he didn't mind, I think he was pleased that he had such an enthusiastic customer. It was a shame that we left empty handed but I know for a fact that next time we return from Shanghai we will be carrying a guitar. I hope it will be a guitar and not a set of drums!!

Shanghai's refuge from the city

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 22, 2012

People's Park is a continuation of People's Square and is part of the old race course that occupied the site until 1949. You can tell the area was a race course with its sweeping lanes that curve round corners. Shanghai is a hectic city with so many vehicles speeding about, casting out petrol fumes all over. It's no wonder the city seems always to be drifting underneath a cloud of pollution.

After visiting People's Square we found ourself strolling through the park. It was a nice feeling and I preferred the park to the square. Most of the people sat on benches and walls were elderly, probably retired and they seemed to be enjoying themselves chatting away. It's probably a place to meet up with old friends and relatives. The park is very green with plenty of trees giving shade as well as bamboo and ferns blowing gently in the wind. Ponds are filled with big fat, floating leaves belonging to lotus flowers that have pale pink petals overlapping, forming a symetrical pattern. We visited in June and the flowers were at their best and one of the highlights of the park. Many a photographer hovered over the ponds to take photographs. My photos didn't turn out to well probably because I couldn't get close enough for all the professionals that stood in my way.

Overlooked by Tomorrow Square, a multipurpose structure designed by John Portman and Associates in 2003. It's not your normal looking skyscraper and I shudder to think how many tons of concrete it took to build this tower. The base of the building is square and then as it rises the central section forms a more diagonal shape until it rises higher to form a slanted peak. It is an unusual design but forms a fantastic backdrop for the park and square.

People's Park has been used for Fashion shows, a good choice as the area around the park is a flashy platform for the Arts. It is also a place at weekends where parents meet other parents with the idea of finding a suitable marital partner for their children. Children aren't allowed to go along, they have to leave the matchmaking up to their parents and usually they take along a full CV.

Entrance to People's Park is free. There is a bar and restaurant, Barbarossa, located near to the big pond with lilies. It's an interesting place with a roof terrace. Drinks are half price from 5pm until 8pm. Food served is delicious but very expensive.

The park is open from 6am until 6pm. The entrance is on west Nanjing Road close to the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art.

Metro Stop: People's Square
People's Square/People's Park
Adjacent To Nanjing Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai, China, 200000

Very Disappointing

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 21, 2012

People's Square (Rénmín Guǎngchǎng) was top of my list of attractions to visit when we were in Shanghai in June. I had always wanted to see one of these giant public squares in communist China to explore with my own eyes and see what all the fascination was about. I didn't want to visit the square on my own as I thought my husband would appreciate the experience. I had to wait until he had a free slot in his busy schedule, when he would be able to go walkabout and leave the stuffy conference room.

We walked to the Square which is in the Huangpu district of Shanghai next to Nanjing Road. It wasn't a very long walk but it seemed to take ages before we arrived at the subway junction. The humidity on that day was bad and slowed our pace down.

It was exciting leaving the underpass to walk up stairs to find ourselves in front of an amazing skyline. I can't emphasise enough just how spectacular Shanghai's skyscrapers are. The buildings surrounding the square are colossal in size and so eye catching. Most of the buildings are hotels like the Raddison New World Hotel, a tall, tube like edifice topped with a spherical capsule that looked like a space ship. One that really stands out is the two pronged silver building that is the Meridien Hotel. it is like a mammoth sized memory stick. The Shanghai Government building is an austere looking building sat next to the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. It may be sombre and unsmiling but I quite liked the shape of the building. It looked the part with red flags flying in front of it and buses and cars whizzing past. The Shanghai Museum which is in the south corner of the Square has it's own cylindrical shape and is interesting to look at.

At the entrance of the square there is a row of launderette blue cubicles. These are public toilets with their own attendant sat at the end of the row on a chrome chair. The man looked like a doctor dressed in a pale blue uniform consisting of a jacket and trousers with white shoes on his feet. For some reason I was fascinated by this row of loos and had to take a photo.

