Day 30: Shanghai – the Past, the Present, and the Future.

Government and politics in China are centered in Beijing, but Shanghai is the heart of business and commercial activities. That was apparent right away when I stepped off the high-speed train and once again found myself in the middle of a huge, new train station.

Shanghai is a city of striking contrasts. For instance, there are a number of classic old buildings, most from the early 1900s, that were built by the French or the British or the Germans, all early colonizers of this city.

But turn 180 degrees and there, right across the Yangtze river, are some of the more spectacular examples of dramatic modern architecture you’ll find anywhere in the world. That building with the rectangular opening at the top is the 1614-foot tall Shanghai World Financial Center, a mixed-use structure that contains office space, shopping malls and, from the 79th to the 93rd floors, the Park Hyatt Hotel. By the way, and no doubt to the dismay of the building’s architect and owners, it’s universally referred to as “the bottle opener” by the locals.

Next, if you turn around again and walk a few blocks past the main thoroughfare, you’ll find yourself in one of the many older parts of town, still looking like it has for a great many years – charming, comfortable, and moving at a pace that seems to be much more leisurely than the rest of the city.

My guide, Jean Liu, led me around a corner, down an alley and through a side door into a noisy, crowded market where, even in the middle of the afternoon, local people were shopping for that night’s dinner.

I had expected bustling markets and skyscrapers in Shanghai, with lots of people hurrying here and there. I did not expect to find tranquil parks, beautifully designed and meticulously maintained.

Back across the river and away from the financial district, with all its big-name chain hotels and office towers and international conglomerates is the real heart of this city of some 23 million … stores and shops and businesses of every kind, with taxis, delivery vans and vehicles of every possible type stopping, starting, honking and zipping about, usually at breakneck speeds. It only takes a few hours to realize that this has to be one of the most vibrant cities in the world … and most definitely worth another visit.

Next: A very short, very fast maglev train ride.