PEOPLE AND BICYCLES: If Shanghai is your gateway city your first impression of China will be “I’ve never seen so many people and bicycles in my life”. Indeed, Shanghai is now the largest city in the world and when you’re out walking or touring, you’ll think that the entire population of the city is on the streets. You’ll never forget the sight of so many bicycles and their ever-ringing bells.
THE BUND: “The Bund” is Shanghai. Take a stroll along the river’s edge where you can see the people at rest, exercising, reading or practicing musical instruments. Walk to the sea wall and watch the bustle of the river traffic. You’ll be fascinated by the maneuvering of the many boats/ships on the water. Below the sea wall where the tour buses park you’ll become a “celebrity” at the “English Corner”. This is the area where the locals come to practice their English. They will approach you individually, or in groups, and ask “Where are you from?” After your reply, you won’t get a chance to say another word, because they will continue non-stop, telling you what, they know about your city, etc. Basically, they don’t want you to talk. They want you to listen so that they know you understand what they are saying. Also, you may encounter one person who asks you for a cigarette or a piece of gum. If you give them one, be prepared for a swarm to suddenly come from nowhere wanting the same thing. Don’t be afraid. It’s easy to say “no” when you think you’ve given enough.
While in this area you might also want to study the architecture of the buildings opposite. The building with the pointed green tower is the PEACE HOTEL, which was once the most palatial hotel in the East. Next to it, on the right, is the BANK OF CHINA. The four other buildings were formerly old banks, which now house the Chinese Trading Corporations. To the left stands the CUSTOMS BUILDING with a tower more than 100 feet high with a huge clock that chimes each quarter hour to the tune of “East Is Red”. Next to it is a building with a small dome, which is the Shanghai Municipal Committee Headquarters. Except for the people you would not know you’re in China.
NANJING ROAD: The Bund may be the most interesting street-area, but Nanjing Road is the city’s busiest. This is the main shopping area with a multitude of shops on each side, along with restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. The street is lined with beautiful Sycamore Trees, which form an arch over the traffic. Throughout Shanghai, the streets running north and south, are named after the provinces of China. Those running east and west are named after cities.
YU YUAN (YU THE MANDARIN’S GARDEN): This garden is characteristic of the architectural style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Its beauty captures the essence of landscape art of the period, creating the impression of a huge space in a small area. The gardens were built during the years 1559-1577 for an official of the Ming Dynasty, and feature more than 30 halls and pavilions. It is divided into three parts, each separated by a white brick wall whose top forms a huge dragon. All parts of the garden have a balance and harmony that suggest relaxation. However, it is so popular with the locals that you will generally find it very crowded. Do take time to notice the beautiful rock formations. The gardens were completely restored in 1956.
TEMPLE OF THE JADE BUDDHA (YU FO SI): The pavilions here are rather recent, dating from 1911-1918. Basically, there are two temples with an inner courtyard. The main temple (the far pavilion) houses the famous Jade Buddha, which was brought from Burma by a monk in 1881. The piece is very beautiful but do not expect it to be huge. There is also another famous jade piece… Buddha, in a reclining position. In the temple of the Jade Buddha, one may buy, for a small price, an incense stick, to light and place it on the altar in front of Buddha. It’s an interesting experience and is recommended, no matter what your religion. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the temples.
WU XING TING PAVILION: This Five-Star Pavilion, is a teahouse in the Old Town, and sits in the middle of an ornamental lake. It was once used as a symbol of Shanghai and was featured on pottery and on curios. The teahouse is quite old and was restored in 1965.
CHILDREN’S PALACE: The best known is located near the junction of Nanjing and Yanan Roads. These palaces were once the palatial homes of Shanghai millionaires. Today, children come here to learn dancing, singing, music, painting, and handicrafts. From all around you hear the noises of children who are enjoying themselves. Those who attend, do so outside of their normal school hours, and are under the guidance of highly trained tutors.
SITE OF THE FIRST CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY MEETING: Located in the old French Concession area, this site has become a shrine. It has been beautifully restored. One may also visit the beautifully panelled pleasure boat that was used by Mao Zedong to flee the secret police who invaded that first meeting.
TEMPLE OF THE TOWN GODS AND GARDEN OF THE PURPLE CLOUDS: The temple is very rare, because it is one of the few built to honor the town’s gods that has survived in China. You probably cannot go inside but the gardens are worth your time…having been originally laid out during the Ming Dynasty.
TEMPLE OF SERENITY (JING AN SI): Before the Revolution this was one of the richest temples in Shanghai. There is a stone column in the middle of the road as you approach. The buildings are from the late period of the Qing Dynasty.
THE LONG HUA TEMPLE (LONG HUA SI): Here you will see the only pagoda still standing in Shanghai. There are seven stories, each with a balcony. The temples date from the Qing Dynasty and consist of 4 halls with statues of Buddha along with the Celestial Guardians and the Celestial Defenders. A visit during the spring is very rewarding because of the peach blossoms.
RECOMMENDATION: When visiting any temple within China, do not neglect to observe the details…the tile roofs, the ornamentation on the eaves, the painted ceilings, the stone sculptures, etc.