1 Pudong skyline from the Bund / 2 Buildings in the Bund / 3 Subway Ticket / 4 Maglev Tracks / 5 A Subway Station / 6 Chinese Soda Labels / 7 and 8 City God Temple / 9 My Feet
This long-delayed trip finally pushed through and I spent four days in Shanghai, half of which were spent shuffling around town in a tour bus. I barely had 24 hours to walk around and see the city outside of the tourist trail. Obviously it wasn't enough; in a city of more than 14 million people a day is merely a whiff of the varied experiences Shanghai has hidden behind its dizzying skyscrapers.
I am going to be honest and say that I went to Shanghai armed with some choice words about the city and most especially, the people living in it from other people. How the air is so thick with pollution I wouldn't be able to see the sky. How people spit everywhere. How there is general lack of social etiquette among the common Shanghainese... you would think I'm going to visit some backwoods podunk shithole instead of a world class, modern city. Meanwhile my personal impression of Shanghai mostly came from movies and architecture books so it's a horribly romanticized idea of Art Deco structures and neon jellyfishes beamed on the sides of buildings.
Some of it were half-truths. Lots of people were hurling loogies wantonly on the streets (and sometimes indoors too) and a few of my colleagues got sick and had allergy flare ups because of the air and we came from a city where conditions are less than sanitary. However, the Shanghainese weren't as rude as my friends warned me. They rushed in before letting people off from the train, but you see this happening in any metropolis.
Despite the language barrier, they try. People were helpful when I got lost even though their English wasn't the best and I can barely utter "Where is ______" in Mandarin. Attempting to ask for anything specific at restaurants or anywhere was an exercise in frustration but at least now I can ask for cold water in their language the next time I visit.
Shanghai is not the best city for shopping. Even our guide told us the Shanghainese themselves fly to Hong Kong or Singapore for some serious retail therapy. I don't blame them as consumer goods were more expensive here than in those cities. My wallet went relatively unscathed in this trip, save for an excursion to the local Ikea where I loaded up on meatballs and assorted snack items. Malls were aplenty but there were many small, independent boutiques in the French Concession, easily my favorite part of town. I didn't go to Shanghai with a mission to burn money at the shops but it was a nice change of pace from the glamorous luxury labels dotting Middle Huaihai Road.
While it may have a lot of very beautiful neoclassical and art deco buildings I would say that Shanghai city planning passes muster. From my seat at the bus I saw a lot of interesting structures in the most unexpected areas scrunched in between unremarkable apartments. And the flyovers. The sheer number of those things crisscrossing the city astounded me and the most curious thing about them was the fact that the sides were barricaded, perhaps to lessen the dust coming from the flyovers and into the buildings constructed right beside them.
I cannot quite make up my mind how I feel about Shanghai. It's not my favorite, that's for sure. This is of course based on the four paltry days I spent in the city and therefore should not be trusted. I feel like it's this huge modern city struggling to keep up with its rampant expansion, yet I would like to come back and see the changes.