VIDEO: Shanghai Night Lights, Part 2. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai IFC and other sights along Century Avenue.
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Shanghai is located at 31.2 degrees north latitude which, in the United States, puts you roughly parallel with places like Lufkin, Texas; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Valdosta, Georgia. I hate humidity and September in the deep south can be miserable, so I was very happy with high temps of 77 degrees (25 C) during the day and lows of 62 degrees (17 C) at night during my visit.
As always, I came loaded for bear on this trip with my Nikon D-80, a brand new Sony HD handicam, a tripod (there should be hefty fines for people who shoot video without them) and a camera bag with lenses and extra batteries. The gear does get tiresome. After all the photography of the previous night plus a few hours of interviews that day, I left my cameras in the hotel room safe on night #2.
The second night's walk was along Century Avenue to the Huangpu riverfront, a distance of maybe half a mile. First stop, the Oriental Pearl Tower (1535 feet/468m), primarily a structure to support a television/radio transmission tower. "The Pearl" was built in the early 1990s and locals say it stood nearly alone on the Pudong side of the river when it opened in 1994. Like similar antenna structures around the world, it also features restaurants, various amusements and observation decks, but its most prominent and most interesting feature is the colorful night lighting.
I walked around the base of the tower but didn't go in because I wanted to see more on the ground before the sun went down.
The Lujiazui district is not pedestrian-friendly, so I was glad to see the raised walkway structures and the large circular walk that overlaid the intersection of Century Avenue and Lujiazui Ring Road. This is certainly not a solution for every city. In this instance, I greatly appreciated the vertical separation from the traffic and noise.
The overall pace in this uber-business-and-shopping district very much caught my attention. Workers leaving Shanghai World Financial Center did not have the brisk, hurried walk of evening commuters heading for trains in the Chicago Loop (I'm told the situation is quite different in Shanghai's subways!). I also enjoyed seeing families out together for a leisurely evening stroll. The raised walkways make the area safe for children -- you don't see nearly as many children in downtown Chicago during the evening -- and the open feel of the area combined with all the buildings makes this a spectacular evening venue. I got a few snaps with my iPhone.
I continued down Century Avenue to the Huangpu riverfront and followed a maze of sidewalks and walkways into Binjiang Park. Old Shanghai beckoned across the river on the Puxi side and colorfully lit tour boats cruised silently back and forth. Families and young couples walked the beautiful riverfront and a few couples had found their way back into the dark corners, nicely ensuring the continuation of the Chinese nation. Behind me, the odd assortment of ultramodern high-rises lined the Pudong shore, each a part of the evening nightlight spectacle with its own lighting scheme. I did a double-take when I saw the Willis (Sears) Tower suddenly appear on one entire side of an LED-lit building. Chicago was advertising here, though I couldn't read the Mandarin text.
I had left Jin Mao without having supper, opting instead to find something impromptu during my walk. One person had suggested I look at the restaurants inside the IFC (International Finance Center) Mall, but I wanted a bit more atmosphere. I had also promised myself that I would avoid American food and stick to a more Asian diet. Going halfway around the world only to eat American food seems pretty stupid, a wasted opportunity.
So where did I end up eating? At The Paulaner, an outdoor Bavarian restaurant on the riverside promenade. This was definitely a vow-breaker given my German roots. But it was a warm night and I was tired and thirsty, and one look at the tall beers they were serving was all it took. I had a very enjoyable meal al fresco with a beautiful view, exactly the atmosphere I wanted, right down to the stray cats who inhabited the bushes next to my table. I fed one cat a few pieces of beef from my goulash, which he glommed right down, but not before sniffing it first. My Chinese waiter told me those cats were nicely fat from working the tables each night.
After finally getting back through the maze of sidewalks and walkways out of Binjiang Park and back to the street, I was making my way back to Century Avenue when I was loudly approached by a woman who was hawking... er, the spices of the Orient. "We have lots of girls!" she said. Despite my refusals, this tart continued to hound me as I walked and she was starting to piss me off. Even with my Italian mouth, I'm too polite to even tell a hooker to get lost, so I held up my left hand, the one with the gold ring on it. "Oh, you married!" she exclaimed. "Bye bye, honey," I said flippantly.
The further I walked, the worse I felt about what I had said. Contrary to what people will tell you, I'm actually a pretty quiet person and I'm not a smartass if I'm not in the mindset. I was still in my "keep your eyes open and your mouth shut" mode worthy of unfamiliar surroundings. I SHOULD have responded, in my best west-suburban warehouse Spanish:
"Ah, señora, lo siento... ¡pero 'stoy casado! No me gusta, y mi esposa -- ¡aiee-ee! -- no quiero mas problemas... "
...and etc. etc., spewed as rapidly and unintelligibly as possible. OK, honey, let's see how well you speak in tongues.
I had half a mind to walk through there again, but the following evening's event was far more worthwhile: a reception on the roof of House of Roosevelt, a vintage 1920 building on The Bund. I'll leave it to the House of Roosevelt web site to relate the building's history.
The views of the riverfront and the Pudong skyline from this vantage point were spectacular, but The Bund was equally stunning, a mile-long row of classic buildings with facades lit brightly, and several Chinese five-star red flags making this panorama especially exotic. This was truly a world-class view. As I looked at the Chinese flags and gleaming old Shanghai, I tried to imagine what this place had looked like during the Cultural Revolution and in 1972, when Richard Nixon made his historic visit. 1972 was only three years after the first landing on the moon, and China seemed just as far away when I watched Nixon on TV at age 12. Now, impossibly, here I stood.
Nothing is more frustrating than looking at some larger-than-life entity for the first time -- whether it's the Grand Canyon, Mars through a telescope, or grand and ancient China -- and feeling like you don't know enough to fully appreciate what you're seeing. I was able to sample only a small slice of Shanghai, and one with a very western flavor. I want to know more about this place and these people, who present the very different wrapped in the very familiar, and who have echoed my tall building dreams back to me in such overpowering fashion.
Shanghai, you've hooked this Chicago boy. I will be back.