When it comes to doing things swiftly, Shanghai is in the driver’s seat, with every move achieved on a grand scale.
BY MIKE SMITH
You only have at look to the large number of construction cranes to realise this city of 23 million is looking at a positive and hopefully fruitful future.
Couple these construction sites with the amount of maintenance placed on restoring some of the older buildings, and there shapes a Shanghai wanting to grow – without detracting from its ancestral roots and historic billing as the “Paris of the Orient”.
“Return in 12 months time and you will see more dramatic changes,” said the tour guide on a recent tour of Shanghai.
“Even the locals, those who live in suburban Shanghai, find it hard to recognise the city whenever they visit,” he said.
For international visitors who take the elevator to the 88th level of the Jin Mao Tower for a bird’s eye view, the 340-metre ride not only unveils a spectacular panorama of Shanghai. It showcases just how big the developments are in meeting the criteria as an authentic global centre.
Nearby, virtually shadowing the tower is yet another skyscraper under construction with cranes on each side of its highest level, around 100 floors above the streets below.
“And to think, about 20 years ago, this corner of land on the Pudong side of Shanghai’s Huangpu River, was merely a rice paddy field,” said the guide.
As the People’s Republic of China’s main financial hub, Shanghai plays a key role in the rise of a communist country with strong commercial aspirations.
And not only are new high rise buildings changing the cityscape. Architectural designs from years gone by have also been injected with a new lease of life through careful restoration and general sprucing up.
And to further showcase how Shanghai has developed in recent years, new flyovers and ring roads have been built to divert the ever-increasing traffic from many of the city’s narrow streets and lanes, although traffic congestion remains a problem during peak periods.
Gone are the millions of bicycles, replaced by gleaming new Mercedes, BMWs and other forms of European cars. If you are looking for locals still wearing the dreary Mao outfits, well, they are also a thing of the past, replaced by a youthful population dressed in designer label clothing, bought from the countless ritzy department stores which took over from simple Friendship stores.
Such is the popularity of shopping that the main thoroughfare – Nanjing Road – is free of cars and motorcycles, catering only for the tens of thousands of daily pedestrians.
With the recent upsurge of international interest has been the opening of new quality hotels, some in new high-rise designs, many others inside restored buildings with a European background.
Fairmont has taken over the management of a restored Peace Hotel, the historic home of jazz, on the Bund, while five-star Banyan Tree is a new inclusion, adding to a list of more than 500 star-rated hotels and luxury hotels with over 100,000 rooms.
Shanghai’s hosting of World Expo 2010 not only attracted 73 million visitors, it helped build the city as a genuine MICE destination, broadening its selection of venues for exhibitions and conventions with floor space ranging from 20,000 to more than 200,000 square metres.
Dining in Shanghai isn’t just confined to traditional Chinese cuisine either as there’s a style of cafe or restaurant to meet all kinds of tastes and budgets – Japanese, Korean, French, Thai, German, even a Chinese menu with a central European twist.
And for more simple tastes, a burger or even a pizza can be ordered.
With the arrival of the 21st century came a host of international dining experiences led by gourmet restaurant M on The Bund, inside a restored Art Deco dining room and boasting such dishes as poached salmon, leg and of lamb and home-made gnocchi.
Since its opening many more restaurants have opened with similar menus to meet the rush of international visitors and changing tastes of younger Chinese locals.
Of course, Shanghai still has its traditional eateries, of note in the city’s historic Chinatown’s Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant and its famous dumplings, where queues are often long – for good reason. Freshly made dumplings stuffed with hairy legged crab are much sought after.
While the Bund is a favourite haunt for its restaurants and nightclubs, the restored French Quarter also comes alive after dark; its diverse eateries and bars – yes, there’s a German bar in the mix – popular among international guests.
For an edge-of-the-seat theatre experience in another part of Shanghai, the acrobatic show – ERA: Intersection of Time – is as nail biting as it is portrayed in the brochures.
And for another view of the city, the one-hour cruise of Huangpu showcases just how different the historic Bund is compared with the futuristic Pudong district.
As swiftly as it takes the high-speed Maglev magnetic train – maximum speed of 431km/h – takes to whisk passengers between Pudong and the city’s ultra-contemporary international airport, Shanghai continues to grow at a pace unimaginable in other parts of the world.