A slight haze greeted us as the taxi moved out of the Pudong International Airport. The city of Shanghai gradually unravels itself as we move. Despite the absence of traffic, the trip from the airport to the city center took one hour with the taxi running not lower than 80kph. The wide and clean roads are impressive and I think the word ‘immense’ aptly describe the city.
I was in Shanghai to attend a conference. The schedule was tight and it was a privilege to have arrived a day before the main activities, which means I have one free day to go around and have a feel of the city. After checking in, I immediately ventured outside starting from one of the main thoroughfares of the city where the hotel is located – Xisang Street.
The street is lined with malls and commercial establishments showing out loud how progressive China has become. The buildings are enormous and tall, the streets have wide sidewalks allowing pedestrians to leisurely walk, and with trees along giving shade. I have observed expensive cars are also common in the streets, Volvo, BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz, to name a few. From the outside, Shanghai has the looks of a modern city, but I think majority of the people still lack the finesse of a cosmopolitan population.
Further down the street, I still found pockets of ‘traditional’ Chinese locations – a small pagoda and tiny shops selling koi fishes, ceramics, flowers and other traditional items. Pretty nice human touch amidst the ‘modern’ environment. I saw some ceramics pieces and tried to buy but the storekeeper cannot speak in English and nobody around can help, so no deal.
Another good thing I noticed is the park in the center of the city. It was really nice to see green in the middle of the concrete roads and the tall buildings.
The real surprise for me was seeing a church! The maroon-colored brick church stands out in the middle of rows of tall buildings. The Mu-en Church turned out to be a Methodist congregation that started in 1874 as Trinity Church. More interesting is a functional YMCA hostel adjacent to it. It so happened that in the August 7 issue of the China Daily, a columnist shared that there are about 40 million Protestants in China and 56,000 churches and gathering sites nationwide. A week before the trip, news in the internet showed the government of one of the provinces ordering the taking out of crosses in churches, so seeing a church in the commercial center of the country was really a relief! I just wondered if the persecution of Christians is limited only in the provinces and remote areas that has limited access to the media.
After a hefty lunch of noodles and fruit juice, the later part of the day was spent with the team in exploring Nanjing Street, a walking street flanked by shopping centers featuring Chinese and foreign brands. Private space is luxury here as people rush in all directions. The street leads to one of the main tourist sites in the city – the strip called The Bund. After walking more than a kilometer, we reached the river where the strip is located. On our side, we saw the older section of the city where colonial buildings dating back from the time when foreign firms first set up business and made shanghai the commercial capital of China. On the other side of The Bund is the modern city where the iconic shanghai tower was visible.
The evening sight was great, but the hoard that lingers along The Bund made it hard to enjoy the sight, and our feet hurts with the long walk! We luckily found a small convenience store where we sat and just settled for a bottle of Tsing Tao beer to cap the night.