Random Note on Shanghai

“The cluster of glitzy brand name shops on the ground level of Plaza 66 on Nanjing Xi Lu (West Road) would instantly remind one of luxury shop facades at Landmark and Pacific Place in Hong Kong. Luxury names that can be found here include Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Tod’s, Chanel, Dior, Celine, Escada, Loewe and Cartier. Two blocks east of Plaza 66 in another shopping mall which houses Isetan Department Store, other pricey brands can be found: Burberry, Versace and Valentino. Indeed, Nanjing Xi Lu bears much resemblance to the high-end commercial hub of Central/Admiralty in Hong Kong, complete with high-class hotels, offices and glossy shopping malls.”

The above is from a journalistic note that I wrote during my 2002 Shanghai trip.

It was a cold wet night when my cousin, an expatriate working in Shanghai, and I visited The Bund, but despite the biting winds and freezing drizzle, we were able to enjoy the panoramic view of the neon-lit majestic Bund architecture that is a legacy of old Shanghai. The spacious square between the heritage buildings and the Huangpu River was hardly quiet even in such inclement weather; on the contrary, it was filled with visitors’ chattering noises and laughter and cameras’ clicking sounds. This viewing experience was slightly surpassed, though, by a bird’s eye view from the top floor of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower on the opposite shore.

Other places that I remember having paid a visit to included Xujiahui (徐家匯) which is another retail hub, the trendy Xintiandi (新天地) where the First Communist Congress building can be found, and historic Chenghuang Miao (城隍廟).

Much to his delight, my cousin was able to find an antique, handmade, wrought-iron, opium smoking gun (which he bought without hesitation as a keepsake) inside one of the souvenir shops within the sprawling Chenghuang Miao. We also enjoyed a delicious dumplings lunch in a seemingly popular dumpling eatery inside the temple compound (we had to line up for half an hour in hunger). That was a more satisfying meal than any other that I had in much more expensive joints elsewhere in the city.

Like travelers in foreign places in most cases, the only local contacts (not counting my cousin) that I encountered on my Shanghai trip were taxi drivers. Without exception, they came across as rude, cold and indifferent, especially when they found out that my Putonghua was lousy. I hope this has changed for the better now that the Expo is about to open.

Anyway, to be absolutely frank, I did not find Shanghai to be a charming city. She doesn’t offer sincere warmth and affability. As much as she has a good mix of the old and the new, there seems to be an unmitigated lack of soul and spirituality. She is like a girl dressed in expensive and pompous attire and heavily made up but talks rudely and spits on the floor. If I were to choose between Taipei and Shanghai for a second-time visit, Taipei would definitely be my choice.

I’ve just read Han Han’s latest blogpost and this is what he had to say about Shanghai:-

“I was born here and I will always love this city. I hope the city will be a truly good place to live, although my own home has already been badly damaged by pollution. To be fair, if you have money, Shanghai is a good place. Shanghai is swell in things like shopping, consumer spending and entertainment. From an economic viewpoint, Shanghai is, generally speaking, paradise for adventure-seekers but hell for ordinary folks.

But Shanghai is a place that doesn’t have any culture. If other cosmopolitan cities boast of their architecture, their hotels, their big avenues and their luxury homes, Shanghai’s leaders can also proudly say that we have all these too. But if they boast of their writers, film directors, artists, art exhibitions and film festivals, Shanghai’s leaders will be tongue-tied.

In order for a culture to be developed, there must be a relaxing of the reins. Relaxing the reins will definitely lead to competition among different schools of thought. Competition among different schools of thought will undoubtedly inspire critical thinking in society. Imagine what headache this will bring!”

The perception that I had from my 3-day visit to Shanghai was at best intuitive. Nonetheless it seems it’s not very far from reality.