Archive for the ‘Shanghai’ Category

Shanghai Snowman

February 1, 2008

It’s travel time again in China because in just a few days there will be spring festival, the Chinese lunar new year. But this year there is no sign of spring – in contrast, it is still 隆寒 (winter at is coldest). While this would be usual for the northern parts of China, the cold weather now also affects that have been practically immune to snow in the past.

A few days ago I talked with a friend who is in Urumqi, Xinjiang at the moment, and temperatures are well below bearable: Even at daytime temperature is about 20 degrees Celsius below zero (-5 °F) and the wind is blowing.

I yesterday received an e-mail from a friend in Shanghai who told me that there has accumulated the most snow she has ever experienced in Shanghai – I could not believe that in Shanghai (about as far south as New Orleans or Marrakesh) there is that much snow. I was told that there was enough snow to not only cause traffic problems as at the walkways the snow was not shoveled away, but also enough to make a snowman. Furthermore, the snow did not melt away but it there was snow for three consecutive days.

Snow in Shanghai
Snowmen, err snowbear in Shanghai

One also has to consider that in southern China (typically south of Yangzi river) there is no heating in buildings. I remember last march when the central heating was cut in March and it was still cold outside – but that time there weren’t 4 inches (10 cm) of snow outside.

And even a minimum heating and electricity supply was not secured, due to transportation problems power plant were threatened by running out of coal. There is also a lot of direct or indirect damage caused by the bad weather: Infrastructure has been damaged, crops have been harmed and shortages have caused production stops e.g. in the auto industry. Besides this, the lack of transportation of goods has caused the prices to raise, especially food prices, although inflation is already at a relatively high level.

But more important than the economical aspects of this is the human side: Travel by train as well as by plain has been hit by the snow, in Guangzhou along some 500,000 travelers were stuck and caused an exceptional move by premier Wen Jiabao who apologized for the situation in pubic. However, some might decide to not go home for the after all, Xinhua reported that 60 percent of migrant workers in Guangdong decided stay instead of going home – this means they won’t see their family for a long time and since the “golden week” in May is not longer in effect, the opportunities for migrant workers to return home more limited.

According to the Chinese saying “spring snow foretells good harvest” (瑞雪兆丰年), so the year of the rat after all might be a good one!

Happy Chinese New Year!


Shanghai, Take II

July 11, 2007

Bund in Shanghai just after a rain
The rainy weather we had for one day turned the skyline into a spooky atmosphere.

Although I’ve been to Shanghai before, having my brother in China visiting me was a reason enough to go there once again and see the financial capital of China. And since the city has many places of interest it was surly not a problem to come again. Places that I had not seen the last time include the Lu Xun Park, a nice park with a lake that reminded me of Central Park in New York – not because of its size but because of it’s location nestled between multi-story buildings. This park was not listed in my travel book – that might be a reason for not seeing any foreigner what made that park quite authentic. Quite contrary to the park around Lu Xun’s tomb was the “Old City” quarter around Yu garden that I did not go the last time was full of tourist and full of people trying to convince passer-by to buy shoes, DVDs, T-shirts or fake watches.

Lu Xun Park in Shanghai
Lu Xun’s tomb in a park named after this famous writer.

The “Old City” area seemed to be (re-)constructed during the past years, and might be expanded. Because right next to the tourist streets when going through a small entrance one enters one of the last Hutong areas left in downtown Shanghai. Those small streets with tiny houses do not feature the best living conditions (sometimes no heating or water, no toilet inside the house), but they make up the atmosphere – a totally different one than in the renovated “Old City”.

Shanghai Street in old design
The old town where the city wants the tourists to go to.

One many of the small Hutong houses the Chinese character 拆 (chai, to dismantle, to take apart) was written to mark their last days – some have already been destroyed to make room for high rises, streets or tourist areas. There are propaganda banners glorifying the abandoning of the old houses as a step to a better city that the results will be positive for all residents. As a matter of fact, families are receiving money for their will to 动迁 (in Beijing this is called 拆迁, but Shanghai preferred to not use the 拆 character in their banners). With the money it is possible to buy a new flat in a suburbs of Shanghai that are currently reorganized and centrally developed.

