My Shanghai Story: the arrival of Spring

8 05 2014

The arrival of Spring, Spring Airlines that is, did spring me a pleasant surprise. That came in the form of an to, quite literally as it did turn out, soak Shanghai up over a weekend, the weekend that coincided with the launch of the Shanghai based Low Cost Carrier’s Shanghai to Singapore route.

The iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai - a pleasant Spring surprise that did await me.

A survivor from the treaty port era of Shanghai, the iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai – a Spring surprise that awaited me in Shanghai.

The launch of the route, coupled with the no-frills carrier’s attractive fares (overall, Spring’s fares are said to be some 30% below their competitors), does make Shanghai, just five hours away, a rather appealing destination for that short break away from Singapore.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

Spring, which was founded in 2005 and operates a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft – one of the world’s youngest fleets, sells its tickets directly through their website and mobile apps. Flying over 50 routes, which are mostly domestic, it does have offer several international destinations in Japan, with the latest offering being Singapore.

A high-five to Spring.

A high-five to Spring.

More than any other city in China, Shanghai has a fascinating mix of the vestiges of what was a rather colourful past together with the emblems of its current renaissance driven by its position as the financial centre of a booming land of opportunity. Within easy reach of several other popular culturally rich destinations such as Suzhou and Hangzhou and several water towns, Shanghai does seem to have it all for the traveller, whether on a short break or on a lengthier trip. A big plus is the excellent public transport network does make travelling to many of its attractions quite a breeze. In its shops, cafés, and eateries, ranging from the trendy to the traditional, as well as its bazaars and markets, it does have an appeal for many especially so from Singapore.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

I had two full days at my disposal. While that didn’t quite give me enough time to fully appreciate what the city and its environs did have to offer, the Shanghai I did see, even on what did turn out to be a rain soaked weekend, did have a huge appeal to both the photographer and the traveller in me.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

The rain did bring an air of freshness and joy to the streets of Shanghai, offering an alternative perspective of Shanghai and its many sights from the umbrella painted pedestrian malls, vendors touting umbrellas at Metro station exits, to reflections of Shanghai’s famous lights colouring its nighttime streets.  The rain did not as well dampen any of what Shanghai is to me all about, a city rich in contrasts and with it contradictions in its mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, and in a heritage that tells us of the meeting of east and west, a meeting that has as much to do with the clash of civilisations as it has about the embrace the civilisations did also find themselves locked into.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square  along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional Suzhou style Chinese garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the days of the Ming Dynasty.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé record company.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé (later EMI) record company.

The T'ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century that is touted as the  cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft.

The T’ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century. The orphanage is touted as the cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft – an example of the embrace of the civilisations.

The contrasts and contradictions that gives Shanghai its soul is indeed very much in evidence all around. It is in Shanghai that one can take as much pleasure from sipping tea in a traditional teahouse with centuries of history behind it, as in chilling out over a slice of cheesecake and a cup of espresso in one of the many hip cafés that line the streets of what is today a very Bohemian part of Shanghai in the former French Concession.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession and its modern cafes.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession with its modern cafés is one of the places to be seen.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The contrasts one will find does certainly not end in the places to chill-out at. From hairdressers, to eateries and places to shop at, sometimes just a few doors away from each other, to Shanghai’s public spaces; the collisions of time, cultures, and even ideologies, seemingly at odds with each other are very much in evidence. All of this does provide Shanghai with a rather unique flavour and one that for me is the Shanghai Story that the city did tell and it is this story I hope will come out in the posts on My Shanghai Adventure that will follow.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

In contrast with shopping in less trendy settings at the Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Shopping in the rough: Dongtai Road Antiques Market, which is full of atmosphere. Sadly, I am told the market will make way for redevelopment very soon.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

In contrast, the the brightly lit Nanjing Road, provides a more sophisticated shopping experience.

Shanghai is a city that is comfortable with its many contrasts and contradictions.

Shanghai is a city that does seem at ease with its many contrasts and contradictions.


About Spring Airlines Shanghai to Singapore Route

Spring Airlines is China’s first and only low-cost airline, which was founded in 2005 by Spring Travel and has become a dominant player in the domestic travel market in China. Currently Spring Airlines offers flights on the Shanghai (Pudong Airport) to Singapore route three times a week. Each ticket comes with 15 kg baggage allowance (inclusive of cabin baggage). Do also look out for some of the really good travel deals Spring does also offer from time-to-time including a current offer for flights from Singapore (for travel up to 31 May 2014) that includes two nights free accommodation in a five-star hotel in Shanghai (more information including terms and conditions can be found on the Spring Airlines website).

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Spring Airlines has a huge online presence (in fact their website and mobile apps account for all of their ticket bookings), and besides their website, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and can also be contacted through Skype (id: springairlines001).

A view inside Spring's A320 passenger cabin.

