Shanghai, China: The Next Great World City
Shanghai, is an amazing city! I consider myself fortunate to have visited it during the 41st World’s Fair, the 2010 World Expo. While in Shanghai, I walked the Bund and went on a unforgettable boat cruise along the Huangpu River. I visited a 120-year-old Buddhist temple and a 700-year-old Confucian temple.
China tested the vegetarian in me as I ate some crazy foods, including homemade dumplings made by street vendors. I quickly learned about squat toilets and to never leave home without your tissues.
Exciting and adventurous, yes, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Shanghai, with its skyline made up of buildings shaped like flying saucers and giant mosaic bottle openers, is an incredible futuristic city and a place that everyone should discover.
The 2010 World Expo and Preparations
After winning the bid to host the Expo in 2002, Shanghai began the monumental task of reshaping the city. More than 48 billion yuan ($7.2 billion US) was spent on the preparation, more than the cost of cleaning up Beijing in the preparations for the Olympics in 2008.
The clearing of 2.6 square kilometers along the Huangpu River displaced 18,000 families and 270 factories, including the Jiang Nan Shipyard which employed 10,000 workers. Six new subway lines were opened between 2008-2010. Four thousand brand new taxis were added in the month preceding the opening of the Expo.
Today, the expo site is crowded with more than 250 national pavilions, sculpture gardens, shops, a sports arena, and a performing arts center shaped like a flying saucer. Shanghai trained more than 1.7 million volunteers and adopted Olympic-level security measures, adding metal detectors to subway entrances and even screening all cars entering the city.
Nothing was spared as Shanghai went above and beyond to make the 2010 World Expo one of the best expos ever, and it showed. I felt very safe during my time spent at the expo and, even though it’s ended, the city remains and that translates into a desire to return.
The Shanghai World Expo was held on both banks of the Huangpu River in the heart of the city from May through October, 2010. The theme of the exposition was “Better City — Better Life.” It signifies Shanghai’s new status in the 21st century as the next great world city. The Shanghai World Expo had the largest World’s Fair site ever at 5.28 sq. km (1,305 acres). After the Expo closed, only five of the exhibition buildings were to remain on the site.
With over 70 million expected visitors, the daily lines were long, but the expo proved itself to be a well-oiled machine. Delays were as expected, up to four hours at some of the more popular venues, but were minimal at many of the various exhibition choices.
I’m not big on large crowds, so when I was told that on this day they expected more than 113,000 visitors, I was apprehensive. No Fast Pass here, but I did have VIP status at the USA exhibit and was whisked to the front of the line.
Little Blue Smurfs
Haibao, (pronounced Hi-Bow) was the mascot of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The meaning of Haibao is ‘the treasure of the sea.’ It’s based on the Chinese language character that translates to ‘people’. Some say the little creature resembles Gumby, but he was green and I was told it was an original design chosen through a competition and the artist had never heard of Gumby.
If you ask me, he resembled a little blue Smurf. The friendly little guy greeted the crowds and was well received by all who visited the expo. The expo provided an opportunity for the world to discover Shanghai.
Food and Drink
The food in Shanghai was incredible and beyond my wildest expectations. Being a vegetarian, I was a bit leery of the food situation. I had heard about all the crazy things people eat in China, so I figured I would end up making meals of rice and vegetables. Little did I know I was in for a very special treat.
Above the oldest Buddhist temple in Shanghai is the Jade Buddha Temple Restaurant. I sipped ‘monkey ball soup’ and ate chicken claw feet, crab rue with shark fin, and the best vegetable dumplings in Shanghai. And, it was all made from soy!
“Hao chi”! (tastes good!), I exclaimed. Then I drank tea that looked like it was brewed from pollywog egg sacs, but I’m still here!
What scared me the most, though, was the deep fried bull frog that sat looking at me from the next table over. I tried not to make eye contact!
Of all the food, lotus root became my new favorite vegetable for the wild and crazy dreams I had after consuming it. Since returning home, I have checked at my local grocery store to see if I can order it, but no such luck.
For a 21st century experience, check out Cloud 9 on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It’s 330 meters (1,073 feet) above ground and it’s the tallest bar in Shanghai. It offers fab drink specials and great atmosphere with an amazing view of the Bund below. I have to say that I found much of the food in China to be a little scary, but in Shanghai you can find great selections and the best and freshest seafood and sushi.
The Bund and The ‘Mother River’
You haven’t lived till you’ve walked the Bund in Shanghai! It’s a century-old embanked riverfront along the Huangpu River, which wriggles like a Chinese dragon from Wusong to the East Sea. The yellow ice-free river is 114km (71 miles) long and only 400 meters (0.25 miles) wide with an average depth of about 9 meters (30feet). It divides Shanghai into two parts, east and west.
