Warning: This post contains graphic images and descriptions. Of buildings!
Shanghai was overwhelming. I was overwhelmed. Every moment was overwhelming. Every glance, up, down, sideways, every which way was a visual, shattering blow to the senses. Lets get right to it. Shanghai is divided into two major parts divided by a river, the Huangpu. There is the old colonial section (Pu Xi) on the West side of the river fronted by a street called the Bund and on the East side is Pudong, which as recently as twenty years ago was green fields and the occasional factory. Between the Bund and the river is a very long walkway for the crowds of citizens to stroll along of an evening and enjoy the views of Pudong over on the other side. What crowds, what views. My first sight of Pudong took my breath away. Of course I had seen pictures but nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. A staggeringly unique piece of architecture it dominates the skyline even though some of the adjacent buildings are taller. I would love to be able to describe it adequately. It’s round, it’s vertical, it soars, it flows, it floats, it exudes daring, it appears to defy gravity. Ok, I’ll shut up now, but wait until you see the photos.
Then there were the crowds on the Bund , swollen I suppose by the fact that I was there during the long, seven day, National Holiday. There is an expression, a sea of people, this was no sea, this was an ocean, a Pacific Ocean of people. I think dusk was the peak period, when everyone came to see the effect of the sunset over the river. The whole family came out, Moms and Dads, the kids and the older folk, bringing their bags of fruit, soft drinks, (no booze), and their phones. Everyone had a phone and was taking pictures with it, of each other, of the view, of themselves, of me! With me! Interesting how one could see similarities from home, there were hipsters, there were punks, arty students, drama kings and queens, fashionistas, poseurs, even a Goth or two. But it was the immensity of the crowd that really impressed me, it was like Oxford Street on the day before Christmas, The Marina district for July 4th fireworks, Princes Street at Hogmanay,combined. It was all reasonably good natured, no drunkenness, no agro, no pushing, shoving, no bad mouthing. But loud, incredibly loud, everyone was talking, at full volume. I sat and gawped for some hours, every evening. And took pictures with my phone. The crowd control personnel were of course much in evidence. There were police squads at every intersection backed up by the militia, unarmed though, not even truncheons, but they did have whistles, and they used them, frequently. They didn’t even look fierce, just young kids, standing to attention in their uniforms. Keeping in mind the situation in Hong Kong I tried to judge the political mood of the crowd, I couldn’t. (TV news has been blacked out for three days and equally I haven’t been able to access the Internet from my computer). I did come across an impromptu dance music party, portable speakers and a generator, and watched it being closed down really quickly by big men in white shirts. Everyone just drifted off.
Anecdotally, I was on the Bund on the first evening of the Holiday at around 4oclock and noticed people sitting down anywhere they could, on walls, steps, the ground and thought, great, fireworks. So I found a spot to perch and waited. More people sat down around me until movement was just about impossible. The railing along the river’s bank was jammed, ten people deep. Darkness fell. The lights in and on the buildings across the river came on and everyone gasped, took more pictures, and that was it. My expectations I suppose, nobody but me was disappointed. I found that quite interesting. A Western thing to expect pyrotechnics on major holidays? But wait, these guys invented fireworks. Maybe they do them on a different holiday.
Shall I mention walking down Nanjing street, a pedestrian shopping area? More crowds, a shoppers paradise, its one of the top ten shopping streets in the world and the things for sale were not only material! Ahem! I took three bus tours around the City and visited some Temples. The French Quarter looked interesting, but alas, no time. There is a fabulous Opera House, a huge museum, the stadiums from the recent Olympics, lots and lots to see, but not in three days. I went on a coach tour to see the tea plantations but didn’t see any, the Yangtze River, didn’t see that either, we did go to a water village, kind of a Chinese mini Venice and a craft shop or two. There was a silk factory, poor worms! More shopping. It took ten hours from door to door.
China is big and there are lots of people.