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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Big boys toys
03/07/2012

The Urban Planning Exhibition showcases Shanghai's extraordinary growth. Sarah will be writing more about this on her own blog at www.sarahtanburn.wordpress.com (not accessible in China) soon.

Even for the non-regeneration specialist it was fascinating. The picture is the enormous model of the city. It is taken looking (on the city's axis) north east; you can see the sharp elbow of the Huangpu river under the Pearl, and the sharp tower of the World Finance Centre. The supporting material includes pictures from the 19th and 20th century. In 1984 - less than 30 years ago - there was almost nothing on that side of the river except marsh and paddy fields. All of that enormous city has gone up in the time since the UK's miners' strike.

Places and people
Tianzifang aka Camden
03/07/2012

On Wednesday we went in search of a different art street and shopping area, known as Tian Zi Fang. Unlike Xantiandi, this is not a rebuild but a warren of shikumen houses now operating as lots of little boutiques and shops. On the way there, we saw this magnificent door, but we don't know where it led.

The market itself is reminiscent of Camden Market in London: there are occasional excellent spots with bags or clothes made locally by Shanghai-based designers. But most of it is the same stuff that you see in NYC, London, Mumbai or Auckland. One of the most telling signs was a shop advertising 'ethnic' goods - meaning from the sub-continent. What does that tell us about relationships within the BRIC countries?

We did have some success finding pressies, and a rather smart travel case for the ipad, but again, we would not say it was the home of the original or unique output of Shanghai creative workers.

Places and people
Not all the lights are brands
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

We are staying at the Grand Central Hotel, centrally located on Jiujiang Road. It is the second in a chain, of which the first, Central Hotel, is next door. This splendid confection is the lights on the top of the Central. (it doesn't actually lean: that's the bus!) Very appropriate!

The Grand Central is a business hotel, run to 5* standards, with all mod cons (except wifi in the rooms. This blog is updated using their Ethernet.) We got it at very good value through booking.com, having read reviews on tripadvisor.

Places and people
The lights of booming China
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

We spent much of the rest of the day on the buses, which was good after Sunday's and Monday's marathons. One of the excellent staff at Indigio had told us that the temperature jumped on Sunday and was now very high by local standards. Hah! It looks as if our weather change powers are undiminished by our travels. We got to Malta, Greece and Italy in turn the day before the temperature jumped for summer. Now we are concerned that our arrival in NZ will plung Wellington into deepest snow.

The night bus tour was great fun, with sparkly lights everywhere and the bus full of smiley happy people. (The ticket's good for 24 hours, so it's fine to keep riding.) We felt that the lights of Shanghai make both London and New York look - well - dowdy!

After good noodles and beef in a local 10th floor restaurant we staggered back to our hotel room to recover, and prepare for shopping and museums tomorrow. (And maybe even that spa!)

Places and people
The highest observatory in the world
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

It had to be done. The Shanghai World Finance Centre is 100 floors high. There is a huge gap in it, between the 95th and 100th floors, which makes it look like an enormous tent peg from across the river. For RMB150 each they will put you in a elevator and take you to the top of the third highest building in the world.

In fact, they bow politely and say something charming in Chinese as the doors close. It's rather disconcerting, as if you are about to be shot to the stars from the top as part of the solution to population pressure. Of course, the doors open again on smiling faces welcoming you onwards and upwards.

At the very top the views must be astonishing on a clear day. (Does Shanghai have clear days any more?) Even today you get a magnificent vista across Shanghai, the confluence of the Suzhou Creek into the Huangpu, and the ludicrous bauble that is the China TV tower.

Places and people
The tiki tour
02/07/2012

We chose instead what we probably should have done in the first place: the open top bus tour. We want with a company that operates two routes: a red one which stays to the east of the Huangpu and has about 15 stops, and a green one which crosses the river to Pudong and has only about four stops. We started with the red one, which was very useful in orienting oneself around the city.

During it we hopped off at Xintiandi. This is a famous area of alleys and streets, often touted as the uber-trendy home of Shanghai style, particularly in fashion and food.

