Bright and early I set out: time to see the sights! Remembering my stamina levels as opposed to my friends', I'm kind of grateful I would be doing this on my own. Besides, as Chinese friends are wont to do, Zhanny would pay for anything I expressed the slightest desire for. Already the hotel was costing that dear girl. I imagined tourist attractions would eat up the rest of her month's pay, not something I want on my conscience.
Zhanny averred that buses in Shanghai are unreliable; far better to take the subway. First challenge: decipher the ticket machine. Yesterday, she had managed all of the logistics. Today I tried to figure out how much fare to pay. Fees vary by distance and the machine did not indicate how much I should pay to my destination. Five Yuan poorer and 3 minutes later I was rocketing underground, almost all the way across the city. Fortunately I had a seat. It would not have been fun to stand all the way there, an uncomfortable prelude to all the walking I anticipated doing. I still have no idea if I overpaid the subway, but at least I did not have to endure the humiliation of having to visit the teller booth and pay more. Off to The Pearl.
Anyone familiar with the Shanghai skyline has seen The Pearl. It is the spherical structure housing the local television station. It is the pride of Shanghai. In pictures, all lit up, it looks magnificent but up close, in daylight it looks just like any other concrete and glass building. It doesn't even stand that tall. I snapped a picture, standing among all of the other awed tourists. I can now say I have seen the Oriental Pearl.
Taking the spectacular sky bridge, an elevated pedestrian walkway mirroring the Financial District's traffic circle, I spied European architecture in the distance: the Bund! I headed there directly, ignoring the supermalls and swanky restaurants that all the other tourists seemed to flock to.
Soon enough I arrived at the river. On the other side presided all of the buildings that made up the old Downtown Shanghai. I searched for a bridge, or even better: a ferry, but saw no way across. Maybe if I walked a while? The boardwalk was nearly devoid of pedestrians but full of kiosks selling tourist kitsch. One notable vendor displayed Edward Snowden mugs! They were meant to advertise the stand's real business – putting your photo on a coffee mug. I found the Snowden mugs very amusing. As usual when I approach such arrays the clerk popped up and invited me to buy (at outrageous prices) in better–than-passable English. I replied (in Chinese) that those mugs were funny but I was only browsing. Could he please tell me how to get to the other side of the river?
The tunnel: the coolest part of the day, bar none. Not only was the trolley car air conditioned, literally making it the coolest time I enjoyed that day but... how to describe it?
Following my eager salesman's directions I found the mouth of this attraction with only little problem. I was surprised to find it uncrowded: usually anything worth doing/seeing is jam-packed. Seventy Yuan bought me passage to and from the Bund. Not knowing what to expect, I walked the arrow-marked path. Soon a small cab pulled up on the other side from where I stood. As I wondered if I should make my way over there, it advanced a few meters and then, as with a railroad roundhouse, the track itself pivoted, orienting the car our way. I got on with a few other eager passengers, who immediately got their cameras ready. Huh? We were underground! What would there be to photograph?
Leave it to the Chinese to go over the top. We didn't just trundle under the river, bobbing around on track irregularities. The whole way, about a 4-minute ride, was a light show depicting various celestial conditions! Belatedly I grabbed my camera but by then, the entire front of the cabin was full and, unless I wanted to lean on everyone while raising my camera above their heads I would just have to wait till my return trip. I already had my strategy for being the first to board planned out. Grinning big, refreshed from the underwater coolness I emerged back into the implacable heat.
What first assailed me was the abundance of tourists, about half being foreign. With such a wealth of opportunity, naturally tourist commodities abound. A particularly attractive one was a double-decker sightseeing bus line that guaranteed one could hop on and off as desired. Yes, I do like to walk and I'm quite good at it but: alone and in this suffocating heat, did I really want to walk all over the place?
The price decided me. Why pay 100Yuan to ride a bus I can get off/on at will, that runs every 30 minutes when I can ride city buses for 1Yuan per boarding and get the same deal? Besides, the Bund is not that big, a few blocks at the most. I can easily take it all in and then rest at a waterfront cafe before returning to meet my friends after their work day.
The buildings themselves were outwardly remarkable but the insides were jaw-dropping gorgeous. Most of those edifices are still in use today in the capacity that they were erected for more than 100 years ago. The most stunning was the Customs House. One enters through the original revolving door to behold mosaic tiled floors, frescoed ceilings and mellowly glowing mahogany accents. That office is currently being used as the place to register expats who come to Shanghai to study or work. Sadly, only the lobby and the office dedicated to that function were all we tourists were able to visit.
Same with Shanghai-Pudong Bank building, its lobby soaring up a full 3 stories, the walls adorned with marble and jade accents and lit by recessed skylights. There I was not allowed to prowl the teller area – a guard urged me away, and whipping out my camera seemed a definite no-no. However I am a customer of China Construction Bank and thus had privilege, which I took full advantage of.
It seems brass-accented revolving doors were the norm during the turn of the century building boom in Shanghai. Almost every lobby I ventured into gave access in this manner and my bank was no exception. The difference between my bank and others is that the interior glowed mellow green from muted lighting on pale jade. I've no doubt the jade is real. Inviting seating areas furnished with deep leather sofas, tellers counters beckoning patrons with regal armchairs... the whole atmosphere spoke of old money and new world prosperity. I'm reassured my money is safe there.
Back outside, the thought recurred: not many tourists were walking, perhaps preferring the bus. Most people I encountered on my marathon ramble through the Bund were Joes and Janes, on their way to work or going to lunch. Sightseers seemed to restrict themselves to the riverfront boardwalk. Having walked to exhaustion I decided to park myself there as well.
And then I decided to park myself somewhere else because it was just too darn hot by the water. Panting my way to the next exit from the elevated walk I couldn't help but notice the monstrous size of the coal bearing barges as well as some of the ships cruising through the river. They made an odd contrast to the financial district's glitzy skyscrapers, proving that Shanghai is first and foremost a port city.
And so I sat, in a breezy, shady area, reflecting on Shanghai. If you'll give me just a few moments, I will share those thoughts with you. However, I can tell you right now: definitely the best part was the tunnel.