First impressions

Out with the old, Shanghai

Out with the old, Shanghai

I’d heard mixed reviews about Shanghai from friends and acquaintances who have been here before me. Some loved it, some thought it was “interesting” and others called it a “shithole”. I think in a city like this – any city of 10+ million people for that matter – you can probably find something to justify every opinion. I found bits to love and bits to hate in just one long day of strolling, But overall my first impression of Shanghai is warm and positive.

It’s really hard to pin Shanghai down because it’s got so many sides, so I won’t even try. I’m sure some born and bred here might struggle to define their city (try describing Sydney usefully and comprehensively in 500 words or less), so it’s not my place to attempt it after one day. But the pastiche of images is striking…

A clover-leaf of elevated highways a la The Jetsons, while old people walk backwards in circles for their health in the park beneath. Beggars with 3-year-old children aggressively seeking alms on East Nanjing Road, the city’s most prestigious tourist and shopping strip. Traffic wardens on every major intersection, often ignored by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. Massive retail precincts that can rival Paris’ Champs Elysses or Singapore’s Orchard Road, only a few blocks from a street corner where vendors offer vegetables from sacks at their feet. An outdoor gymnasium being energetically used by elderly men and women, across the road from a noisy construction site with bamboo scaffolding. Beautiful and stylish houses on tree-lined streets in the French Concession area, not far from dense quarters of grubby apartment towers. The hyper-modern Pudong New Area, built on formerly swampy farmland that has catapulted Shanghai from a backwater into the top rank of global financial centres in less than 20 years. And everywhere small hole-in-the-wall eateries offering steamed pork buns, noodles, barbequed meat on sticks and more for just a few yuan.

There’s a vibrant energy on the streets, and Shanghai feels like a city that works and is going somewhere – fast. Whether it knows where and how is a different matter, but so far I like this place a lot

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