Tag Archives: Shanghai

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

 

A Significant Encounter in the Water Village

On the second day, there was a trip to one of the water villages around Shanghai. The city is built on the delta of the Yangtze River; the surrounding countryside is crossed by many small rivers. To the west of the urban area, there are several ancient towns which preserve much original culture. We were going to Zhujiajiao, about 50 km from the city.

sampan in water village nr Shanghai

We began our explorations in the Kezhi Gardens. Our guide led us through the living areas, now displaying various examples of the crafts once practised there, to a large room which housed a model of the original design.

resilience village model

I was stunned – it was an exact depiction of the imaginary ‘resilience village’ which I’d described in ‘Recipes for Resilience’! The establishment used to house not only an extended family, but also students learning about plants. The ethic was that the whole community would work on the fields and vegetable gardens, as well as studying, in order to have a balanced life.

Although the place had undergone changes – at one point it was a junior school, and is now an exhibition – the small craft workshops still housed skilled artisans. You can watch paper-cutting, calligraphy and embroidery; pick up some pretty souvenirs.

calligraphy and paper cutting

Paper cuttings
Paper cuttings

Some of the extensive fields survive as a demonstration area on the other side of the lovely formal gardens. I saw rice ready for harvest for the first time; it certainly seems to give a good yield of grain.

A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens

The garden itself was lovely. There was more space here than in the Yu Yuan; the water features were more intricate and the pavillions grander, with higher levels. You can see more pictures here, and read a brief history.

Too soon we had to continue our tour, emerging to take a walk along the riverfront and down the narrow colourful alleyways. These were lined with small stalls – the weather is quite warm here, even in November – selling all manner of enticing articles. Often the craftspeople themselves would be there, working on their next piece as they waited for customers.

riverfront water village

We paused for roll call by the famous Fang Sheng bridge, and were let off to explore. Across the bridge was an area of new development; modern apartments and shops, with the ubiquitous Starbucks. Part of the old bank was artificially preserved to ensure the survival of the old culture; the rest seemed to have managed it unaided.

The old and new in Zhujiajiao
The old and new in Zhujiajiao; the man in the boat is clearing weeds from the river

Zhujiajiao water village is one of the closest to Shanghai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get there by public transport. Most city hotels provide small bilingual cards at Reception, instructing taxi drivers on returning wandering guests to the right address; make sure you pick one up if you’re going exploring without a guide.

Next week: Towers, silk and shopping in Shanghai

Sights of Shanghai

I find writing a book quite intense, especially towards the end. When the final draft of ‘Recipes for Resilience’ left my desk for that of Magic Oxygen publishers, I was in the mood for adventure. My colleague, Linda Benfield, had booked us on to an RSD tour of China – luckily I’d met my deadline – and we flew to Beijing on the 6th November.

Flying over Gobi desert
The Gobi Desert makes Siberia look busy

From there, we had to manage the transfer to Shanghai ourselves. It looked daunting; there wasn’t a lot of time to achieve it. There were some films on YouTube describing the route to take; down the escalator and on to the shuttle train to Domestic Departures. We didn’t have to collect our luggage after all, possibly since both flights were with Air China and booked together. It’s this sort of detail that I value a tour company for.

Shanghai airport signs

If you’re arranging your own programme, leave a good couple of hours for transfer in case of misunderstandings. The queue at Chinese Immigration can be quite long too. Have your arrival card filled in before you get to the desk.

Our fantastic tour guide, Kevin, was at Shanghai Airport to meet us. We drove to the Golden River View Hotel through the rush hour smog arriving, with just enough energy after over twenty four hours of travelling, in time to dine and get an early night.

The smog had gone in the morning; we learned it was rarely as bad as the day we’d arrived, when it reminded me of my Midlands childhood. There are moves to increase the proportion of electric vehicles, as transport accounts for about 30% of the pollution, and to explore the use of natural gas and renewables instead of coal.

RSD Travel has mixed reviews, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that their sightseeing agenda is relentless. We had very little time at the excellent hotel buffet before boarding the tour bus for a look at the Jade Buddha Temple; we learned to get up earlier in future. RSD provides more of an adventure than a holiday, but after fourteen days we really felt we’d seen China and at a very reasonable price.

The Reclining Jade Buddha
The Reclining Jade Buddha

The Yu Yuan came next; beautiful formal gardens in the centre of the megacity. A natural setting is created in such gardens. Trees, ponds and winding paths combine into different vistas, viewed from small pavillions or cloistered corridors. There are rarely any statues, only ambient rocks suggestive of various shapes in a very effective manner.

Yu Yuan gardens Shanghai

yu yuan gardens shanghai

At lunchtime, we were released into Shanghai Old Town to do some free range shopping; you could easily spend an afternoon here picking up quality trinkets for gifts.

Dragon tortoise guards shanghai old town

If the waterside teahouse doesn’t tempt you, there’s a Starbucks not far away.

Teahouse in Shanghai old town

One last trip before dinner, to the spacious, gated French Concession area. People practised Tai Chi, and what we later learned was square dancing, in the empty road. Others flew kites in the park.

Tai Chi in the French concession Shanghai

After dinner, back on the tour bus for a river trip (optional extra). Like most places in the city, the boat was crowded, so we paid extra for seats by the rail. It was well worth it; Shanghai waterfront illuminations are legendary.

Night tour boat Shanghai

Night lights Shanghai
The Oriental Pearl Tower stands in space-age splendour

All this, and jet-lag too – Beijing time is 8 hours ahead of the UK. Next week – A Significant Encounter in the Water Village