I’ve been to a lot of airports and at this point, they rarely feature something that I’ve never seen before.
Not so in Shanghai. I have travelled from airports to downtown in buses, minibuses, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis, trams, trains, metros, rental cars and I have even walked. But never by Maglev (from MAGnetic LEVitation). The $1.2 billion Maglev covers the 30.5 km between Pudong International Airport and a metro station close to the centre of Shanghai. Since the airport was already served by the metro, the project makes no business sense at all. However, it was never meant to, it’s an experiment. In fact, the service is formally called the “Shanghai Maglev Demonstration Operation Line”.
The benefit for travellers: airport to downtown in 8 minutes. 431 km/h is by far the fastest I have ever travelled on land. Very cool, although a little noisier than I expected, considering the train doesn’t touch the rails at all. It is one of only 3 commercial maglevs in the world, and is the fastest regular train service in the world, all technologies included (many trains, maglevs, TGV, etc, have gone faster, but only in tests and on experimental tracks).
This is what 431 km/h looked like from my window. The video doesn’t really do it justice, but towards the end you can see that some very large industrial buildings are going by in a fraction of a second.
In Eastern Canada where I am from, a carpet of red or yellow leaves is a perfectly normal sight in the Fall. But because of all the travelling, I realized I had not seen this in 2 years. And I had forgotten how beautiful it can be.
Measuring cities is always a difficult business (where do they stop?), but by most measures, Shanghai is the largest city in the world. Of the 197 countries in the United Nations, about 147 have a population smaller than Shanghai’s staggering total of 24 million people!
It’s iconic skyline is usually very photogenic, except when a mixture of fog and smog rolls in. A few weeks before, I had been to the second highest observation platform in the world, on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. I was now planning to go on the highest, located on top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the building which looks a bit like a bottle opener, with a smaller building on each side. The taller building on the right is the 121 storey Shanghai Tower, due to be complete this year and the second highest building in the world. However, waiting in line and paying a bundle to see smog from up close didn’t seem like a good idea.
I didn’t have to go to any altitude to realize that I wouldn’t see very far from the platform.
A city of contrast: from the People’s Park, some church with the Tomorrow Square tower in the background.
Shanghai’s iconic modern skyline is located in the district of Pudong. The best place to watch it from is the colonial district called The Bund. Remove the Chinese flags and you could easily think you are in Europe. Until the construction of the towers of Pudong, this area was the symbol of Shanghai. The clock tower is called Big Ching and it sits atop the old customs building. Historically, the area was an international settlement, housing European and American banks, trading houses, consulates and other such international institutions. Today the waterfront area is a major touristic attraction and an architecturally protected area, where the construction of skyscrapers is not authorized.
Right next to The Bund is the Old Town, inside the walls of ancient Shanghai. While certainly beautiful, the area is much too touristy for me. Shop owners trying to get you into their stores and touts of all kinds are a common sight in many places around the world, but in general they are not that common in China; except here (and around the Forbidden City in Beijing).
While authenticity has been maintained, a close-up look will reveal some concessions to modernity! I was hoping to go to the most famous soup dumpling restaurant in Shanghai, after my friend Rachel had introduced me to the delicacy in Singapore. Unfortunately, the place is just too popular and it looked like I would be waiting an hour, even for take-out!
In the core of the city you will find the enormous Shanghai Museum. While a lot of it is under renovation, it still has an impressive collection of local artifacts.
Very comfortable looking pillow from the 1st or 2nd century BC.
And this very unusual currency, used by Northern ethnic minorities between 770 and 221 BC.
I have to say Shanghai is a city I will absolutely have to revisit. The fact that it rained most of the time certainly discouraged me from visiting everything I wanted to see. Also – and I am now revealing how late I am in my blog – I was about to fly back to Canada for Christmas and in my mind, this 5 month trip through Africa and Asian was sort of over.
So I grabbed a few chicken feet from the vending machine and started the long trip back to Canada, where I was greeted by an ice storm…