Shanghai. The mere mention of that name evokes images a modern, cosmopolitan city…a far cry from the “traditional” China that so many travelers seek. A walk down Shanghai’s bustling shopping street, Nanjiang Rd or through its business district, Pudong simply reinforces that view. A sprawling example of China’s dramatic growth, Shanghai (pronounced SHAWNG-hai) serves as its nation’s business capital.
Does all this sound a bit familiar? Well Shanghai feels quite a bit like New York, which is, essentially, its U.S. counterpart. There’s a reason why I waited till the very end of my trip to end up in this thriving metropolis and that’s exactly it. While I like to live in cities, I prefer not to visit them, at least the real major ones as they tend to be fairly similar to each other. My hope was that Shanghai would help get me back into the urban mood before my flight home to New York, which I am pleased to report it has succeeded in doing.
I spent 4 full days in this mega-city (2 at the Expo and 2 in the city) and CouchSurfed my entire time, which turned out to be an absolutely wonderful experience! I had two different and equally wonderful hosts, both expat Americans who lived in the lively Jing’an district (named for a highly touristy temple in the neighborhood) and spent both my city days with other CouchSurfers, one from Malaysia who was also surfing with my first host and another who was Chinese, who provided my first real opportunity to pick the brain of a young Chinese national on what life was like in China.
Having no real plans other than the Expo, I took my hosts advice on visiting sites to get a brief introduction to Shanghai that included everything from wandering the charming streets of the French Concession to meandering Shanghai’s famed river front, The Bund. I visited Pudong and stared up at the Oriental Pearl tower and wandered around the lively People’s Square (continuing the ongoing trend of every Chinese city having a “People’s Square/Park” and “People’s Road”…heck even the name of the currency, “renminbi,” means “The People’s Money!”).
The city seems to be leading the way in China’s breakneck pace of development. My first host marveled at just how much things had changed in the year he’d been there. The Chinese government spent somewhere in the vicinity of US$50 billion to remake the city for the Expo (even more than was spent preparing Beijing for the Olympics)! In fact the pace of development is so fast that a new map of the city is printed every month!
Sure, Shanghai doesn’t quite boast the architectural or natural beauty of Hong Kong (there seemed to be a lack of large scale parks), but it is an exciting city with something for everyone. Best of all, it served as the perfect ending to my time in China…and in Asia for that matter! 4 days (2 really) was enough to give me a little taste of this place that has left me thirsting for more. Guess I’ll have to come back at some point and give this place the time it deserves!