It was the 12th of August and after a visit to my solicitor to sign some flat sale documents I had a lovely tapas meal with Chris, Greg and Una and after an overnight stay in London it was time to fly Virgin to Shanghai.
In the seat next to me was a wellspoken Chinese student who was preparing to study his second very expensive MA in London. Clad head to toe in Hermes he said he may e-mail me at some future time with regards to his move from Glasgow to London, surprisingly I haven’t heard from him 🙂 though I’m sure his PA will have furnished him with any necessary information.
Before arrival I completed the necessary immigration documentation, passed quickly through baggage handling (as I had only cabin luggage) and made my way to passport control. Here I was rejected entry as I did not have a valid visa! I had purchased a visa for my 4 day Beijing stopover on my way to blighty but when passing through Shanghai to SK I had been reliably informed that my 72 hours stay was visa free. What happened though is that my Air China/Virgin/Star friggin’ Alliance ticket was doctored so that I went back to SK via Shenzhen just north of Hong Kong. The reality of this is because they added a domestic leg I needed a visa, b*******! Let me illuminate the reader about what that means. It involves a 3 hour flight from Shanghai to Shenzhen arriving at 2:30am to a closed airport followed by a stay in that airport lobby until it re-opens at 7:00am. After a further 3 hour wait followed by a 4 hour flight back north to Incheon, Seoul.
Returning to my first dilemma i.e. no visa, I was informed I could be sent back to the UK despite the Star Alliance carving up my ticket to include this domestic safari. I asked for the head of Star Alliance ground services which resulted in a fabulous lady from Virgin becoming my brief. She had some very vocal altercations with immigration suggesting it would not be good PR to send me packing, particularly as I was an innocent victim. They relented, got me to complete some forms, and then left me sitting for 2 hours whilst they cleared off for a break. On their return I paid them 32 quid for a 4 day visa and passed unchallenged to destination Maglev. Phew!
Oh the Maglev every airport should have one; 320km per hour magnetic levitation into central Shanghai in less than 10 minutes. Even after a short subway journey and a 10 minute walk to the hotel the airport to hotel journey was around 35 minutes. Staff at the Elegance Bund Hotel were magnificent and the room top-notch for the price, located 10 minutes from the Bund and around 24 quid a night. After a shower and change of gear I headed south towards the Yu Yuan Garden and Bazaar.
Yuyuan is the most celebrated garden in Shanghai. It is situated in the heart of Shanghai’s Old City and surrounding the gardens is Shanghai’s bazaar. This is made-up of a great number of small streets and lanes where vendors sell their products including jade, pearls gold and all manner of tourist tat. The garden is named “Yuyuan” because “yu” in Chinese means “peace and health”; a place of peace and comfort in the heart of cosmopolitan and modernistic Shanghai. It date‘s back to the Ming Dynasty, Yuyuan Garden was first built as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan. He took almost 20 years and all of his savings to build a garden to please his parents in their latter stages of life.
Over the past over 400 years, Yu Yuan has been closed, restored and re-opened several times after falling into disrepair. Several civil wars in the mid-19th century caused huge damage. In 1956, after Shanghai’s liberation, the city government rebuilt the garden to the original template and Yuyuan Garden was reopened to the public in 1961. The government declared it a national monument in 1982. Now Yuyuan Garden attracts a huge number of visitors both domestic and international every year.
Before Yu Yuan I ventured to the City God Temple, this is a busy temple complex with a number of shrines. Local people brought incense, size dictating their preferences. It was bright and chintzy but an enjoyable half hour. Yu Yuan itself is a flaneurs paradise. Beautiful antiquated red pagodas sat perched above lakes and rockeries, the exquisitely crafted covered walkways provided a picturesque promenade across the ponds. Heavyweight silver, gold and orange fish performed pirouettes for the tourist who teased them with their bottles of water. Ceramic dragons and guardians sat atop walls and tiled roofs; they seemed to be looking with disdain at the antics of the feral kids teasing the fish below.
I headed away from Yu Yuan towards the Bund passing through the newly landscaped Gucheng Park, site of the Northeast Gate of old Shanghai. I stopped to watch a young Chinese kid hurtling by on his roller blades chased by his mother. Exiting near the ferry terminal I took my first walk along the Bund which is located on the west shore of the Huangpu River. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower can be seen on the opposite side and also the Jin Mao Tower. Its marquee buildings total 52 of different architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. The Bund was the centre of Shanghai politics, economy and culture, the consulates of most countries and many banks sat side by side, businesses and newspaper offices also settled here.
As I strolled along I watched dredgers working manicly to keep the shipping channels clear, barges carrying coal and logs, the ferries weaved their way to Pudong and the business district, others served lunchtime fayre. I watched intensely as spindly cranes swung around the top of the new and awesome Shanghai Tower. The core structure was completed a week before my arrival, the last beam was placed atop the 632 m building designed by global design and architecture firm Gensler. It’s due to open in 2015. The Bund is in effect a grand public meeting place with one of the world’s truly memorable cityscapes. I also came across a “blonde bombshell” on a rather exotic stag do, “she” had her every move recorded on HD video. A small boy was gorging on snacks in the shade and failed to notice this imperious site.
As I reached “the creek” at the end of my 1.5 km Bund stroll I turned to reflect on the fact that the far side of the river had been a Originally, the area was mainly farmland and countryside with some warehouses and wharfs near the shore until the government declared it a Special Economic Zone and ripe for development. Richard Rogers Partnership were the appointed architects and a short video of their plan can be seen here (Pudong Master plan). The modernity contrasted with the novel I was reading “Shanghai” by Christopher New, a little known but entertaining account of the Shanghai I describe below.
Shanghai was a den of iniquity during the late 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Sex, drugs and jazz. Nightlife, movies, opium, dancing, mobsters, brothels, gambling… it was all there! In its sleazy prime, foreigners and mainland Chinese flocked to Shanghai to get rich fast and indulge in guilty pleasures; including brothels, gambling houses and drug dens fuelled by the opium trade. Gangs and triads controlled much of the illegal activity, the most notorious being the Green Gang headed by Shangdai Du Yuesheng, “Big Eared Du”. Most of this came to an abrupt end with the Japanese invasion in 1937 and after communists came to power in 1949, the show was over, jazz became illegal, instruments were confiscated and it did not return until the 1980’s.
I doubled back towards the main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare Nanjing Road, here for the first time I was reminded of the city’s seedy side. Approaching the Apple Store I was approached by 2 different pimps and a rough-looking troll who offered me “beautiful entertainment”. It took a range of expletives for them to back-off, but after leaving the store I was accosted by new faces peddling the same services. This is not on some seedy back-street but the busiest street in the city, shameless! I returned to the hotel for a nap and shower passing the wonderful Art Deco Metropole Hotel on the way.
Later I ventured out for dinner, initially I considered the Metropole French restaurant until I saw the price, I also left the hotel wondering what services I would be offered for the evening. Dismissing the Metropole I headed for Shanghai Grandmother’s Restaurant as recommended by the amiable hotel staff. I am pleased to say the offers of services did not materialize and it was only a 5 minute stroll from the hotel. The reviews on Trip advisor were correct and I defy anyone to be disappointed as the cuisine is excellent.
Day one over, a traumatic introduction to the Pearl of the Orient but the despite the two forms of agro it was well worth it, I could happily stay here for a while and who knows? FOBY was flying over on Day 2…….to follow.