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Shanghai: A Tale Of Two Cities


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Shanghai has long been described as a place where East meets West, in everything from art to cuisine to fashion. The very city itself can bear testament to this, for nowhere in China do the ancient and the modern, the traditional and the cutting edge or the Asian and the Western fuse so effortlessly together.                    

ShanghaiThe Pudong area of the city boasts a spectacular skyline, with banks, large corporations and media organisations all leaving their mark on the skies above Shanghai. Tourists flock to The Bund on the other side of the river to marvel at the skyscrapers which could rival those in Manhattan. The nerve centre of an ever expanding Chinese economy, this area’s ultra-modern look is thanks in no small part to a multi-million pound restoration in 2010 for the World Exhibition. A short journey on the sleek subway away though and it’s a very different story.

Wander west of the Bund and you will come across The Old Town. As the name suggests, this is the oldest part of Shanghai and the architecture is in a much more traditional style, with pagodas and ornate dragon carvings everywhere you look.

A large market, tea rooms and the temple of the God of the city are paradise for travellers who have become disillusioned with modern Shanghai and seek the retreat of classical China. All is not what it appears to be at first however, as the likes of Starbucks, McDonalds and even Dairy Queen have wormed their way in next to the chopstick stands. These eateries are not full of tourists however, and you are more likely to find a local tucking into a Big Mac than a Westerner, showing the growing Chinese market for American fast food.

The Shanghai museum in the heart of the city is a must for any visitor. At first, it looks like a fairly modern building with a distinctive round shape and smooth walls, but again, appearances can be deceiving. The ancient Chinese philosophers believed that the Earth was square and the Universe round, and building was designed with square foundations to reflect and honour this belief. The museum itself holds a frankly astonishing collection of ancient Chinese ceramics, jade, calligraphy, furniture, coins and more. The galleries represent many of the most celebrated dynasties and tip their hats to the ancient Chinese too, with some pieces dating thousands of years B.C.

If all that culture is just too much for you, the French Concession might be just what the doctor ordered. Shanghai has been called the Paris of the East and it’s true that the Shanghainese adore everything French. Bakeries selling croissants, French designer clothing stores and knock-off Longchamp bags are never far away in Shanghai. The French Quarter even looks a little like the city of lights, with trees adorning every street where the fashionable, affluent young Chinese come to indulge in a little retail therapy.

Despite all the contradictions and juxtapositions, it never feels forced or out of place. Shanghai is truly a melting pot and while it may not be the capital it is certainly ahead of Beijing in terms of creating a new identity for a new generation of Chinese people. With everything that it has become though; Shanghai has not forgotten what it was.

Art deco style buildings, traditional restaurants and classic formal gardens stand alongside the Apple stores and skyscrapers in perfect harmony creating a new, exciting and pulsating city full of surprises just waiting to be discovered.

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