SHANGHAI – It didn't take long to realize this is a very different city than Beijing. Coming in from the airport on the elevated highway, things didn’t look all that dissimilar. But a couple minutes later, as we cruised past narrow streets lined with plane trees and eager shoppers along Nanjing Rd., it was pretty obvious that Shanghai and Beijing are as different as Ottawa and Toronto.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Beijing or Ottawa, or that I mean to really compare vast Beijing with relatively puny Ottawa. They’re both fine spots in their own way. But Shanghai clearly pulses to a different beat than its northerly rival. It’s far more Western in style and attitude from what I’ve seen, and I haven’t had time yet to check either the Bund or the French Concession. Yet it’s still plenty Chinese, with its multitude of cyclists and narrow alleyways and temples and general sense of barely controlled frenzy.
My friendly and extremely helpful tour guide, Joshua, took the afternoon Wednesday to take me for a fine Szechuan lunch at the Chongqing Cygnet, then arranged a tour of the Expo 2010 site.
It’s still a bit – well, a lot – of a mess, with thousands upon thousands of workers breaking up rocks and planting trees and laying down landscaping and such. Some buildings look to be still under major construction, while other pavilions appear to have been finished for some time. Canada seems to be about average in terms of preparedness.
It’s a massive, massive site (5.28 square kilometers) and will take folks a good hour to walk from end to another; maybe more. And that’s only one side of the Hangpu River; there’s more on the other shore. I didn’t see any of the latest Expos, but the Chinese version, which starts May 1 and goes to the end of October, should return World’s Fairs to their formerly rightful place. If you think Beijing went big on the Olympics, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The China pavilion (see photo with folks having their picture taken) is lovely. And the Holland pavilion is shaped like a giant yellow tulip, which seems perfect.
The Shanghai tourism folks put me up for the night at the Pei Mansion, the former home of legendary architect I.M. Pei. It’s a stunning boutique property with just 25 rooms, a block off Nanjing Rd. but a world away with its lovely garden (not quite finished) and luxurious rooms.
They’ve added all the mod cons, of course, including a toilet that I still haven’t figured out. There appears to be a spray device for just about all your nether regions, not to mention a seat warmer and a dryer. These are not uncommon in Japan but I’d never used one before. Notwithstanding the toilet seat is automatic and seems to go up every time I walk past the toilet, it’s pretty interesting.
Mind you, they're only in the soft opening phase and there are some glitches. Nobody answered the phone when I called the front desk the first three times this morning to get my Internet fixed, and they just delivered my breakfast from room service. I asked for western style and they brought a tuna sandwich and a cafe latte with chocolate. A nice looking sandwich but that ain't breakfast anywhere in the west, folks.
Anyway, I can go find a croissant or something nearby, so no harm. And the rooms are awesome; a combination of Chinese design with French brocaids and dark, polished furniture that looks to be from the 1920’s or 1930’s Very solid and very quiet considering it's right between Nanijing Rd. and Beijing Rd. in a very busy part of town.
They have an acrobatic show in the north part of the city called ERA, partly designed by a Canadian who used to work with Cirque du Soleil, that’s pretty damned good. It combines traditional Chinese acrobatic work with some razzle-dazzle lighting and other effects and features everything from a guy who can toss huge, ceramic pots in the air and have them land safely on the back of his neck or his head, a series of acrobats who jump and tumble en masse through moving figure eight symbols and, at the end, eight lighted motorbikes roaring upside down, sideways and in all directions inside a small, metallic globe.
Pretty damned good.
There are, of course, drawbacks to working in China. I thought it might just be my Blackberry, but I couldn't use it to get onto Twitter yesterday. And I see now that Twitter won't come up on my laptop either. I remember at the Beijing Olympics I had to go into my virtual private network at the Star to read some sites the Chinese government didn't want me to see, so I can only imagine that they've put the kybosh to Twitter, as well. I've tried by VPN at the office but we're going through a system change and I can't get it to work, so no Tweets for me for a few days.
I did, however, send a photo to twitpic so I'll try doing that again and hope it works.
Got work to do and breakfast to find, folks, so that's it for now. I will leave you with one parting thought. In case you've never seen just how fancy an Asian toilet can be, here's what I get to choose from in terms of "toilet treatments.
JIM'S DEALS OF THE DAY