By Richard Varr
The sun peeks through a hazy sky, reflecting off the curving glass of the twisting Shanghai Tower, its narrowing apex still flirting with wispy cloud cover. I’m strolling the Bund, the broad pedestrian walkway along the Huangpu River, with great views of the 21st century downtown Pudong District. It had been raining for two days, so a bit of clearing and some blue sky made my first visit here all the more special.
Before coming to Shanghai, the Bund was foremost in my mind as the place to visit – even if you only have an hour in the city. It’s perhaps Shanghai’s signature landmark reminding me of, for example, what La Ramblas is to Barcelona, Broadway to New York or the Champs Élysées to Paris.
The Bund’s riverside promenade juxtaposes two skylines a century apart. On one side, there’s the early 20th century business district with its stately brick bank towers and the Customs House with the city’s signature clock tower. “It’s a typical British-style building,” explains Shanghai tour guide Qiao Yong Gang, whose English name is Charlie. “Let’s wait a few minutes and we’ll hear the tower’s bells sound off with a melody,” he adds. While there, I hear the bells ring every quarter hour.
VIDEO: A quick clip of my walk along the Bund.
Cross the river via ferry or the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and behold the exact opposite – Shanghai’s futuristic glass and steel towers of the Pudong district including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower offering stunning views, the pagoda-topped 88-floor Jinmao Tower and the spiraling Shanghai Tower with the world’s fastest elevators.
Another pedestrian thoroughfare just a 10 minute walk from the Bund is Nanjing Road, one of the city’s foremost shopping streets with a stream of shoppers and sightseers seemingly day and night. I pass storefronts which pulse at night with neon lights, and where sales people standing in doorways chant their pitches into portable loudspeakers.
Nanjing Road stretches from the Bund to People’s Park with its green lawns accented with manicured patches of flower beds. One edge of the park is home to the Shanghai Museum, displaying some of China’s best relics spanning 5,000 years. I was particularly impressed with some of the 1500-year-old, hand-painted ceramic figurines looking like they just came out of a specialty shop.
Another must-see is Yu Gardens and Bazaar, a complex of buildings with Chinese-style architecture laced around small ponds that are crisscrossed with foot bridges over rocky shorelines. To one side is a bazaar where bold salespeople will approach you on the alleyways and try to sell you jewelry and watches – a good way to sharpen your bargaining skills. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum tells the story of how Shanghai became a safe haven for 18,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust, and how they lived peacefully with Chinese residents. After World War II, most had survived and returned to their homelands. The museum includes the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, the primary temple used by the refugees. Exhibition halls include items from that period and highlight some of the survivors’ stories.
As a westerner, I also appreciated my visit to the so-called French Concession, a once separate district with narrow alleyways and old brick architecture. Upscale shops and cafes are now situated in those buildings. The complex is a great place to enjoy coffee or beer on outdoor tables along pedestrian packed courtyards.
TOUR GUIDE “Charlie” Qiao Yong Gang
Shanghai independent tour guide Qiao Yong Gang, whose English name is Charlie, led our writers’ group during our visit. He’s an excellent guide and I will look him up when I return. I recommend him as a private or group guide!