As Shanghai develops its identity, it has become a city of many worlds.
BY EDWINA STORIE
A hub of finance, business and trade, this futuristic city of steel and glass is dramatically contrasted by signs of its old identity. The traditional Chinese architecture of hand-carved timber, stone and bamboo clusters below its shiny new digs, like a grandparent reminding its towering young grandchild of their roots.
Yet Shanghai celebrates its innovative new ways while honouring these historical signs, with many of the buildings being restored and revamped, becoming old homes of new-name bars and trendy cafés.
China’s fastest growing city has stemmed from two decades of focused work that strived to establish it as the country’s most democratic city. And in a coming-of-age period, it’s evolving into that identity.
Along with a meld of the Old and New World, Shanghai is a tangible embodiment of east meets west.
Helen Wong, Australia-based marketing representative for the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration, explains that it is this side that allows Australians to take to the city so well.
“It’s a city on the move into the 21st Century without losing focus of its historic past, as shown along The Bund on the waterfront,” Ms Wong says.
“The east-meets-west and futuristic-meets-historic past characteristics have seen Shanghai rise to now boasting more than 500 star-rated hotels and luxury hotels with over 100,000 rooms.”
During this Year of the Dragon, the city has enjoyed growth and prosperity in many industries, especially that of MICE. This boost in business is allowing it to effortlessly host thousands of guests at once, and the city expects only to increase this capacity.
Adding to Shanghai’s split identity, it has two distinct sides – street level and sky level – and both are worlds apart. An experience in Shanghai is spent moving through the city’s bustling street level of beeping motorbikes, bustling people, genuine-copy handbags, and steamy street stalls, before elevating up to the immaculate venues and polished suites of its universe above the clouds.
On Shanghai’s sky level atop its highrise towers, the city is refined, manicured, and colour coordinated. This is the calm heaven from which to watch reality bustle below. From here you can see the water ways that shape the city’s topography, such as the Huang Pu River.
Down on ground level, a sightseeing cruise along the Huang Pu River showcases the distinctions of the landscape, looking over from the natural water to the highly developed Pudong.
Pudong is a megacity of dwarfing skyscrapers. The Pearl of the Orient marks its skyline as a ‘retro futuristic disco ball on stilts’ which can be observed on the cruise. Being built in 1994 at the birth of the boom, it was at the time revealed as a symbol of Shanghai’s hopefully prosperous future, despite its lonesome position standing on flat farmland.
Now, surrounded by towers and signs of economic growth, it seems the cultural significance once pinned on it was valid.
Ms Wong says spending a day at the water towns of Zhu Jia Jiao or Fengjing gives groups a feel for the Ming and Qing dynasties, while also escaping the mainstream tourists.
Shanghai’s ancient towns built around the fringes of the water show the transition the city has made and the life it once had. Fengjing has two identities – Old Town and New Town, with Old Town being the jewel. The canal town is marked by ancient stone bridges and historical significance while New Town is more industrial. Zhu Jia Jiao sits on the outskirts of Shanghai. While established 1700 years ago its roots are believed by historians to stem from 5000 years back.
Beautiful old architecture can be admired on a heritage walk along Duolun Road to see the grand Colonial Concessions. Many of them are in a process of regentrification, brimming with stylish restaurants and bars frequented by Shanghai’s high society.
Shanghai’s MICE offerings
Shanghai successfully and proudly hosted the World Expo in 2010 which attracted around 73 million people, and cemented its reputation as a leading MICE destination.
The international city has developed many world-class venues that are contributing to its popularity as a business events destination.
The Expo Centre is the biggest convention centre in Shanghai, and is revealed as a destination in itself by the local MICE industry.
That said, there is a wide selection of venues for exhibitions and conventions, with floor space from 20,000 to more than 2000,000 square metres.
The city has more than 50 international hotel brands with all manner of meeting facilities. Soon the Marriott City Centre, Mandarin Oriental Shanghai and Four Seasons Pudong will all add to the city skyline.
Jumeriah Himalayas Shanghai has quickly become one of the most reputable hotels in Shanghai as its award cabinet fills up. Despite only being completed last year, the hotel has been extensively recognised for catering especially to guests’ needs, boasting services such as the fastest complimentary internet service in Shanghai. Its accolades include Best New Hotel in China by Voyage Magazine and Best New Hotel by Time Out. The hotel’s design was inspired by a piece of jade, paying homage to the ancient Chinese elements of Feng Shui, and symbolising unity, wisdom, prosperity and good luck.
Yet business travellers don’t just come for the veneus, with refined team-building options available to attract them, ranging from rounds of golf, to fine dining in Old World style restaurants.
You must experience the cuisine to really understand Shanghai says Ms Wong. Being a young city with little regional influences of its own, the food has absorbed the style of its surrounding and foreign cuisine. Many restaurants have a distinctive old villa style dating back to the 1900s, while the local street food and time-honoured restaurants serve Chinese dishes dating back to the mid-1800s.
Here, the world-famous dumplings Xiao Long Bao are what pizza is to New York. These mouthfuls encase juicy morsels of meat stewing in soup that bursts from its paper-thin skin. The sloppy indulgence takes advanced chopstick skills but they are well worth the mess for amateurs.
Shanghai workers grab a breakfast of Jidan Bing on the go from vendors that open specially for the morning rush. The freshly fried rice-flour pocket is stuffed with egg, bean paste, spring onions, pickles and XO sauce to fire up the morning.
The allure of Shanghai comes from its status of being and becoming, Old and New World, ground level and sky level, and it is these complexities that make it a unique business destination of the future.