Travel Happiness: China: A Tale of Two Cities
China: A Tale of Two Cities
Amidst the enormity of the fourth largest country in the world and indisputably the most populated, two massive, teeming cities welcome you with polar contrasting landscapes. Shanghai and Beijing are yin and yang in many respects, but they both accept visitors with open arms and provide a unique glimpse into the past and future of China.
SHANGHAI: Shanghai sits on the Yangtze River delta midway on China's Pacific coastline, halfway between Beijing and Hong Kong. The city stands as a monument to commerce and urban life with futuristic-looking high rises sprouting around the few remaining historic areas and buildings--many of which were constructed in the 19th century when the British, French, and Americans carved the city into concessions. The old city--with its international cosmopolitan flair--was referred to as the Paris of the East. Today's Shanghai, called the Pearl of the Orient, is more reminiscent of the hustle and bustle of New York City.
You can get a true sense of the old and the new with a visit to the area known as the Bund along Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, the curving waterfront boulevard fronting the Huangpu River. The Bund gives visitors a true sense of Shanghai in the early 20th century, when entrepreneurs and governments from across the globe erected buildings in a variety of architectural styles.
Across the river, visitors are transported from the past to the future as they set their eyes on the Pudong New Area, home to the Oriental Pearl Tower, the tallest tower in China; the Jinmao Tower, the world's tallest hotel; and the first commercial magnetic levitation train.
This former farmland is still a "green zone" because it's quickly becoming the financial, economic, and commercial center of Asia. Pudong is also home to museums, an ocean aquarium, and a riverside promenade that provides stunning views of the Bund, especially spectacular at night as a neon cacophony of colors light up the evening sky.
While Shanghai is a symbol of the new China, some of the city's best attractions have links to the past. Not far from the Bund, for example, is the historic Yu Garden, now filled with shops and eateries. The garden, built in 1559 with an intricate design and layout, is a peaceful respite from the fast pace of the city. At every turn in this relatively small hideaway, there's something to be discovered, making a walk through this cozy grove feel more like a stroll through a large park. Just outside the garden, several souvenir shops filled with Chinese treasures. The first rule in China: the first price quoted is never the one to pay. In fact, most items are purchased for as much as 80 percent off what the sellers quote as the "starting" price.
For those who fancy themselves bargaining experts and are in the market for knock-off versions of designer watches, clothing, bags, and the like, the Xiangyang Market is the place to visit. If you prefer to leave the bargaining to others need not worry since sophisticated Shanghai offers world-class shopping with the "real" designer stores located along Nanjing Xi Lu, the Shanghai version of Rodeo Drive or New York's Fifth Avenue.
And what would a top-rated city be without culture? Surrounding The People's Square--the city's largest public meeting space--clients will find theaters and museums, as well as the Grand Theater, home to the famed Shanghai Acrobats where onlookers marvel at the "Cirque du Soleil"-type feats performed by the talented company. The Shanghai Museum, which houses Chinese antiquities, and the Shanghai Art Museum are all centrally located near the People's Square.
BEIJING: Beijing sprawls across a landscape deeply rooted in the history that shaped it. A visit to China would not be complete without experiencing all that Beijing has to offer. The Northern Capital (literally translated) was the center of feudal China until the early 20th century. Today it continues to serve as the country's capital.
Here, there are scores of historical--and tourist-friendly--attractions that are definite must-sees. In the city center sits Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square and the very heart of the country. The Mao Zedong Memorial Hall sits on the south end of the square, flanked on either side by The Great Hall of the People--the home of China's legislative body--and the China National Museum.
Walking from Memorial Hall, visitors can look to the skies and follow the beautiful Chinese kites to the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the iconic entrance to The Forbidden City with its larger-than-life portrait of Chairman Mao. The centerpiece of China's Imperial past, this breathtaking palace imparts a feeling of royalty throughout. As travelers stroll through the numerous courtyards and halls, they will truly get a sense of the importance that China bestowed on its ruler through two dynasties and 24 emperors.
Reminders of China's spiritual and philosophical roots can also be found throughout the city. Three of particular to note are The Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, and The Temple of Confucius.
Not only does Beijing proper provide a wealth of sights, the areas surrounding the capital are ideal for day trips. To see where the emperors, empresses, concubines, and eunuchs spent the hot summer days, a journey to the exquisite Summer Palace is in order. And, of course, travelers can't say they've really been to China until they've seen the Great Wall. The Great Wall at Badaling is probably the most visited site in the country and is conveniently located near the Ming Tombs to make for a full day of sightseeing.
While Shanghai dashes into the future and basks in the light of commerce, Beijing is steadily catching up as it readies for the 2008 Olympic Games. Preparations are already well under way to house the Games', spectators, athletes, and events. Facilities and transportation are being upgraded, modern hotels, housing, and shopping malls are being constructed, public areas are being beautified, historical attractions are undergoing restorations, and a new highway with easier access from the airport is being built.
China is a very popular destination and we have plenty of excellent tour operators conducting Tours and Cruises in China.
Art Richards is the owner of Richards World Travel, Inc. in Hagerstown. (www.richardsworldtravel.com)