The Shanghainese call these areas Pudong and Puxi. The Bund backs onto a group of buildings with many different architectural styles.The picturesque waterfront makes the Bund a popular tourist choice. As I gazed across the River to the futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower building, I thought I should be on the lookout for George Jetson!
On an evening riverboat cruise along the mother river, my boat navigated the main waterfront area between the Yangpu Bridge and the Nanpu Bridge. As the boat cruise reached the mouth of Wusong, an inlet of the sea that the Huangpu River and the Yangtze River flow into, the high tide and the moonlit night created a marvelous spectacle of the mingling of the three waters.
The blue-grey Huangpu River, the blue East China Sea, and the yellow colored silt water of the Yangtze River created a swirling multi-directional, multi colored special effect that wowed me. And the nighttime provided a spectacular view of the tall city buildings as they came alive with artistic lights and a neon laser show not to missed. I recommend the night boat cruise to everyone who visits Shanghai.
Silk Worms and Science
Silk is one of the oldest known and most durable of all textile fabrics and, according to Chinese tradition, was used as long ago as the 27th century BC. China successfully guarded the secret of the silk worm and of weaving silk until 300 AD when Japan, and later India, acquired the knowledge.
Make sure you take a tour of the Silk One factory. You will enjoy the great shopping bargains to be had and also the science lesson to be learned from the life cycle of the silk worm. I walked away with many high quality silk items as they are lightweight, take up little space, and are easy to pack. Gifts for all, and even some for me!
Jade Buddha Temple
In the western part of Shanghai, a very modern area of the city, there is a famous Buddhist temple. In 1882, an old temple was built to house two white jade Buddha statues that were brought from Burma by a monk named Huigen. The original temple had been destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty.
Fortunately the jade statues were saved, and a new temple, the Jade Buddha Temple, was built on the original site in 1928. Carved out of pearl colored jade, these artworks are amazing to see. The Jade Buddha Temple is a good place to go for meditation or contemplation as the peaceful and transcendent atmosphere adds a kind of richness to your otherwise busy life.
The Confucian Culture, and a Learning School
The Confucian Temple in Shanghai is the only ancient architectural complex in downtown Shanghai to combine a school and a temple to worship China’s great thinker and philosopher, Confucius. Since its construction in 1249 AD, the temple has existed for more than 700 years and was moved to its present location in 1855.
Half school and half temple, the grounds are filled with pagodas, small bridges, flowing water and lush greenery, making it a unique place to visit. There is a gift shop on site and all proceeds help to fund students of the school. I was able to purchase a 110-year-old little brass laughing Buddha complete with a signed letter of authenticity from the original artist.
My favorite area in all of Shanghai is a little shopping area known as Tianzifang. It’s nestled in a small, poverty-entrenched neighborhood where the streets are busy and the shops and cafes are buzzing with people.
As I passed by a store with birds in cages, I heard “Ni Hao!” The bird was greeting me with the Chinese equivalent of “Hello!”
Vivi, my guide, toured me through this area and explained that by 10 pm, all must be quiet. All the shops and restaurants are on the ground floor with living areas on the floors above. Out of concern for those residents, everyone respectfully shows respect and moves inside after 10. If you visit this area, be sure to do it during the day.
I ducked my head into one of the private homes and the inside told a different story from the upscale outside world. The residents of this area are living with dirt floors, and it appeared to me they have no running water or electricity. This place reminded me of a twilight zone where there were two very different worlds existing in the same space.
The World Expo was an invitation to discover Shanghai and millions did. The Expo is over, but Shanghai lives on and is a place where the past and the future are uniquely displayed for all to enjoy.
I hope to return to this area of China again, soon, to discover more of it’s hidden surprises. It’s a traveling adventure! May you be as lucky as I was to experience and enjoy one of the great cities of the world.
For more information on Shanghai and China check out CNTO — China National Tourist Office. I found CNTO to be extremely helpful from the beginning to the end of my trip to China. They went above and beyond to make my adventure to China one to remember forever.
Another helpful website relating to everything China is travelchinaguide.com
To and From
I flew Air China from JFK airport in New York City to Beijing Airport in China. My flight was on time, comfortable and the staff was professional. Click on this website to book your flight to China today. You’ll be glad you did!
I flew China Southern Airlines throughout China into Enshi Airport in Hubei Province.
People and Places
Food and Drink
Check out Sushi Express
Make sure you don’t miss out on The Jade Buddha Temple Vegetarian Restaurant located above The Jade Buddha Temple on 999 JiangNing Road in Shanghai
Be sure to check out Cloud 9 on the 87th floor of The Grand Hyatt Hotel, Cloud 9 is 330 meters above ground and is regarded the tallest bar in Shanghai. 88 Century Avenue
Where to Stay
I was lucky to stay at The Ambassador Hotel while in Shanghai. Its central location in the JingAn District made it very easy to travel about. They offer free internet access, a flat screen TV with international satellite. The spacious rooms were clean and the staff was attentive and friendly.