24 hours in Shanghai
Written by Christopher St. Cavish Illustration by Fernando Volken Togni
In the 20s and 30s, Shanghai was the Pearl of the Orient, a city of wealth, decadence, and outrageous nightlife. Its citizens were as international as its reputation, but the rise of Communism following the end of World War II put an end to all that. For the second half of the century, Shanghai lay dormant.
In the 90s, the central government began rehabilitating Shanghai, rapidly transforming it from slumbering city to financial capital. A forest of skyscrapers now squares off with the imposing colonial fa?ades of the Bund, Shanghai’s historic waterfront. The legendary nightlife has returned in force, and in myriad forms; in 2009, a one-time Shinto shrine reopened as a burlesque club.
The city invested US$45 billion to overhaul its infrastructure, ahead of hosting the 2010 World Expo. May to October will see an estimated 70 million tourists flock to Shanghai to take part, and the city has been busily adding subway lines, sprucing up buildings, and polishing tourist sites. Add to that a raft of technological and architectural superlatives, and China’s best shopping and dining, and you have China’s most modern and exciting city.
An international license is not enough. You need to get a Chinese permit, and a short exam (quite easy). Leave the driving to the taxis.
The subway system is efficient, comprehensive – and mostly brand-new. Stations are marked in English, and single-way fares are 3-6 RMB.
While extensive, the ‘language’ of Shanghai’s bus system is almost entirely Chinese. Forget it. Taxis and the subway are easier to navigate.
The streets of the former French Concession are pleasant to stroll; the narrow lanes around People’s Square are hectic but interesting. Otherwise, cab it.
Where none existed just 15 years ago, an extensive subway system now criss-crosses Shanghai. A high-speed magnetic levitation train whips passengers from Pudong Airport to an outlying subway station at speeds of up to 430kph. Still, for tourists, taxis are king. With 150 companies operating some 45,000 taxis in myriad colours, they are plentiful and cheap, and should be used with abandon. One catch: drivers don’t speak English. Always keep your hotel’s business card on hand, and ask the concierge to write your destination in Chinese. Traffic is chaotic and taxi fares start at just 14 RMB (16 RMB from 11pm-5am).