Shanghai: Bright Lights, Big City

We started our trip to China in Shanghai, a bright-lights, big-city metropolis of 25m people. (And that’s still not the biggest city in the country.) It’s long been a trading centre and bustling port, but was infamous as the base of European imperialism in the country a century or more back. When China started opening its doors to the West about 20 years ago, Shanghai rapidly cemented its role as a commercial hub, and today almost 25% of China’s GDP passes through its portals. Like many ports, it has a brash and hedonistic outlook on life, with a vibrant nightlife scene and an abundance of shopping, from designer to tacky.

We visited the beautiful and tranquil Yu Yuan garden, where the cicadas were drowning out the traffic, even early in the morning. My rookie attempt at haggling – for a fan, the essential first purchase – was laughable. I thought I’d done well to get the vendor down from 180 for 1, to 140 for 2. Until I worked out that that was about £7 per fan…

We took a lovely trip on the Huangpu river to admire the burgeouning forest of skyscrapers, including the 101 storey Shanghai World Financial Centre, which at 492 metres high dwarfs its more elaborate neighbour, the Jinmao Tower, and is currently the second highest building in the world. We viewed the city from the Oriental Pearl TV tower, including walking on a glass floor way up in the sky. Now I’m as brave as a lion – you’ll find me at the head of the queue for the white-knuckliest of rides at a theme park – but even I found walking on the platform very daunting.

I enjoyed the museum’s extensive collections of bronzes and jades, and the visit to a silk emporium (I’ll put that on a separate video as it wasn’t uniquely Shanghai). We just about made it through the congested traffic to an acrobatics show, where we gasped and were amazed at the seemly impossible feats the various contortionists were performing. And we ended our visit by taking the Maglev train out to the new Pudong international airport, just as the sun was turning the sky an impressive red.

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