Inner Circle

Never Less Than Impressed

Yeoh Siew Hoon on Shanghai’s ever-changing shape and tastes.

Never Less Than Impressed
On one side, the grand historic buildings stand as tall and proud as they always have; and on the other, a lovely promenade showcasing great views of mighty Pudong offers a different perspective.

I still remember the day, many years ago, when a senior Shangri-La executive told me about the big new hotel they were building in Shanghai. He painted such a vivid picture of this tall building rising from the rice fields of Pudong that it made me want to visit the hotel as soon as it opened.

And so when Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai opened, I was among its first guests. I was gobsmacked, not only by the grandeur of the hotel, but also by the sheer scale of everything around it – it seemed as though it had arisen from nothing overnight. 

I still experience this feeling each time I visit Shanghai. Even if it’s been less than a year since my last visit, the change of pace is so fast that it always feels like I’ve been away longer. Some say that what usually takes 10 years elsewhere takes only a year in China…

There was a slight drizzle the day I arrived. The air was hazy, but lovely and cool – a nice change from the humidity and heat of home. It’s good to see Shanghai’s landscaping attempts so that the eye is not only confronted with high-rise after high-rise on the drive from the airport, but also with bursts of colour.

I never tire of walking along The Bund – it’s akin to a walk down Champs Elysees in Paris or Fifth Avenue in New York. It gives you a sense that you’re part of something grand and historic. I noticed some beautification with more flowers and greenery this time. On one side, the grand historic buildings stand as tall and proud as they always have; and on the other, a lovely promenade showcasing great views of mighty Pudong offers a different perspective. 

To think there was nothing there before; now Shanghai’s buildings seem to touch the sky, while giant neon-lit billboards declare the consumer power China has become. Nanjing Road is a constant reminder as every foreign brand’s store here is larger than any other Asian city. 

Nanjing Road is filled with tourists, again mainly domestic travellers. I met a group of Indonesians on an incentive trip, for many of whom it was their first trip to Shanghai.

“It’s so big,” one told me when I stopped to ask what he thought of the city. “And the roads are so wide. The traffic, though, same as Jakarta,” he laughed. (What’s different, though, is the train service from the airport to the city – it’s fast and efficient. Beats taking a car.)

What’s different, too, is that each time I visit, I am told of new restaurants I simply must try. This time round, it’s Mr & Mrs Bund, described as a “Modern Eatery by Paul Pairet.” Pairet is playful with his food. One of the signature dishes is “Lobster in a Jar,” in which the crustacean comes curled up in a glass jar, steamed with citrus, vanilla and lemongrass. The eatery’s rooftop treats you to a spectacular view of the Bund and the Pudong skyline at night.

But one of my favourite haunts is Tianzifang, a former residential and factory area transformed into an artsy district housing bars, cafes, crafts shops, design studios, galleries and boutiques. I like wandering among the old Shikumen houses (stone-framed door houses) and the lanes. 

Invariably, I always get lost among the alleyways, but that’s part of the fun. And, invariably, I always end up buying more than I had planned to – but, again, that’s part of the fun. Allow yourself to be carried away by the moment – it’s very easy to do in an ever-changing city like Shanghai.

And I’m sure there’ll be even more changes next time I visit. I can’t wait to check out the new Jing An Shangri-La West Shanghai

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