Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shanghai Continued: The Bund

8/28: "I've had a few wonderful emails from past students. It feels good to know that I was able to connect with some of them in the short while I knew them. I hope we keep in touch. I wonder what will happen with the friends I made in South Korea, or the ones I have in Berkeley. I wonder what this wanderlust will do to my relationships and how long it will last."

J and I decided to take it easy while in Shanghai. The past three weeks of traveling had finally caught up to us and we were ready for the stability of home.  The common room at our hostel had a collection of DVDs and every night we stayed up late watching movies.

The Bund: This is what they call the embankment along the Huangpu River. On one side, old Gothic and Renaissance buildings echo the banks of the Seine. On the other, futuristic buildings scream of China's technological prowess. The Bund reflects Shanghai's fascinating status as a place with one foot steeped in history and the other placed firmly in the future. Western influences remain even while Shanghai is unabashedly Chinese in nature.

At night, the buildings on either side of the Bund light up in fascinatingly different ways.

The Oriental Pearl Tower on the left.
I was curious about the mixing of cultures in the city, so a quick visit to Wikipedia gave me fascinating insight into its history. It was briefly ruled by the British during the Opium Wars (summed up to me as, "The British wanted stuff from China but had nothing the Chinese wanted. The British decided instead to get them hooked on opium. It worked pretty well.") A large international settlement remained. The French, unwilling to play along with the rest of Europe, had a settlement in an area now called the French Concession, which I'll talk more about later. In the 1920s and 1930s, Russian Jews fled the Soviet Union for Shanghai. After the Sino-Japanese War, Japan too settled in Shanghai.

Despite being the most advanced of China's cities, Shanghai still had some of the annoyances of Beijing. Jam-packed with people, oppressively humid, and enshrouded in smog, every movement was difficult. Because it was so hot, we wanted to see some of the museums (and gift shops), but couldn't figure out how to get to the Shanghai Museum. We stopped into a tourist information center, where the employees were decidedly un-helpful, and eventually found it anyway.
The Bund in the smog.

Ever since our un-exciting arrival by subway*, we had been dying to go back to the airport so we could ride the Maglev. Yes, it may sound silly, but seriously, how many times does one get an opportunity to ride the fastest land vehicle on earth? The train goes different speeds depending on the time of day, with higher speeds during rush hour and lower speeds at other times to conserve energy. When we rode it, it reached a top speed of 431 km/hr, or around 270 mph. The ride took under 8 minutes. It was pretty awesome. When it turned, the whole train lifted up, and when the other Maglev passed by us we could feel but not see it as it whizzed by.

That night we found a great Chinese restaurant near our hostel. I know it sounds odd to say since we were in China, but it was pretty fancy, had an English menu, and a very friendly waitstaff. We had a feast and it only cost us around $12 total.
One of the dishes we ordered, "explosive prawns."

*Don't get me wrong, the Shanghai subway is fantastic. If you've never been to Asia, it's impossible to explain how great their subways are. Clean, fast and efficient, they make Western Europe look third-world.

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