The Bund in Shanghai
Shanghai has just completed its renovation of The Bund, the heart of so many great sea stories from the 1930's and the memory of a fairly shameful colonial past. It was because of this, that we took a weekend trip to Shanghai.
We had some smaller goals too. One of these is to get a feeling directly of the confidence, energy and assertiveness of average Chinese folks including the masses of farmers that came in government supported tours to see this amazing city.
As for the Bund, the renovations to this relic of the era of Conrad and Kipling and the great Tai Pans of the 19th century has turned what must have been a scungy nightmare of a waterfront into a celebration of a past. That history might embarrass a few now, but at the time, Shanghai was the talk of the world up through the 1930's as the international standard in sin, sex, drugs and gang warfare.
The new waterfront was reopened in March 2010 and it is a triumph of how a city can reach not only out to its history, but rediscover a waterfront that was virtually lost for any useful purpose and somewhat of a sewer by any standard.
From this history, the Bund in Shanghai has a wealth of western architecture heritage buildings that once housed banks and trading houses from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan. There was the Shanghai Club, a newspaper and the Masonic Lodge and the usual Pony Club to keep the Sahibs busy.
With the Japanese invasion in the late 1930s, and then the victory of the Communists over the nationalist Government in 1949, the Bund was cleared of its colonial figures and the hotels, financial and trading houses which dotted the Huangpu River were converted into other uses or just left to rot. It was also cleared of elements like the Green Gang that had given it the reputation as one of the world's most evil cities dominated by drugs, crime and gang rule.
After the opening of the People's Republic of China to the world, the Bund was gradually returned to house financial institutions, hotels, high end trading houses and centers of trade. A revitalization program started with a stunning promenade designed by the Dutch architect, Paulus Snoeren.
In the immediate past, ramping up to Expo, a major reconfiguration of the traffic flow and the addition of marginal lawns carefully maintained everyday, made the Bund a place to be.
When you walk through the promenade at night, you will find wedding photo-ops all over the place, bus tours from the boonies and thousands of the happiest people I've seen in a long time.
The Bund now looks like a magical place to spend the evening when you're in Shanghai.
With a spanking new ferry and tourist boat terminal, the Huang Pu now has more tourist boats than the Zambezi has hippos, and at night, the tourist cruisers outdo each other in a massive light display that establishes whole new definitions of tacky!
The mix of colours makes an Indian bazaar look solemn and just when you think it can't fall further, sparklers and flashes and racing twinkly lights give a new, more extreme standard for Las Vegas.
When 4 or 5 of these monsters get nose to tail, it's best not to have had dinner! It was a spectacle enjoyed by us from our hotel window with a soothing glass of wine.
Welcome back, The Bund. Your dubious history has been somewhat scrubbed but if you squint carefully, you might just see a gang of thieves "shanghai-ing" a collapsed sailor or a great winged four master slipping into a wharf with the smell of the sea and tar and dappled cargoes. It is a fabulous centre piece to what once again is among the world's great cities, Shanghai.
Our 3 day peek at The Bund in Shanghai left us with the desire to stay longer and return. I've always thought it would be wonderful to visit Shanghai and see what remained of the city I have only read about in novels.
For readers who are interested, here are two novels I would recommend:
What a magical experience it was to hide away in splendour to enjoy the Imperial cuisine or stroll along the almost 2 kilometres of old and new stores and see the new Shanghai with its mass of people laughing, smiling and inviting us to dance with them in the public squares making us a little less apprehensive about China. After a few days if "the revenge of the tidbits" get to you...you can head to Pizza Hut!
Have you been to The Bund in Shanghai? What has been your experience?
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“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard