14.02.2010 - 01.03.2010 18 °C
The best place to see the architectural diversity in Shanghai is at the Bund.
Although The Bund was under construction for the 2010 expo the charm was still there to captivate us especially at night from the other side of the Huangpu river in the Pudong district.
From there you get a commanding view of the Bund’s 12 blocks of tall magnificent buildings. All but a few were built by Palmer & Turner in the 1930s.
The antithesis of these architectural styles is the skyscraper which are mushrooming endlessly in the Paris of the East ! Take for example the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It was built in 1994 by Jia Huan Cheng inspired by poet Tang de Bai Juyi. It’s 468m high. It is the first highest in Asia and the third highest in the world. The tower consists of 15 spheres of different sizes and different levels creating an artistic conception of “large and small pearls dropping onto a jade plate.” It’s open from 8am to 9.30pm but be warned the cost is extortionate. 15 euros per person.
Nanjin road nearby is “China ‘s #1 street” a Chinese western mix of a a typical major shopping street. A hive of activity, throngs and people hustling and bustling.
In its back streets such as along Fallow Road there are some hidden away greasy spoons most but not all are clean and the food is copious, healthy and delicious for as cheap as one euro for two.
As we were on a no frills budget we opted to eat street food and we weren’t disappointed.
Although a few of the kitchens were far from being spik and span most we went to were clean and hygienic and we ate handsomely in them. Among the delcicacies we tried were steamed and fried dumplings stuffed with sometimes prawns or pork or beef and vegetables.
Noodle soups with sometimes beef and others pork broth and filled with soya beans, bean sprouts and onions and nuts and jujubes and ginger. A delicious concoction.
Other times we ate the grilled kebab skewers made by the people from the western region of Xinjiang which were delicious treats much like the kebabs you can get from the North African joints in France.
Shanghai slums and poverty
On the streets of Shanghai there are signs of dire poverty. Poor men and women can be seen begging, some without limbs and others with limbs broken and twisted.
Peppered throughout Shanghai squeezed and hidden in the back streets of the skyscrapers are the slums where the people don’t have any form of heating little or no electricity and no proper sanitation system, their toilet is a bucket that they throw out down the drain at the end of each day ! To make matters worse their homes are awfully makeshift and tiny so tiny there’s not enough space for the families who live there so they spend the most of the time out in the street in front of the house and they hang their washing out on the trees.
So what we saw was China’s version of communism which in no way means an equal distribution of wealth. In fact the gap between rich and poor that we saw there was so big it’s worse than that in our “developed” countries.
This wasn’t the only part of Shanghai that is often overlooked by Western media there’s also the terrible conditions of its hospitals.
Our interlude at People’s Square hospital
I had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t walk my left foot was too painful to walk on. Our interlude at the hospital was nothing short of horrific.
The state-run hospital we went to is like all the others in China except for the private foreign-run ones which cost an arm and leg. This one was in the heart of Shanghai so we expected a modern style hospital to match the modern futuristic skyscrapers but were we wrong.
There is only one entrance to the hospital so it is here where both general and emergency patients enter the hospital. There isn’t a separate emergency wing everybody despite their condition enters by the same door. Inside, we immediately realized that the hospital was overcrowded with patients and understaffed.
The lobby which usually serves as a waiting area was in fact chockablock with patients sandwiched together like sardines in a tin with only flimsy dirty blue curtains separating them.
The floors were dirty and strewn with bloody bandages and dirty nappies and syringes and the cries of suffering and pain filled the air. Of course upon entering this horrifying spectacle I wanted to walk straight back out again and return to Korea but we decided to see it through after all a general check up shouldn’t do me any harm.
To cut a long story short I was x-rayed, diagnosed with acute tendonitis in the left foot, prescribed medicine and made to rest in bed for the rest of my stay in Shanghai which put me back 45 pounds which is a lot of money in China but at least my mind was at ease that the pain in my foot which prevented me from walking on it wasn’t anything serious.
My situation although unfortunate was nothing compared to what we saw. Apart from the entrance scenario described above we were spectators to :
- a body bag closed I’m glad to say which was trollied right by us and followed by a grief-stricken family wailing in tears !
- a consultation in the company of other sick people who waited in the doctor’s office while I was examined.
- An impromptu visit from an emergency patient who required the doctor’s (the doctor examining me) immeadiate attention. His injury is too painful to recount !
- Nappy and bloody bandage strewn corridors, dirty walls and jam packed wards.
Of course, we were really happy to get out of there and left we did at full speed but it taught us something about China we had never seen and that is that the health system is in tatters , overworked, understaffed and overcrowded.
Never before have I heard anything about the health system situation in China and I saw it first hand and China has a long long way to go to be on par with health standards in developed countries like the U.K.
Despite the doctors diagnosis I couldn’t just rest for a week in bed so I bought some crutches which cost 10 pounds. My first time with crutches and I got used to them straight away and spent the following ten days in Shanghai and Hangzhou on crutches. It was tiring work and I had to stop and rest on our treks but we managed to take in all the sights we intended to see we’re glad to say.
The road laws in Shanghai and Hangzhou are perplexing ! Crossing an avenue can be hazardous. Even though the green man gives you the right of way taxis and buses still jump the lights and turn into the road you cross and they have the right of way ! So when you cross the road in Shanghai watch out.