拆 sign in Hutong streets in Shanghai
拆-sign on a demolished house, behind is a construction site for new houses.

The master plan for development until hosting the World Expo in 2010 and a long term program to turn Shanghai and the county around it into a green area for living as well as for doing business can be seen at Shanghai’s Museum for Urban Planning. What has started with recognizing the Pudong area as a special economic zone in the 1980s has turned the east side of Huangpu river from a farming area into China’s financial center within 20 years. The achievements are huge, but nonetheless, the master plan is quite ambitious and especially emphasizes the ecological problems that have to be solved by cleaning rivers, creating green areas and using modern technology.

Model of Shanghai in 2010
Shanghai’s plans for the city in 2010 – the model does not have a lot of room for the old Hutong-style houses.

Another event we went to was also focusing on the ecological development, not only in China, but in the whole world. On Saturday afternoon we just heard (just by chance) that one of the nine Live Earth concerts will be in Shanghai. It did not reach the other concert’s audience or international catchy celebrities – however, sitting with about 3000 other fans just below the Oriental Tower (Shanghai’s famous TV tower) was nice, although it started to rain…
The speech by a representative of the United Nations featured some advice how one can protect environment (although I think most of them were not very applicable for China), but also showed the figures of how much glaciers are endangered in China. This English speech that was translated into Chinese was was followed by a Chinese only speech by a representative of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau who was highlighting what China’s central government and Shanghai city government has achieved in protecting environment. Thereafter Chinese stars played a some songs, most of them I had not heard before.

Video made during the concert.

But we were not only looking for the Shanghai of today, at the French concession we found Shanghai of the past and the circumstances of the early Republic: We saw the museum for the first congress of the Communist Party and the former residence of Sun Yat-sen. The first one is of course displaying the view of the party of their struggling in their first years for a revolution in China, the first board already reveals this position: “During the years when the Chinese people were suppressed by western imperialist, capitalist powers…” Of course the thought of Mao is presented in various ways and Mao himself is displayed on many photographs. It is interesting to see that in fact Mao although being a founding member was not the leader of the movement so the photos are cutouts to put him into the center in order to present him as member of an “inner circle”. On the largest display, showing the 13 delegated debating at the original setting, Mao is the one who is taking the lead and making a speech, according to historians he was not the number one person among the communist at that time. Ironically, in the same block of the museum, is Xintiandi area, a westernized commercial area where western brand products are sold for astronomical prizes.

Garden in Suzhou
One of the famous gardens in Suzhou.

Before we got to Shanghai, we first stopped at Suzhou to spend one day. Along with Hangzhou, where I went to in early April, the city counts as the “paradise on earth” because of the plentiful gardens and channels and was therefore promoted world cultural heritage. You notice this when entering one of the nicely arranged gardens where a hefty entrance is levied fee each time – and there is not reduction available for students. Nonetheless, we climbed the North Temple Pagoda for a view over the city and went to two gardens. In the evening we also walked along Shantang River Channel (built in 825) – during the day one has to pay 25 RMB, but in the evening the locals go there to eat considerably cheap food. In the morning we followed the waterway in the opposite direction to a street market that did not only sell tasty food for breakfast, but also showed us how to extract frogs’ legs from a still living frog.

Channels in Suzhou
Suzhou is called “Venice of the east” because it has a lot of waterways.

Going back to Beijing was quite relaxing: The night train took about 10,5 hours for the smooth ride back to the capital. As our train was only having “soft sleeper” we had a comfortable ride that ended at 6:50 at Beijing railway station, we changed into the subway and I was at Beijing University at 8 a.m. just in time for class after a 1400 km way to school…

Contrasts of Shanghai

April 11, 2007

After last week’s trip to Shandong we decided to go to Shanghai for the Easter weekend. Well, the Easter holidays are really not important in China, I did not discover a single piece of information telling me about this Christian holiday. The only religious activity I noticed, was the birthday of Guanyin Pusa on Good Friday. Actually it was only by chance that her birthday was celebrated that day, because the it is calculated from the Chinese calender.

