Shanghai: A Kaleidoscope

By Anthony Dylan

This is Shanghai. A kaleidoscope of time. The only constant is the change you would experience at every level. This is the final part of the story of my trip to Shanghai. The vibrant city is interestingly moving towards a benchmark of the past and the present existing together.

As Shanghai can be a huge place to walk to just discover, the best way to start is to use the Hop On and Hop Off Bus. It is better to get the tickets online and redeem them via a QR code at the booth next to the People’s Square at Nanjing Road. This is located near the exit of the train station of the same name. The bus also leaves from here. There are a few companies but we chose the one by the Bus Tour Company (Shanghai Sightseeing Bus). There are 3 routes available. Going through each of the 3 routes would take you the whole day and night. This is a good way to quickly recce the whole of Shanghai’s attractions. This helps you make your choice for your stops on the same day or your subsequent visits the next day. It is inexpensive as it costs about RM60 plus per person for 24 hours. It has onboard commentary via ear phones (provided). Klook has good value for all tickets.

The other must do trip is the Huangpu River Cruise. Many would choose to go at night; but we chose the daytime option as we could see more. The night scene option would have been beautiful as many buildings would be lighted up. However, walking on The Bund by the river would give you the same experience. The cruise takes over an hour and the tickets are inexpensive at just over RM60 each. It also passes by the famed Oriental Tower and the twisting 632 metre and 128 floor Shanghai Tower. This is second tallest building in the world after Burj Khalifa in Dubai. There is also the Shanghai Disneyland. It is one of the 3 Disney Parks in Asia with the others located in Hong Kong and Tokyo. This is quite popular with the domestic tourists and foreigners.

The main historical, cultural and innovative attractions in Shanghai itself are located in the whole of Nanjing Road. The length of the road from the Bund to the West to Jin’An Temple is estimated to be 5km. Along the way you would find many interesting things to look at. At the East side, the buildings located on the main pedestrian street of Nanjing East and the Bund house buildings from as old as the 1800s. These buildings are still being used for retail and hotels as well as offices. It is a great street to stroll on and often the busiest. It caters from unique sports flagship shops from Adidas, Nike and New Balance. It is also home to a huge M&M’s World store and a whole building dedicated to a children’s department store.

Along the way, you would also find unique delicacies. Among them are the braised duck. They seem to love duck wings and feet. They also have the steamed Qingtuan dumplings. These are made of glutinous rice flour and often stuffed with  red bean paste, black bean paste or black sesame paste. These are with a generous amount of fillings and the bright green colour due to the plant colourings. These are not very sweet and more often than not, made by hand.   The famed Xiao Long Bao and the Sheng Jian Bao are both delicious. The latter is pan fried offering a crispy base.

It is a good point to note that you would have a hard time trying to find a 7-11 or a Family Mart or even a McDonald’s along Nanjing Road. You would likely find Starbucks easily compared to the rest. Their KFC also serves coffee and pastries whilst we also saw a Pizza Hut having alcohol on its menu. Beer with Pizza certainly takes you onto a new height. As I mentioned in my last article, the Starbucks Reserve and Roastery in Shanghai used to be the largest in the world. This has been overtaken by Tokyo and soon, Chicago only this year. It opened in December 2017 and until only recently was overtaken. Regardless, the 2 storey 30,000sqft space is a place you should visit when you are here in Shanghai.

As you enter the premises, you would be greeted with many tubes above on the ceiling where beans are transported and end up at the huge copper cask which stands as a hallmark within the whole space. It begins at the green bean station and then to the roaster before being sent to cask waiting to be packaged. The whole Starbucks Reserve and Roastery is a gamut of sights, sounds and smell. There are 3 zones on the first floor and 2 zones on the second floor. The first floor houses the main bar, Rocco Princi Italian Artisanal Breads, Pastries and Pizzas as well as the Pairing Bar. At the pairing bar, you would be able to choose a few blends and pair them with chocolate. A point to note, the longest coffee bar in the world at 88 feet is located on the second floor. It is also home to Mixato where one could taste innovative cocktails using coffee or tea as its base. The Teavana bar has the first 3D printed base for the table in China. A 3D printing is an innovative construction idea.

Shanghai is also home to 2 very distinct vegetarian restaurants. One is the Godly Vegetarian which is the oldest since its opening in 1922. They are renowned for their mock meats and it is not surprising to see lunch and dinner crowds. The other is a rare Michelin Starred Restaurant serving only vegetarian cuisine. Not many Vegetarian Restaurants in the world are awarded Michelin Stars. This is Wujie. This restaurant is located on The Bund 22 and they also have a seasonal degustation menu. Their food is immaculately presented and each dish has no mock meat and use only plants. Mushrooms, berries, shoots, root vegetables and fruits are expertly used to create an amazingly tasty and visually amazing vegetarian dinner. The varied tastes and the effort for each dish to be introduced make the experience even more heightened. It is an experience to try both restaurants.

A short trip to Hangzhou, the birthplace of Jack Ma’s Alibaba is also made possible by their high speed trains. These run at a maximum speed exceeding 300 km per hour up to 350 km an hour. The journey of about 1 hour takes you from Shanghai to Hangzhou. From there you may then take the metro train to West Lake. West Lake is a huge fresh water lake and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is often depicted in literary documents in each of the dynasties from Qin to Qing. The West Lake is also known for the Legend of the White Snake.

Cultural and historical excursions to the water town of Qibao, still standing shikumen buildings of Tian Zi Fang and the re-construction of shikumen buildings in Xin Tian Di would further populate your travel diaries. All these are well connected by trains.

Shanghai has truly managed to move culture, history and innovation together without disrespecting the past. We should learn to appreciate this.