I’m a small town boy. My home village is not blessed with single hospital, nor train station, nor shopping mall. And the skyline is such that a tall person standing on the shoulders of another tall person would probably constitute a skyscraper. So when, on occasion, I find my yokel self meandering by chance in to a large town or city, with a straw between my teeth and fresh manure on my hobnailed boots, I always feel a little out of place. Imagine then, my opinion and first impressions of Shanghai. It takes a city like Shanghai to remind a person what the word ‘city’ really means. Tall buildings, bright lights, traffic, noise, and multitudes of people, Shanghai is the undisputed grandpappy of all these things. Ask a person to name a large modern city and nine times out of ten, they’ll say New York City. These people are, of course, fools. Throw the island of Manhattan at Shanghai and Shanghai will swallow it whole and burp.
With over 25 million people, not including the outlying districts and suburbs, Shanghai is the most populous city proper in the world, and over the last two decades, all of China’s phenomenal construction and engineering expertise has been brought to bare in turning this marshy port town in to a genuine world-beater.
They have succeeded.
What best represents a modern city to you?
Skyscrapers? – It’s got them, from the iconic and space age Pearl Tower to the newly completed Shanghai Tower (The second tallest structure in the world, if you’re interested).
Transport network? How does an underground metro system with 14 lines and 364 stations suit you? It is, after all, the largest mass transport system in the world. No? You prefer to travel above ground? Then the high-speed bullet train is for you, and runs from all four of the city’s major train stations. And if even that is a little sluggish for you, there’s always the Maglev, which will whisk you along at a healthy 430kmph supported on a frictionless cushion of electromagnetic energy (or for the laymen; it hovers and flies through the power of magic and sorcery).
Food scene? Nightlife? Museums? Swanky hotels? Check, check, check and check. There’s enough to keep you entertained, fed, and skint for a hundred lifetimes of man.
But what Shanghai really has, what leaves a country fellow like me wide eyed with wonder, is people.
It’s like a river. That’s the only analogy I could see, as I sat by the widow of a cafe on the 6th floor of shopping mall above a major thoroughfare, to spectate on humanity as a single entity. It moves and behaves like a river. It rushes through narrow passes, it pools, slows and circles around points of interest, and it breaks and cascades around obstacles. Watching the lights turn green at a large crossing point was like witnessing a dam wall collapse, as the seething masses surged forwards in to flood and overspill.
We’re in Shanghai to begin our Viking River tour, covering ‘China’s Cultural Delights’ (expect many articles and photos over the next few weeks covering our experiences on this tour) and to be honest, I hadn’t really considered Shanghai to be a part of the tour, more of a convenient airport and meeting point, before moving on to the parts of the tour that had really interested me, like the river cruise, the three gorges dam, the terracotta army, and the great wall. But to my surprise, the city left quite an impression. In fact, it caused me to redefine the word ‘city’ in my mind. Nothing else is a ‘City’ now. Only this.
New York City? – New York Village. Mexico City? – Mexico Hamlet. And London? Pffft. Naught but a few grubby shacks beside the river Thames.
As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t live in Shanghai, you’re all country bumpkins like me.
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