We left Xi’an this morning on our way to Shanghai, traveling by high speed train again.
Driving in on our tour bus, I could tell that Shanghai is the most western city we’ve visited yet by far. Coming from Xi’an, a smaller city of only eight million residents, to Shanghai, city of approximately twenty-four million residents, was a big change, but Beijing prepared us for the “big-city” feel earlier on in the trip. Despite having a higher population than Beijing, however, from what I saw driving in, Shanghai seems to be the more concentrated city of the two with a definite skyline. There were considerably fewer bikes and mopeds visible, unlike Beijing. Our tour guide explained that, in order to control the traffic problem with such a high population, licenses are allocated based on a lottery system with 4 out of 100 people being chosen each month to have the opportunity to purchase a license for $15,000 USD. Interestingly, this $15,000 fee is waived if the driver operates a hybrid vehicle, one of the city’s attempts to cut down on pollution in favor of hybrid electric vehicles which consume less gasoline. Furthermore, in this way, the city limits the number of drivers on the road during peak times. The drivers with the Shanghai license are identified by the first character on their license plate. It would be interesting to see whether the city faces a theft problem with these license plates as they are not only a high demand commodity, but they’re also accessible on the back of cars.
We paid a visit to the Shanghai museum shortly after arriving at the hotel and had the opportunity to learn about the history of the city through a series of wax figure displays, all of which were very realistic. The Opium Wars, French concession, and British concession were featured in this historic account, and we could see the foreign influence on the architecture in the city and the divide between rich and poor that resulted. My favorite part of the museum was their use of projectors to project motion images of people going about their daily lives into 3D structures they created of typical Chinese houses. In this way, the museum was able to bring the daily life of those living in Shanghai two centuries ago to life in a way that just wax sculptures and sound effects alone couldn’t.
This evening we enjoyed my favorite meal of the trip so far at a restaurant overlooking the Bund on the Huangpu river. My favorite dishes included lettuce in a peanut and sesame sauce and sticky rice in a sweet syrup. For the first time in this trip we found only western style bathrooms in the mall, another sign that Shanghai is a more westernized city than the others we have visited so far.
After dinner our Huangpu river cruise gave us the chance to see the Shanghai skyline unobstructed and it was very impressive. My only disappointment was that we couldn’t spend longer on the river cruise, as I’m sure I could have spent much more time taking in the skyline without growing bored. As such, my first impressions of Shanghai have set the bar very high for the week to come!