Drum school in Shanghai
Students learning a traditional drum performance in front of Pudong’s skyline.

Shanghai is a thriving city, it seems to be more lively than Beijing, but this might be a matter of climate: While it is still considerably chilly in Beijing, Shanghai has experienced temperatures that made it possible to only wear a pullover or even a T-shirt.
Shanghai seems to be a more westernized (or “taiwanized” as my roommate called it) city than Beijing – more people are speaking English, the clothes are like in cities in Europe or the US. There are also more tourists exploring the city than in Beijing (well, I hardly got to any tourist places in Beijing yet, whereas I went to the main tourist attractions in Shanghai, so I don’t know, whether this really is true). And when having a large groups of tourist, peddlers who want to sell their useless stuff are numerous and you need to say “Bu yao” much too often.

Shanghai lights at night
Lights of Shanghai as seen from the Jinmao Tower.

Shanghai is also a city with big contrasts: The skyline is already impressive and new high rises are build on the rare free spots in the Pudong area which was declared to a special economic area in 1990. Until then it mainly consisted of farmland, now it features not only the Jinmao Tower, China’s highest building, but also several bank headquarters and has become a symbol of China’s economic raise.
On the other hand bank (of Huangpu river) there are still some old quarters with narrow streets, chatting neighbors in Shanghai dialect (that I don’t understand at all) and clothes drying outside the windows. On the little little street markets are few tourists but a lot of tasty food…
Once again it was astonishing how close such large contrast are. Only a few minutes on foot and the whole scenery has changed.

In Shanghai we also visited two large temples on Good Friday, the Longhua and the Yufo (Jade Buddha). The first one was really impressive because on Guanyin’s birthday the temple was filled with praying people and not only with tourists. We actually had lunch at the temple with hundreds of other people honoring Guanyin. The Jade Buddha temple is closer to downtown and obviously visited by more tourist groups – actually we ran into a German group that day in the temple. But the entrance ticket was more expensive than at the first temple and one had to pay extra to see their best Buddha statues.

Longhua Temple in Shanghai
Worshipers at Guanyin’s birthday.

We also visited two museums in Shanghai, the “Shanghai Museum” and the museum that was built at the place where the party’s first congress had been taken place. The Shanghai Museum has an interesting architecture and the pieces on display were really fascinating. In contrast to the American Indian Museum in Washington, D.C. current problems are not mentioned, for examples tensions with minorities were omitted , instead a sign read: “Our splendid and glorious Chinese civilization is the result of integration of various nationalities that have lived in China.”
The founding museum of the CCP was not exactly giving a neutral view, but as we did not expect such thing, we took it as an interesting place to see how history is written (and changed) in China. So even if Shanghai might be a city with lots of banks and businesses and its people obviously love to go shopping in the exclusive boutiques and shopping malls, China after all calls itself a developing country under a Communist leadership.

Food on a street market
Food on a street market.

During our stay we went up the Jinmao tower to the 87th floor and enjoyed the view over Shanghai’s evening lights. We strolled the busy streets and rested in Shanghai’s parks, had a chance to get a boat trip on the Huangpu river and were putting a one-day-trip to Hangzhou into our visiting program. Even though we had four days to visit, it seemed a little short for such a big city. To get the maximum time for the stay, we left Beijing on Thursday evening with the overnight train and got back on Monday evening by plane. That way we also got to see the futuristic Pudong airport that is linked with Shanghai by a 30 km magnetic levitation train (actually the train was build in my hometown in Germany). We stayed in a cheap youth hostel located right next to the People’s Square, it’s location brought Nanjing Donglu, Shanghai’s most famous shopping street, museums and the subway station into walking distance.