Notes from Shanghai

This is the third of my series of notes taken while in China. Although I visited other places, I didn’t get a chance to write brief notes on what I thought of them (well, or they’ve been lost, I’m pretty sure there was at least one more, if I find them I’ll post them).

As before, I’ve not modified this from the original, which was written on my Blackberry in brief quiet moments.


Shanghai is an ocean of lights. At night the Bund is lit up and showing it’s best face. The streets behind are modern and indifferent, but the Bund itself is full of old European pomp. At night it looks like a future past, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Facing it across the river is the New Shanghai, another future. This is Atom City. Improbable towers, shifting colours and sparkle. On the river there are huge paddle-boats with every spar outlined in neon. Leisure cruisers from Tron.

At 11.30 all the lights goes out. The City of Sin likes an early night. Perhaps because there’s work in the morning.

The people are better dressed than Beijing, and much more stylish. The streets have cars in place of motorbikes. There’s money around. People move quickly, everyone has somewhere to go. Only the touts stand still.

The city along the river is splendid. There’s a large viewing area people stroll along in the evenings. In Shanghai the best show in town is the skyline. The taxi drivers are from out of town and get lost every trip. Another reason for walking.

We went to a jazz and blues bar where a band from New England played late-period blues and funk-influenced jazz. My martini was good, though nobody in China seems to really get the importance of chilling the glasses yet. People mostly drink beer, neat spirits or long drinks which I suspect is why. Wine is clearly a way to show wealth and taste.

In the French quarter the buildings you want to see are all behind gates and high walls. The tourists like the whole ’20s thing, and I firmly include myself in that, but the locals are all about what comes next.

Emma commented that Beijing was China’s present, Xian it’s past, and Shanghai it’s future. It has a lot of truth.



Filed under Personal posts

6 responses to “Notes from Shanghai

  1. I’m an architecture/urban planning buff, so I’m really looking forward to seeing Shanghai. You’ve made it sound quite futuristic.

  2. I’ve always wanted to go to Shanghai, but haven’t made it yet. I was surprised to discover a few years ago that many (well, a percentage anyhow) of Jews who emigrated to Australia during the whole WW2 period came via Shanghai, and that many Jews lived there for some time. Fascinating place with a fascinating history.

  3. It’s the skyline that’s futuristic, there’s a viewing platform/area to see it from. The rest of the city only so much.

    So my impression is of a futuristic city, but my impression isn’t entirely accurate if that makes sense because the impact of that view slightly occludes the fact the rest of the city is fairly normal.

    And yes, it does have a fascinating history.

  4. Alas Max I must confess to feeling rather envious – I missed out on visiting Shanghai by a whisker a few years back, by China trip ending with Beijing (I’ll post some thoughts on that City in your Beijing thread). Unsure when I’ll get to Shanghai now, but it’s certainly the greater draw, only more so now I’ve read your thoughts about it.

    Indeed, it’s one of those Cities that conjure so much more than being a mere place when you say its name, as if it actually stands for something (Paris and Berlin, Buenos Aires and New York would be other examples). Indeed, there’s a rather excellent documentary about Shanghai you might enjoy called Sin Cities (there’s also docs on Paris and Berlin). Edmund Wilson presents. It focuses upon the 1930’s when it was the Paris of the East, and JG Ballard’s family moved there (just before the Japanese interned everyone). An exotic place yes, still far from exhausted despite its explosive history. One can only fathom where Shanghai will be in decades to come – and it’s that ability to blow the imagination wide open that secures it’s appeal.

    (I like these travelogues too, so keep posting them where possible).

  5. I’ve seen that documentary actually, and yes, it is very good. I may have it saved down on DVD somewhere.

    It is one of those cities which from afar is as much a symbol as a place. Curious how that happens, the why is I suspect quite a deep subject.

  6. I’m sure it happens in part due to hear-say and gossip during a crucial chapter in the Cities history. It’s no surprise Paris or Berlin have reputations that far exceed their current international status, and still symbolise romance (Paris) or decadence (Berlin) in the popular mind. Shanghai immediately stirs images of exoticism, Opium, a permissiveness peculiar to a trading entire between more conservative zones. It’s why the film title ‘The Lady From Shanghai’ works in a way that ‘The Lady From Beijing’ doesn’t.

    Another City hat conjures meanings beyond its physical reality is ‘Beirut’. It immediately evokes a feeling of a dangerous but exciting world, that makes its own laws.

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