Towers, Silk and Shopping in Shanghai

After a busy day at the water village, we still had time for one more trip on the way back to the hotel. There’s a definitive division of opinion about going up very tall towers. Some people can’t resist them, and others get vertigo just by seeing photographs of the view. About half of our tour group were really keen on going up the Shanghai Tower; the others waited in the bus and explored the traffic.

I paid the entrance fee and joined the intrepid group of tower-hunters. We queued up for the security check where I lost my lighter and water again. We queued up for the free souvenir photo which you collected at the top, and for the Very Fast Lift. This made my ears pop, so losing the water was a bit annoying, but takes you up to the sightseeing deck in no time, travelling at up to 46 miles per hour. When built, it was the fastest lift in the world, and possibly still is.

There seems to be a global competition to build the tallest skyscrapers. There are strict rules about what can be considered the actual top; the Shanghai Tower is 632 metres to the very tip. I was more interested in finding out about the building’s sustainable features. It’s enclosed in a transparent ‘skin’, and the space created is used to modulate the temperature inside, so reducing the need for electricity.

View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background
View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background

Wind turbines near the roof generate 350 megawatts a year, about 10% of the power needs. A combined system for cooling, heat and power saves energy; water conservation measures also operate within the building. The highest hotel in the world, using the 84th to 110th floors, is due to open next summer.

shanghai view with radio tower

The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower, at a mere 468 metres high, is a more established tourist attraction; I’d have liked to see the glass floor and the double decker lifts, but that’ll need to wait until next time. As will the unfenced glass walkway around the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower.

The next day was an early start, as we had a lot of sightseeing to do before our eight hour train journey to Yi Chang; we were on the bus by 8am, luggage all packed and loaded.

One of the interesting breakfast options!
One of the interesting breakfast options!

The bus dropped us off at the Jiangnan silk factory. This incorporates a small museum covering the history of the Silk Road, which had several branches through China before focussing on Xi’an for the passage through the Himalayas. Silk, tea and other light goods took the land route. Heavier items, such as porcelain, travelled by ship along the sea route, from the Shanghai region as far as East Africa.

Further in, there’s an old silk reeling machine in working order; you can watch how the cocoons are unwound, each containing a single length of thread. It’s not unusual for these to be over a kilometre long! Even so, the raw silk is so fine that it takes more than 600 cocoons to make a shirt.

silk machine

The larvae inside the cocoon are killed with boiling water; they’re often eaten, or used for fertiliser. Some firms claim to make ‘ethical silk’, but there is a debate about how viable this is.

So far, the process had been much the same as the one we’d seen in Turkey, but then we were shown something new. A fine sheet of raw silk was teased out of a single cocoon, held at the corners by four women who gently tugged it into the size of a double quilt and laid it on top of a pile of similar sheets.

Once the required thickness of silk was reached, it was enclosed in a cotton cover and became a silk-filled duvet. The prices were very reasonable, the weight easily manageable and we could fit a large double quilt into a quarter of a medium sized suitcase; the shop compresses them for you. Most of the hotels on our tour were using these; they were very comfortable.

We got a lift from our tour bus to the Bund, where we had just enough time for a quick stroll along the historic waterfront area, formerly the British Quarter, before turning off into Nanjing Road. It’s worth doing some research before a holiday in Shanghai; you could easily spend a couple of days in this area alone. Some of the shops in this famous pedestrian street date back to the Qing dynasty; others are modern retail outlets. There are museums and temples worth a visit too.

A London bus on the Bund
A London bus on the Bund

Although there are few vehicles using the main thoroughfare, watch out for the constant cross-traffic of bicycles and electric scooters from the interesting little alleyways leading off towards tiny stalls. You can sample street food there, but it’s not advised unless you’re accustomed to it.

Avoid also – if you can – the husslers and touts brandishing catalogues of watches or scarves to entice you into certain shops. They can be quite insistent, but are restrained by the ubiquitous presence of smartly uniformed police. Ironically for a city whose name was once a byword for piracy, modern Shanghai is very law abiding!

nanjing road

 

We were in a hurry to reach the train station by then, so any serious shopping was out of the question, but the potential was definitely noted. One could easily spend a pleasant week in Shanghai doing sightseeing and retail therapy. The weather was mild even in November, so your luggage won’t be cluttered up with thick jumpers, leaving plenty of space for silk quilts and the like.

If you go as an independent  traveller, don’t even think about hiring a car. Join a local day tour, take a taxi, use public transport. Just avoid the last during the rush hours.

Next week: A Cruise up the Yangtze River

 

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