Sitting at the centre of trade that flowed to and from China for the past few centuries, Shanghai has long been an important and successful port city, and it remains that way to this present day. Shanghai is China’s largest city, bursting at the seams with over 23 million people, all of them looking for a piece of this cities’ ongoing prosperity.
With the hosting of the 2010 World Fair being the latest jewel in its crown, this city has always had a flash and creative edge that has made it a globally important place. One look at its ultra-futuristic skyline only reinforces this.
Yet despite the forward looking aspects to this cities’ character, you don’t sit around for as long as it has without having some serious historical assets to explore. Different sectors of the city remain preserved from the times they were built, making for an interesting walk through the years, before galloping off into the future, the examples of which are abundantly available in this forest of concrete and steel.
Overall, sitting in the middle of a country that has existed for eons, and being highly successful in the present day makes for some interesting clashes between the ancient and the modern: of all the places in the world, Shanghai one of best examples of this rare phenomenon.
Alluding to the closing paragraph in the introduction, one of Shanghai’s most important Buddhist temples, Jing’an Temple, is a textbook example of the traditional and the modern blending together. Situated in the midst of steel and concrete buildings, this blast from the past contains some of Chinese Buddhism’s more impressive relics and architecture.
This temple contains three great halls: the main hall has a jade Buddha statue that is the largest of its kind in China at almost 4 metres high, and the Guanyin hall is home to a 6 metre tall statue of the goodness that has been hewed from camphor wood. Additionally, the Hongwu bell is a feature worth checking out, as this copper chime weighs in at a portly 3 ½ tons!
For further information on the history of this important region in China, be sure to stop by the Shanghai Museum. This modernist structure, shaped in the likeness of a ding (ancient Chinese cooking vessel), has a variety of artifacts in its collection, which includes pieces made from bronze and jade, along with paintings, ceramics and coins, among other ancient remains of previous generations.
Being a vast country, a significant portion of it was suitable for growing tea, a favoured drink of the Chinese dating back to the start of their civilization. Being such an important centre of commerce for much of that time as well, many tea houses have opened over the years, granting the opportunity for travelers to try one of China’s greatest culinary exports.
Of the many shops that can be found here (as well as quite a few that contain scammers, so beware!) Tang Yun Tea House ranks among the better places to enjoy a cup of Chinese tea, along with traditional snack foods that pair well with the caffeinated beverage.
In Shanghai, the noise, traffic and hustle and bustle of the streets can wear down a causal visitor easily, as well as many locals. For a dignified break from this external stress, make time for a meditative break at Yu Garden, one of Shanghai’s best Chinese style gardens. Featuring large ponds filled with goldfish, rock gardens that have a massive 5 ton jade boulder as its centrepiece, and a delightful pavilion situated at the centre of the lake, it’s just the pause you need before diving back into the urban fray of Shanghai.
After re-balancing your mind and body, take a stroll along The Bund, a section of Shanghai where Western classical architecture predominates over the traditional Chinese style of the past, and the glass and concrete of the present time. Building styles include Eclecticist, Gothic, Baroque, and Art Deco, of which Shanghai sits among the leaders in the world when it comes to buildings of this type, believe it or not!
With darkness setting in after a long day of sightseeing in this vibrant megalopolis, it is the best time to head to the futuristic-looking Oriental Pearl Tower for some spectacular shots of the Shanghai cityscape after dark. For 120 ¥, you will be spirited up to as high as 350 metres above street level, where photographers can get incredible photo opps of the shimmering skyline that lies beneath them. After this, head down to the rotating dining facility, which offers views along the same lines, along with some world-class cuisine.