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Virtual City Tour of Shanghai, China

Posted by on June 18, 2011 | Student Photography

Tree with wish markers @ Temple of Jade
Tree with Wish Markers, Temple of Jade, © Abby Robinson 2011

In this update from SVA’s digital photography summer residency, program leader Abby Robinson offers up a virtual city tour of not-to-be-missed locations in Shanghai, from the program’s tour guide Henry Hong. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A good way to segue from dazed and confused to familiar and oriented is to take a city tour with our guide, Henry Hong, who also worked with us last year. Although Shanghai is big and sprawling, it’s also comprehensible and negotiable in a fairly short time (unlike Beijing, for example, which seems to stay incomprehensible for months). And, like New York, it’s a walkable city.  Unlike New York, the metro system, while extensive, is fairly easy to understand, not to mention clean. Plus, all the street signs tell you whether you’re heading north, south, east or west. For those of us with a dicey sense of direction, that seriously cuts down on time spent getting lost.

Henry giving us information on the bus
 Tour guide Henry Hong boards the van, © Abby Robinson 2011

Henry booked a van for the following itinerary:

  • A short visit to the textile market.
  • The old town of Shanghai: a look at the last remnant of the city wall followed by Shanghai’s number one tourist attraction, the Yu Yuan Garden area bazaar. This is a kind of reconstructed, tarted up version of the traditional Qing Dynasty marketplace. A must-see once and then avoidable (except for a great dumpling restaurant and the actual Yu Yuan Garden, which is worth a return visit).
  • The Bund. This lengthy waterfront promenade gives Shanghai one of its signature skylines. The chunky, impressive and imposing buildings (dating from the turn of the century through the 1920s) were originally the bastion of foreign commercialism; then the communists booted the foreigners out and for about 50 years the area remained largely ignored and neglected.  It’s now definitely regained its prime real estate status, with swank hotels, expensive shops and fancy restaurants.
  • Lu Jia Zhui/Pudong: Shanghai’s 21st century, sci-fi looking financial district that pivots around the Oriental Pearl Tower, a space-needle-looking affair with two bulbous pink spheres. Understanding student budgets, Henry pointed out various frugal strategies for checking out the view while avoiding the Tower’s pricey observation decks. 
  • Duo Lun Lu Cultural Celebrity Street, a preserved 1920’s neighborhood where left-wing writers and literary men with progressive ideas came for academic gatherings and just to hang out.
  • A quick peek at Nan Jing Road pedestrian mall and People's Park—formerly a horse race track, now also home, as Henry pointed out, to one of Shanghai’s better “fake” markets, where you can get knock-offs of just about any product you can think of, and sometimes knock-offs of products that don’t even exist. Last year someone tried to sell me a mini iPhone. The awkward stylus feature and the fact that the little Apple logo sticker was a bit aslant blew any claim it had to authenticity.
  • Lunch at a local place that served Shanghai-style steamed dumplings (xiao long bao). Quite yummy, and we seemed to provide entertainment for all the Chinese people eating there. I made sure Henry wrote down its name in Mandarin on one of the restaurant’s flyers so all we have to do is show the address to a cab driver if we want to go back. Otherwise, I’m afraid finding it again would be hopeless.
  • Shanghai’s most famous temple, named for its very beautiful carved jade Buddha brought to Shanghai from Burma
  • Xing Tian Di in the former French concession, an old area which was recently given a very successful facelift. The shikumen style architecture has been preserved on the outside, while the interiors have been reconfigured into shops and restaurants. Ironically, this now “hot” area is also where thirteen men held the first national congress of China’s Communist Party on July 1, 1921 (which means the party celebrates its 90th anniversary this year). We also went to check out the nearby Shikumen Open House Museum to get a better idea of what a typical house in the area once looked like.
  • Our last stop: Tian Zi Fang, an area that Henry likens to Soho. Originally, this was an area where artists could afford to have studios; but then, just like its New York counterpart, the neighborhood got gentrified, rents skyrocketed and now there are far more shops than artists. But it’s a fun place to roam around and shop. 

There were, obviously, lots of opportunities throughout the day to photograph. Which means now people have some new images along with some idea of where things are in relation to where we live. Class officially starts tomorrow, after which we’ll have an idea of what students have been photographing in the past, so we can move on to the future. Let the shooting begin…

Paving Celebrity Street with new cobblestones
Paving Celebrity Street with New Cobblestones, © Abby Robinson 2011