Sunday, May 28, 2006

Last Day

Pipi and I spent our penultimate evening in Pu Dong, the new area west of the Huang Pu River. This area was farmland until 1990, when plans for development were announced, and I don’t remember much of anything being there in 1992. Now, though, it’s a futuristic business center. Because it’s mostly office buildings, there isn’t a lot for a visitor to do, but it is interesting to walk around, and there are plenty of restaurants. It was already dark when we got there, and the buildings looked particularly surreal. The Pearl Orient tower, a combination TV tower and observation deck, looked like a rocket ship with its glowing purple spheres. Most buildings glowed brightly, even though everyone should already have gone home, but some were completely black, and I realized it was because they weren’t done yet. Everywhere you looked there were cranes, and because construction goes on 24 hours a day here, some of the empty black hulks had welders’ sparks pouring out of windows. It was a strange and eerie sight, but I guess that’s what it takes to put up a whole city in less than 15 years.

The next day Pipi and I spent walking the Old Town district, and the former French Concession. I remember finding the French district overrated in 1992. I had the worst cream puff of my life there (Crisco puff was more like it), and I realized there just wasn’t much French influence left there, for better or for worse. That’s still sort of the case, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of his or her way to visit. Old Town, on the other hand, is very interesting. A lot of people there live somewhat like what we saw near the candy factory, and a lot of it has been renovated and preserved. There’s a section of the old city wall visible. It’s not very old, maybe mid 1800s, but in forward-looking Shanghai, that’s ancient.

In between the French Concession and Old Town is an area called Xin Tian Di, literally “new heaven and earth.” The area is essentially an upscale pedestrian shopping mall with an old Shanghai theme. The storefronts have been constructed (or restored, in many cases; this isn’t a complete sham) to mimic a style of building popular in the early 1900s. There are a lot of Western-style restaurants and cafes, and stores with American and European brands. The Chinese restaurants are pretty upscale, too; Jackie Chan owns a cafÈ in the mall. The restaurants and stores could have been plucked from an outdoor Southern Californian mall, but the architecture is authentically Asian. A small museum devoted to the architecture described Xin Tian Di as a place the Chinese find Western, Americans find foreign, the elderly consider nostalgic, and the young deem hip. In a sense, all of Shanghai is like this, and this mix of Eastern and Western consumer culture is probably something we all should get used to.

Shanghai photo gallery

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