Park life in China
I think active would be a euphemism to describe park life in Shanghai and Hangzhou it’s more like a hive !
Take People’s Square and Fuxiang Park in Central Shanghai for example.
There, like in every other park you can behold kite-flying, bird feeding, cat feeding even, bride-ads for parents to peruse, card playing Chinese chess playing , shooting the breeze, Qi Gong...
What also struck me about these parks is the feeling of togetherness and a sense of community among the Chinese taking off time there.
It was upon seeing this that I couldn’t help but question the view some people from outside of China have expressed about the Chinese. I’ve heard comments like the Chinese don’t value human life that people are merely pawns in the pursuit of making money.
I admit that there might be some truth to this statement because there is a huge gap between the rich and poor in Shanghai. In one area there’s dire poverty in another there’s a Chinese CEO driving a Porsche to his penthouse apartment.
Brides-to-be propose their hand in marriage on paper ads in People's Square
Also, the CCP from what I’ve seen haven’t done anything to close this gap and to improve the plight of the poor. However the attitude of CEOs and CCP leaders don’t and shouldn’t be used to describe the way the Chinese relate to each other.
The Chinese people such as those who I saw in the parks were enjoying themselves together and there was mutual respect and in short humanness so when I hear people say that they have no respect for human life and thus for each other I just can’t buy this view particularly when the people who have visited China have only been to Beijing and Shanghai.
Another view I query is that democracy would be impossible in China because China needs a dictatorship to rule such a vast and ethnically diverse area ! Of course there may be some truth to this view and I can’t question the truth of it not being a specialist on China but knowing that before the rise of the communist party there were leaders fighting for democracy such as Sun Yat Sen and Soong Ching-ling I cannot help but wonder if democracy could one day see the light of day in China and remain unified in the process. Meanwhile I’m sure that the different people who make up the Chinese people will most probably find more advantages in being a part of a unified democratic China than being separate from it.
Art Deco Shanghai Modern Art Museum People's Square Shanghai.
Despite the ubiquitousness of modernity there are still pockets of pre-modern China one can get glimpses of. A prime example is Fangbang Road. The architecture and layout of the street from east to west display the historical and cultural evolution during a period from the Ming, Qing dynasties to the early twentieth century when Western culture and esthetics began to infiltrate Shanghai.
Xintiandi which means “New Heaven and Earth” is an area of restored traditional shikumen ("stone gate") houses on narrow alleys, some adjoining houses which now serve as book stores, cafes and restaurants, and shopping malls.
Near to Xintiandi is the location and now the Memorial for the first National Congress of the Communist party of China.
It was here on the 23rd July 1929 that 13 delegates from all over China gathered including Mao Zedong and two soviet delegates of the Soviet Komintern beginning thus the CPC.
We arrived on Lunar New Year’s Eve so fireworks were heard from the moment we landed to the moment we took off ! Over the first few nights the fireworks and firework explosions were away in the distance something like a battle being fought kilometers away.
It must have been our fourth night there when the battle had at last reached us and the spectacle that unfolded lit up the night sky and thundered for hours on end filling the night air with firework smoke and showering the neighbourhood with firework debris. We really were in the thick of it.
Other aspects of pre-modem China can be felt at its Taoist, Chan Buddhist and Confucianist Temples which were all hustle and bustle especially the Taoist ones like the City God Temple of Shanghai.
Shanghai City God Temple
Shanghai Confucianist Temple
This was understandable as it was Chinese New Year and it’s at the temples where the Chinese write their wishes for the New Year.
The air in the temples was pungent with joss stick smoke and the millennia-old Chinese architectural esthetic of the temples was a joy to be in amongst.
Chinese flea market
On our way from the Ancient City Wall to the Confucianst Temple (according to Jonathon Spence a leading specialist on China the Analects by Confucius are the current best-seller in China which give us an idea of the importance of Confucius in the minds of the Chinese – a film has also come out on Confucius’s life). We strolled through a flea market. All sorts of bric a brac was being sold there, hardware, electronics, clothes, toys, porn, dildos, fruit and veg you name it everything.
Shanghai National Museum
If you want to get up to speed on the history of Chinese furniture, ceramics, silk, Seals, Sculpture, Porcelain, Chinese 56 ethnic minorities, ancient currencies, calligraphy, painting, bronzes and jade then this is the place for you. Apparently it has the best collection in China !
Just make sure you get there 20 minutes before the doors open otherwise you’ll be met with a kilometer long queue.
The Chinese daily TV diet are acrobatic shows, Peking opera performances, travel in China shows, nature programs, news and even a military channel promoting and praising the Chinese military’s efforts and in turn glamorizes the military to such an extent that it could easily make the gullible to sign up !
There’s also an English channel which give news from a Chinese perspective and an interesting program called Dialogues. It’s a program led by a presenter who discuss current affairs in a debate like fashion in the company of two guests relevant to the topic being discussed.
I was impressed by how deep the presenter went into the subject I didn’t once detect the slightest form of self-censorship nor get the impression that it served as a CCP propaganda platform.
Western chains and brands
Despite being a communist state it hasn’t stopped multinationals like Google (soon to withdraw and to be replaced by the Chinese search engine Baidu ), Starbucks, McDonalds and Haagen Daa’z which can be seen in most commercial areas from setting up there.
Rivaling Coca Cola in China is the Wahaha brand . Danone controls 30% of the company