It was something of a disappointment. Xintiandi could be anywhere with some nice doorways. Architecturally it is modelled on the local shikamen, which were a form of terraced housing thrown up in their thousands here in the nineteenth century. They came in rows, all facing south, and had big granite door frames housing brass doors, giving rise to the common name of 'stone gate houses'. The very small area of such housing at Xintiandi is entirely reconstruction, done to a very high standard. The detailing and quality of the work are excellent, giving a lovely context. So far so good. The content however, is clone town Shanghai. Every unit is branded, and the vast majority are international chains. There were a few, a very few boutiques, and even they were largely selling standard stuff. (Sarah will be doing a further rant on the subject of regeneration and economic development over on her blog soon, but there is no word/press access here!)

The far end of the south block of Xintiandi is often dismissed as it is a modern glass and concrete mall. Inside however, there are some of the better emerging designers. Sarah bought a lovely silk scarf in the sale at Woo, and we had an excellent dim sum lunch. But otherwise, it really wasn't worth the visit.

Places and people
We would have liked to go to sea
02/07/2012, Shanghai

The Huangpu, itself a large river, is but a tributary of the mighty Yangtze. It joins the main river very close to its mouth on the China Sea. We really wanted to take the three hour cruise from the Bund to look at the ocean.

According to all our researches on line, the cruise runs daily, at 0900 and 1430. There were a few hesitations about the 0900, so we thought we'd try for it, and go in the afternoon if we missed it. An early start was signalled.

Gentle readers: there is no cruise along the river in daylight. Why, we don't know. And the evening one (which we hope to do) is only about 45 minutes, so does not glimpse the main river or the sea. How do we now know this to be true?

We walked to the first pier, but found it is only for the Pudong ferry. The Shiliupu jetty, home of the river cruises, is further down. On we marched as the day grew hotter. And hotter. It was only 0830 and we were dripping with sweat. We marched the whole length of the Bund from Jaojiang Lu to the far southern end - which must be about a mile. Plus some detours to examine the prospects at street level. We could see the boats! We could see the jetties, and the signs for ticket halls, and the tempting river begging to be explored. At the end of the Bund we gave in. It was just on 0900, the boats weren't going anywhere, and we were in a sorry state.

Luckily the end of the Bund is home to the very wonderful hotel Indigo. Two pathetic women of a certain age, flushed and sweaty, fell into their arms. They whisked up to their lovely coffee bar on the sixth floor and gave us drinks of our choice, cookies, sage advice and copies of local magazines. Their toilets are stupendous (and probably the only minimalist spaces we will see in Shanghai.) And the views are wonderful. It was early enough in the morning and quite breezy, so the smog had not set in. The picture is the view west and is entirely typical in being dominated by a building site, although this one is particularly big! Our hotel is just underneath the wedding cake circular roof on the extreme right of the photo.

The bill was not even exorbitant. All in all, a big hooray for the Indigo, who sent us on our way chilled in every sense.

Places and people
Jade! Burma! Buddha!
01/07/2012

The Yufo temple (about 15 minutes walk from M50) was built in 1882 to house two enormous jade Buddhas brought from Burma. This is the head of the Reclining Buddha, about to reach nirvana. The whole statue is well over 2m long, and was carved from one piece of milky white jade. It is decorated with precious stones and has its own building.

Yufo is a lovely temple complex, with some half a dozen buildings. In amongst the multiple gilded Buddhas there are lots of representations of martial bodhiattvas, fighting monks and other warlike types. As Pip dryly observed: achieve enlightenment so you can kill people more efficiently. (The complex also houses several shops, but they're unobtrusive.)

Several worshippers mingle with the curious trippers, including a surprising proportion of young Chinese. Buddhism is obviously thriving in brash, brand-driven Shanghai! Note that (contrary to the guidebooks) it is RMB20 to get in, plus another RMB to see the giant Sitting Buddha (where photographs are not allowed.) Also we couldn't find the café.

It was a bit of a route march to our intended destination on Nanjing Xi Lu along mostly residential streets with a few small shops in places. (Next time we would get a cab.) Once there, we had a pleasant meal in Fresh Elements at the Shanghai Centre. Plaza 66, which we looked around, was definitely too rich for us: caviar is not an essential part of our Shanghai experience. Noodles and a sandwich were less adventurous but welcome. The Fresh Elements chain is everywhere in central Shanghai and reasonably priced for a good food.

A final walk brought us back across the People's Park to our hotel, where we rested our weary feet and had an evening in!

