November in China: The Wrong Side of the River

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I visit Shanghai once a year. Each time I’ll stay with my parents who live on the wrong side of the Huangpu river.  Real Shanghainese only like being on the Puxi side. The irony is that these “real Shanghainese” people are invariably migrants from the rural Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, and those who’ve lived on Shanghai land for centuries are the farmers from Pudong. Many of the original Shanghainese of vintage cheong sam and period films had largely fled the country when the Communists took over.

With its ever-competing skyscrapers built one after another in a Babel-esque race to the heavens, Pudong is hardly a louche part of town. As Jin Mao Tower and the IFC Building tower over their competition, it’s hard to believe that the other buildings are already taller than your average skyscraper.

On an unusually fine day, I went across the river to Puxi and returned by the incredibly cheap ¥0.50 ferry from Dongmen Lu on the Puxi side to Dongchang Lu at Pudong. It was perfect weather to take a panaroma or two of the buildings, just that a bit of patience was needed to wait for the advertising ferry to pass. These ferries go up and down the river at all hours showcasing brightly lit advertisements to both sides of the river.

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Mum calls the Jin Mao Tower the “bottle” and the IFC Building the “bottle opener.” The Pearl Tower is now relegated to one corner of the skyline. You can just about spot its spire in the extreme left hand side of the photo below.

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As we drew closer to shore, the Pearl Tower came into view. Sadly or not, depending on your views on ghastly architecture, this Shanghai icon is slowly being literally obscured by the new buildings coming up around it. It is gradually being replaced by the IFC Building as the prime destination for tour group visits.

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Dodging motorbikes and bicycles, I scrambled off the ferry and headed over to what was once the tallest building in the world. At the moment  I visited in November 2008, Taipei 101 was the tallest. As I write, the Burj Dubai has already caught up. Looks like the race will continue wherever the new money is. Look carefully at the top of the IFC Building and you’ll see the bottle opener part of it. Legend goes that the rectangular hole was supposed to be a perfect circle. It was changed to the current design because of fengshui reasons. Another legend goes that it was designed by the Japanese and the shape of the building is meant to be a katana in the heart of the business district. A circle at the top of the building would allow the sun to shine directly through, far too reminiscent of the Japanese rising sun for comfort.

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Rumours or not, this building is incredibly imposing, especially right at its foot. It’s near impossible to get the whole building into one frame. I must have craned my neck till it was almost 90 degrees to my body!

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It’s expensive to go up the tower. I found it a bit too cheesy to do it this time because I’d just concluded a hardcore backpacking trip in the region. Going up would blow pretty much what had been a whole day’s budget. It was just as well that the weather turned bad. Mum told me that on bad days, the top of the building would be swathed by clouds and groups going up would pay the same prices but see absolutely nothing. Buyer beware!

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[edited 5 Mar 2009 7.50pm: Mum pointed out that the ferry price was and, at the point of writing, still is ¥0.50, not ¥2.]

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