Friday, May 1: After leaving Jing’an Temple, I catch the number 2 metro line to the East Nanjing stop; it empties out onto Nanjing Dong Lu, possibly the busiest street in all of Shanghai. I walk with hordes of people down the street toward the Bund. There are so many people, that the crowds can’t even fit on the sidewalks and are spilling over into the road, making it difficult for cars or buses to get through.
This is China on a typical national holiday. I know that Shanghai, China’s most populous city of over 24 million people, is normally crowded, but add the holiday, and it’s insane.
This street seems to be one of China’s swankiest, as it is lined with high-end shops showing huge videos of models sashaying down runways, as well as with shops such as Old Navy, Forever 21 and Starbucks. I love fashion, but not the high-end stuff. However, I do find the vibe on this street fascinating.
One thing I’ve learned is that Chinese young women are quite fashion-conscious and they love to shop. One of my students recently told me that she’s placed herself on a very tight budget with her monthly allowance from her parents; she tries to spend very little on food and entertainment so she can “buy many beautiful clothes.” I’ve discovered that many of the clothes I buy myself at my favorite but overpriced store in the States, Anthropologie, are actually made in China. I see many of the girls at the university wearing the same style of clothes sold in Anthropologie in America. I have always been excited by the prospect of buying those clothes here at much reduced prices, but sadly, clothes here are only made in Chinese sizes, much too small for me!
Everyone on the street is heading like a tsunami toward the Huangpu River, and as there is a large construction project blocking the sidewalk on one side, I follow the crowds into the road. Suddenly, I look up and see, quite to my surprise, the famous Peace Hotel. I decide to step inside for a look.
The Peace Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in China. The hotel today operates as two separate businesses. The north building, a relic from the opium trading days once known as Sassoon House, originally housed the Cathay Hotel, built in 1929. Today it’s the Fairmont Peace Hotel. The opium trade gave way in the early years of the 20th century to investments in Shanghai real estate, including the Cathay.
The south building was built in 1908 as the Palace Hotel and is today the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. In 1911, after the success of the Xinhai Revolution, Sun Yat-sen stayed at the hotel and advocated commitment to the revolutionary cause. During World War II, the building was occupied by the Japanese army (Wikipedia: Peace Hotel).
The two buildings both face the Bund, but are divided by Nanjing Road. Noel Coward supposedly stayed here while writing Private Lives.
Inside, I enjoy the hotel’s faded Art Deco elegance.
As I stand just inside the doorway of the Peace Hotel, I brace myself to step out and get swept along by the crowds on Nanjing Dong Lu.
I can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower ahead, across the Huangpu River in Pudong.
As I am carried along with the crowds, I have a fabulous view across the river to Pudong, known prior to 1949 as the “wrong side of the Huangpu” because of its seedy side; it was once an area occupied by unemployed migrants, prostitutes, murderers and bankrupt gamblers who drowned themselves in the river. In 1990, Pudong became a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in China, and its agricultural tracts have been transformed into an army of skyscrapers (Lonely Planet China).
Though I’m on the Bund side of the river, the views of Pudong are fantastic at this time of day. I can see the 457-meter-high Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a recognizable feature of Shanghai’s iconic skyline, and the elegant Shanghai World Financial Center.
The light isn’t great looking to the west, but I capture a few decent shots of the Bund’s grand colonial facades. The Bund was old Shanghai’s commercial heart, with its leading banks and trading houses and its busy port, which hosted a bustling trade in everything ranging from silk and tea to heavy industrial equipment. Today it’s the most exclusive piece of real estate in China. Below are the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, the Peace Hotel and the Bank of China, from left to right.
The Bank of China was designed in the 1920s by Shanghai architectural firm Palmer & Turner, who were directed to make the building “more Chinese.” They did so by placing a Chinese roof on the Art Deco edifice (Lonely Planet China).
Walking along the promenade along the river, I can watch the container ships and commercial vessels plying the waters of the Huangpu River.
It’s very crowded on the walkway, as can be seen below. People of every nationality are playing tourist today on the Bund, from the Chinese to the French to Americans to Brits to Indians. Shanghai is only city on mainland China, this city with its cosmopolitan flavor, where I’ve actually felt somewhat at home.
In another shot of the Bund, below, is the Industrial & Commerce Bank of China (ICBC) and the Agricultural Bank of China.
As I walk along the promenade, a Chinese girl asks if she can take a picture with me. I tell her yes, if she’ll take one of me with my camera. I ask her how to get to the Huangpu River tour boats, and she and her friend and brother ask me to follow them. I’m a little leery about following any people in Shanghai as I’ve heard the warnings about “tea scams,” so I purposely keep stopping along the walkway to take more pictures, finally telling them to go on without me.
Again, on the Bund, I admire the grand edifice of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, formerly the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Ltd.
Finally, I make my way to the Huangpu River Cruise Dock, where I buy a ticket to take the one hour cruise up and down the Huangpu River.