Friday, December 7, 2007

Impressions of Shanghai

Don't come to Shanghai to learn about Chinese history—go to Beijing or Xi'an for that. Shanghai is about business. In this city of 18 million capitalism and communism are bound into a vibrant combination. Traveling from the airport to your hotel you can board the fastest commercial train in the world (peak speed of 267 mph) and experience first hand that China doesn't shy away from technology. What impresses me the most about Shanghai is the skyline. Already home to the 6th highest building in the world the 2nd highest is already at its full height and is being fleshed out. These monster buildings don't really stand out because there are so many skyscrapers—there are more than 140 buildings over 300 feet tall. Far from being cookie-cutter boxes almost every building has a unique top or feature—adding an artistic element absent in modern western cities.

The Chinese government has embraced a free market economy in the sense that advertising is pervasive and the selection of things to buy, and eat is huge—but the communist system is still there. Gas prices are mandated and neighborhoods are leveled to make room for new buildings. With some things deemed undesirable a hybrid approach is used; rather than ban things, the government makes it very expensive. For example, a dog license within the city limits is 2000 RMB (approx $270) annually—which is more than many people make in a month. Asking people if they have brothers or sisters is at best an awkward question because in 1979 China implemented a one child policy. In urban areas couples having more than one child can be heavily fined—so many of the younger professionals don't have siblings

I don't know how the Chinese government has managed to fuse a free market economy with communism, but it clearly works for business.

Guidebooks, Hotel, Nearby Restaurant's

  • A guide book with a good overall balance of content: Fodor's Shanghai
  • Hotels
    • In my recent visits to Shanghai I have only stayed at the Intercontinental—which is in the Pudong area of the city. It is a 5 star hotel that typically runs in the $150 to $200 per night range—depending on corporate discounts, time of year, etc. I recommend it. The rooms are elegant and clean, the exercise center is good, and if you want a big breakfast you are in luck. Sometimes the breakfast is included in the room price, other times it is extra (over $15). The breakfast buffet includes American, European, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines and it is first rate stuff. The line 2 subway has a stop Shiji Avenue only about a quarter of a mile away so it is convenient for commuting, or getting to/from the airport.
  • Restaurants within walking distance of the Intercontinental that I recommend
    • Charme Casual family oriented restaurant
      Shanghai Uncle
      Wagas Not a gourmet meal, but if you just want something western it's decent and has a good atmosphere
    • Starbucks—pastries for breakfast are good. They don't open up until after 7:30AM (really!)

Tourist stuff

  • Shanghai Acrobats When I saw it years ago it was excellent
  • The Bund (Pedestrian walkway, tourist zone on both banks of the Huangpu River)
  • Day trips Hangzhou

Recommended Resturants & Bars

  • The Bin Jang One on the east side of the Bund. Check out the snow bar. They give you a parka before you go in...
  • Cloud 9 -- Supposedly the highest bar in the world (~ 120 RMB minimum)
  • Tapas Bar Spanish Tapas (in the French Concession)

Travel Hints

  • Airport to town: Maglev train (show your boarding pass or travel itinerary and get a discount in either direction) Buy a one way ticket, the round-trip is only valid for one day
    Town to Airport: Maglev terminal is at Longyang Road stop on the line 2 subway

  • For traveling on the subway get a "Shanghai Public Transportation Card". You charge these up with money--maybe 50 RMB, (a typical ride might cost 10 RMB) and just wave them over the turnstiles when entering / exiting. You can't share them. The fare is automatically deducted and it shows you how much money you have left. Obtain these at the information counters.