Shanghai - Pudong Future World

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Monday, July 23, 2007

Pudong is the land directly across the Huangpu River from the Bund in Shanghai, the nearest part of which is contained within a bend of the river from which the rest of it radiates outward. As recently as 20 years ago the land east of the Huangpu was Shanghai's agricultural and industrial hinterland but was made a center of commercial development when the powers that be in the Communist Party decided that Shanghai was destined to become the business center of East Asia.  Some of the famous new sights of Shanghai are in this area, including the strange-looking Oriental Pearl TV Tower directly across the river from the Bund, the Jin Mao Building (currently 5th tallest in the world), and the Shanghai World Financial Center under construction next door, which when completed will temporarily be the world's tallest building until an even taller one in Dubai is finished.

Pudong, though, is not only the downtown business district of incredible skyscrapers directly across the river from the Bund.  Beyond the first row of skyscrapers stretch miles of brand spanking new city with a spacious, controlled orderliness that contrasts greatly with the frenzied atmosphere in the older parts of Shanghai.

While it sometimes seems like half of China is under construction, nothing prepares you for the airplane window like view over Shanghai from the observation floor of the Jin Mao Building.  The spectacular new skyscrapers in Pudong and elsewhere in Shanghai are almost all crowned with unique tops resembling turrets, spires, crowns, sails, grills, fans, and other forms of ornamentation, in contrast to American skylines dominated mostly by the mid-twentieth century rectangular glass boxes of the International style.  Unlike the so-called post-modernist style that has caught on in the U.S. since the 1980s, Chinese skyscrapers borrow nothing from historical styles either.  Perhaps the type of otherwordly futurism that has overtaken Chinese cities will one day be looked upon as something characteristically Chinese.

Pudong is an urban planner's dream and an opportunity for them to exercise creativity on a monumental scale, and as someone who likes to draw up designs for fantasy cities a dream of mine as well.  As far as I can tell, though, Pudong's designers were influenced by existing cities, most notably Paris and London.  Although different in its modernity, Century Boulevard, Pudong's central axis which extends several miles southeast from a park surrounded by skyscrapers near the TV Tower, resembles an unfinished Champs Elysees, ending at a large perdestrian plaza on the same axis.  This plaza lies between the enormous Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology and a glass exhibition center and somewhat resembles the axis of La Defense outside Paris.  This axis ends a short distance further at the very large and meticulously landscaped Century Park, a recreational center with fountains, lawns, serpentine lakes, and an amusement park, which is surrounded by highrise commercial and posh residential areas and bears some resemblance to London's Hyde Park and New York's Central Park.  Still farther to the southeast are the Expo Center where the 2010 Shanghai World Exhibition will be held, the Shanghai Technology Center, and the MagLev train station to the airport.

I was tempted to pay the modest admission fee at the enormous Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology, as much to see more of the building as to view the exhibits it houses.  However, the 5,000 screaming children I encountered around the T-Rex and Brontosaurus fossils in the lobby were about all my nerves could take, so I limited visit to the fantastic Pan-Asian food court on the first floor.

Just for kicks, though, I decided to take the MagLev train to the airport.  Shanghai's maglev is the only functioning train of its type in the world, hovering over its track through a system of magnets, and also the world's fastest at a top speed of 431 km/hour.  Traveling at an almost jet plane like speed at ground level had all the thrill of a roller coaster ride.  I had no real business at Pudong Airport but thought I'd take a look around what is destined to become the world's busiest airport by 2025 (if you are inclined to believe what the exhibits in the Urban Planning Museum say) while I was there.

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