on August 1, 2010
I first visited Shanghai in 2005. And, I loved it. However, in truth, I was extremely lucky to actually even get there. I had been working in Korea for the previous year. When my contract at the school in which I was teaching expired on September 24th, I decided it was time to leave. Before I departed, my friend and Alana decided that we had time for a bit of a jaunt across the Yellow Sea. So, we took the 28 hour ferry ride from Inchon in Korea to Tianjin in China. Our plan was to arrive in Tianjin and then head to straight to Beijing, from where we would explore the east coast of China. The first part of this plan went without a hitch, and we made Beijing about five hours after landing in Tianjin. We then embarked on a tour of some of China's most famous tourist attractions – the Forbidden City, the Great Wall etc. All the while, we were planning to visit Shanghai a few days later. Sadly, we had completely failed to realise that October 1st was the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Therefore, the whole country was on holiday. And, the whole country wanted to take the train. This meant that all rail tickets between China's two most important cities were sold out and most of the bus tickets were going the same way. It took trips to three bus stations and four travel agents before I managed to find a ticket on an overnight bus that would take 18 hours to link the two cities.Despite the tribulations involved, I was elated to get the tickets and get the chance to go to Shanghai. There were many things in the city that I was excited to see, such as the French Concession and the Bund. However, there was one attraction that rose above everything else. The Oriental Pearl Tower. The Pearl, is a giant tower – a needle type creation rather than a skyscraper – decorated with large purple orbs dotted along the shaft. I had seen the tower on the cover of my guidebook and on countless websites and I was mesmerized. When I finally got there, I was not disappointed. The Pearl was a fantastic sight. Even in the midst of the neon sprawl that is Pudong, Shanghai's major business district, it stood bright and bold. The view it provided was also magnificent. From the top orb, it is possible to look out across the city and to follow the bends of the Huang-Po river as it winds its way towards the Yangtze and the city gradually disappears into the distance. You can also look down onto one of the greatest sprawls f humanity on the planet and marvel at how chaotic it appears. It was all truly awe-inspiring.After I moved to Chins permanently, I visited Shanghai several more times. On each occasion, I would always try to make time to see the Pearl. Part of this was simply because I still found it bizarrely hypnotic and I cold never tire of the view across one of Asia's biggest cities. However, as the years wore on and Shanghai developed, I also began to appreciate how the Pearl's identity was changing. It was originally built in the mid-1990s and was one of the clearest symbols of China's re-emergence as an economic power and the modernity it was beginning to embrace. Even by 2005, though, its symbolism was beginning to wane. A few hundred meters along the riverbank, the Jinmao Tower had recently been completed and dwarfed the Pearl. Not only, was the new construction taller, it was actually a skyscraper housing a hotel that was almost as high the Pearl. By the time I visited Shanghai for the final time in 2009, the World Financial Centre had put both Jinmao and the Pearl in the shade and the preparations for the 2010 World EXPO were making the Pearl seem like old news.It seemed a strange irony that such a symbol of modernity was fast becoming out-dated. However, it is also a fantastic demonstration of how far China has come in the past two decades. Personally, I still believe that no matter how many other giant skyscrapers are erected in Pudong, the Pearl with still stand alone. It's fantastic purple orbs are still hypnotic and wonderful, even if they no longer dominate the skyline as they once did.
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