Places and people
M50
01/07/2012, Moganshan Lu, Shanghai

Sunday involved a lot of walking, and a lot of sweating, but we enjoyed seeing a slice of Shanghai.

First off, we headed for the art district known at Moganshan 50. This is a massive collection of studios and galleries in an old industrial site on Suzhou creek. It was a series of blocks used for storage and shipment, later colonised by artists seeking cheap rents. It is inexorably moving upmarket and a number of smart galleries have moved in, but there are still many original artists working there.

Of course, many other places have pulled off the same trick, including Phoenix Studios in Brighton, but others could take note, not least the abandoned market next to the Architecture School in Rome. Inevitably, we discovered nothing about the ownership or management of the M50 site just by our casual visit.

We visited many different floors, rooms and buildings on our wandering around. The most exciting to us was the Liu Dao art collective, found at Island 6. This group of artists, engineers, fabricators and makers are bringing together a range of techniques to create wonderful animated pieces. (The picture is taken from their site at www.island6.org.) Similarly Lee Sun-Don fuses millennial Chinese art traditions with western painting since the Renaissance to produce bright, detailed landscapes. It was a great visit, and it's probably a good thing we cannot manage to transport any works on our onward trip or we would have been spending money!

Overall, there was a feel reminiscent of Berlin in the 1990's, with much of the work heavily theorised and described by its makers. Exhibition labels are articulate (and lengthy) about the extraordinary changes being reflected by the artists, the need to articulate and examine the emerging China and its relationship to different political and artistic histories. It's an enormously exciting time to be working here and it was a privilege to see a little bit of the output. M50 is a small trek from Shanghai Railway Station but well worth it. (The cafes on site are exorbitantly expensive and not worth the bother.)


Places and people
More travels with bear
30/06/2012, Shanghai

Some of you will know that we often travel accompanied by Gullivette, our bear. She makes occasional appearances here.

When we got back to the hotel, our room had been freshly made up, and Gullivette given her own luxurious spot. Aah! Bless!

By the way, this blog should go to FB via networked blogs. We can't access that site from our hotel internet, so apologies to anyone responding via that route. We probably won't see it till we reach New Zealand next week. Instead, write to us on sailblogs, or directly on our emails.

Places and people
Dinner (always very important)
30/06/2012, Shanghai

From here we meandered back in search of dinner. Two of the Rough Guide ones did not exist (shame!) so we ended up in a Korean restaurant six floors above the busy Nanjing Dong Lu. (Lu means Road in Chinese. This road, one block up from the hotel, is roughly equivalent to London's Oxford Street.)

It was great fun to barbecue the enormous amounts of meat and fish on the little pot and dip them in a variety of little bowls with mysterious spices. We really must get to grips with Korean cooking.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we're going to find one of the famous Shanghainese spas. In the last few weeks, we've had some lovely trips (Malta,Wales, Greece, Italy, Norfolk) and packed up our house. The new tenants moved in yesterday. So a proper massage and luxuriating seems a good idea, in amongst the explorations.

Places and people
Arrival in China
30/06/2012, Shanghai

Here we are. Wow!

Our hotel is about 0.5km from the world-famous Bund, the riverside road created by the colonial powers. Their palaces and godowns (warehouses) were built along here. Today many are still there, though a large highway seperates them from the raised walkway and the river itself. On the other side is Pudong, where modern Shanghai scrambles upwards in ever more futuristic skyscrapers.

We were exhausted after the long trip. Four hours sleep had made it possible to face the city but wasn't enough for the full onslaught. We walked from the hotel to the Bund as dusk grew. Not that you could tell for sure: a strikingly important feature of Shanghai is the air pollution. It makes the views hazy and burns your throat. Air conditioning is welcome for the cool (it's 34 degrees) and relief from 70% humidity) but most of all to escape the smog.

Enough with the grumpiness! The Bund was thronged with tourists (mostly Chinese) and promenaders. We walked as far as the pier where you can get a ferry across, and then turned back. It was getting dark and the extravagant lights were coming on across the river. It's a bit like the light display of Hong Kong; not (yet) as spectacular but much, much longer. This cruise ship, her masts outlined, came by. In the background you can see the gaudy bauble which is the Oriental Pearl Tower - Shainghai's own TV and telecoms tower completed in 1994.

Places and people

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