I wasn't actually taken with the Square at first, it lacked shape and there wasn't a focal point. This is probably because the site used to be a horse racing track owned by the Shanghai Race Club, and buildings were moved from other sites in 1949 so that the square could take shape. It was much smaller than I expected and rather drab. There were some flower beds but they weren't exciting or particularly colourful so I was disappointed with this. The central fountain wasn't switched on either so this was another disappointment as I had heard stories about people dancing to the musical fountain.

I liked the atmosphere in the park, people were laid back and seemed happy to relax. It was fun to watch families feeding white fan tailed pigeons with their children. These birds were very tame and seemed to be everywhere. Some people strolled around at a gentle pace, others ran as they flew dazzling kites high in the air, some practiced Martial Arts and others sat and talked.

After visiting the Square we walked underneath to find a labyrinth of shops and passageways linking the many entrances to the Metro.

I'm glad I visited People's Square because it would be silly to travel all the way to Shanghai and miss it out but I wasn't impressed with it. Of all the attractions I saw on my trip this was the most disappointing.
People's Square/People's Park
Adjacent To Nanjing Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai, China, 200000

Early bird catches the carp

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 20, 2012

Having already written about the YuYuan Bizarre I thought I had better mention the accompanying gardens which are a separate attraction rather than being part of the bizarre. Just before I entered the gardens I picked up a map and it was very useful and helped a lot with my navigation around the small but complex garden. I had be warned by colleagues that the gardens are very popular and soon fill up with visitors from late morning onwards. I left our hotel about 9am, this was a good time, there were some people in the gardens strolling slowly around, some were sitting and others were practicing their exercises in what looked like slow motion.

The display of trees is a fine one and amongst the rockeries, ponds and stony alcoves you will find species like the Luohan Pine, bushy with thick pine needles, weeping willows, trees heavily laden with flowers from the Magnolia Tree. I have always liked bamboo and the sound the wind makes as it whistles through the plant's leaves. It reminded me of when I lived in Portugal as we had bamboo lining the river behind our house in the Algarve and the sounds on a windy day were evocative. There are lots of sweet smells to inhale when walking around the gardens, these come from jasmine petals and some of the cherry trees.

There are many ponds scattered around but I wouldn't say the water was exactly glistening. The ones I looked into were definitely clouded but full of big, fat carp.

YuYuan is a very good example of a Ming garden design and originally took 18 years to develop and grow. The Pan Family was the founder. The gardens have been restored from the attacks and destruction caused firstly during the Opium War in 1842 and secondly during the Taiping Rebellion by the French in retaliation for attacks on their Concession District which is close by.

It was a shame that my husband didn't accompany me to the Gardens as he would have loved all the rockeries; this has always been his favourite gardening style. One rock that stands out is called the Jade Rock and is the centre piece of a set display of three rocks. All three rocks are twisted and deformed in shape, filled with holes but the centrepiece has over 70 holes that look like they have been blasted there with a pea shooter. These holes and shapes have been formed due to erosion and are extremely interesting and decorative. The rockery below them is covered with wispy ferns and other trailing, flowering plants that fall gently into the water of the pond. The Jade Rock stands at 11 feet high. The plan was to take the rock to Beijing so it could be on show at the Imperial Court but the boat didn't get that far, it sank just outside Shanghai's harbour.

Two other main attractions that caught my eye were the Hall of Heralding Spring and a beautiful antique stage dating back from 1888 with a ceiling carved in gold .The Hall used to be the headquarters of the Small Swords Society way back in 1853 and during the revolution in the 60s the society protected the gardens from being violated.

YuYuan Gardens are a delight to walk around and I enjoyed my visit although, I think I was lucky with my timing and if I had ventured out in the afternoon would have come head on with tourists skillfully wielding their cameras around. There is an admission charge which costs the equivalent of £3 for an adult and a £1 for a child. Last tickets have to be purchased by 5pm.

The gardens are open every day from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

Metro Stop: YuYuan Garden

YuYuan Garden/Yu Garden
Center of Shanghai's Old City
Shanghai, China

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