A view inside Spring’s A320 passenger cabin (click to enlarge).


 

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The glow in the dark

5 07 2010

Wandering around in the glow of the Shanghai night, I was reminded of the fascination I have always had for the bright lights of a city. Somehow, wandering around in the warm glow of city lights seems to provide me with a lift, transporting me at the same time into a world that seemingly is one where fairytales would be made of. It is perhaps that same magical feeling one gets in the fairytale world of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, where one somehow becomes immediately immersed in the delightful fantasies that the gardens had contributed to Hans Christian Anderson in the telling of his stories. It is a wonderful feeling that the glow of a city gives, whispering in the language of the hustle and bustle of the streets that seem, as in the words of the Christmas tune “Silver Bells”, to be “dressed in holiday style” by the luminescent neon and incandescent glow.

The lights of Shanghai draw people from all over China ... a tourist waits in the bus in the warm glow of the Shanghai night.

The National Billboard on North Bridge Road (source: Derek Tait)

I suppose my fascination had started all those years back when as a child, Singapore seemed to be awash in the glow of lights. Neon signs seemed to be omnipresent and one could never seem to escape being bathed in the glow of neon. I remember Guillemard Circus being particularly bright – dominated by the huge advertisement billboards that glowed in the dark. Speaking of huge billboards, the mother of all billboards, one that rose some 50 metres above ground and with an area of some 186 square metres, had stood above the National Showroom along North Bridge Road, in between Capitol and the big Bata store, dominating the skyline of the civic district. That billboard stood for some 11 years, having been erected sometime in 1963, before being taken down in 1974 when the National Showroom shifted out to make way for redevelopment. The blocks of flats that I had lived in didn’t escape as well. A huge flashing neon Setron advertisement wrapped around the cylindrical water tank could be seen for miles (Setron was a homegrown maker of TV sets).

The glow of Shanghai on a rainy evening.

The dimming of Singapore started in 1972, when a ban on flashing neon signs came into effect. The oil crisis of 1973 played a part as well, as efforts to save energy came into effect and bright light started losing favour. Further restrictions came into effect in the late 1970s as the use of outdoor advertising and neon signs was discouraged, making it difficult to obtain a license for erecting billboards and neon advertisements, for reasons ranging to the distraction these would have to motorists, to the clutter that it was said to add to the skyline. Still, there were those occasions when Singapore still had a bit of a glow, one of which would be the light-up which put a glow on the evening of National Day. Many buildings in the civic district would be illuminated, and it was during those occasions that it was always nice to wander around the city. The grandest buildings that would be lit up would be the Supreme Court, City Hall, the Victoria Memorial Hall and Empress Place Building, the GPO (now Fullerton Hotel), and the building that housed the school that was to become my alma mater which is now the Singapore Art Museum. One light up that I always looked forward to seeing was the one that involved the filter beds at the corner of Cavenagh Road and Bukit Timah Road, opposite the Japanese Club, where there would be the streams of the fountain dancing in the coloured lights.

The neon glow of Shanghai.

What is nice to see these days is that some of the glow has been regained with a rethink of restrictions that now see areas such as Orchard Road brightened up. It is also nice that many of the wonderful buildings we have are also aglow, and with the first ever F1 night race in Singapore, for three evenings, audiences worldwide are treated to the spectacle of not just of a race under lights, but one that provides the world with a view of the beautifully illuminated edifices in our civic district. Whether I am in Singapore, or in a city like Shanghai, the warm glow of the illuminated cityscape is something that never fails to lure me and it is something that I can’t help but marvel at.

The street circuit, seen during the inaugural F1 night race in 2008, runs through the beautifully lighted iconic structures of down town Singapore.

More photographs of the Shanghai glow:

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A walk down the Bund

22 06 2010

The Bund in Shanghai has been a place that I have, for a long time, wanted to visit. It wasn’t because of reading so much about it and its association with two unpleasant chapters in the history of China, or beacuse of watching the Steven Spielberg movie based on the semi-autobiographical novel written by J. G. Ballard, “Empire of the Sun”, but strange as it may sound, because of its rather odd sounding name, which seems out of place for a city in China. That the Bund features many magnificent and excellent examples of European styled architecture over the one mile stretch of Shanghai on the west bank of the Huangpo River, is in itself, a reflection of the strangeness of this. There are reasons for this oddity, one of historical significance, one that had for many years, been a sore point for many Chinese. It is an oddity that speaks of the attempts by the European powers to dominate a once weak China. The name is derived from the Hindi word for an embankment, and was said to have been brought over by the family of the very successful Baghdadi Jewish hotel owner and businessman, Victor Sasson. Sasson once owned one of the buildings that dominates the Bund, the copper roofed Cathay, now the Peace Hotel.

The Bund by night offers a breathtaking view of the mile long stretch of buildings and the contrast that Shanghai offers

The buildings which feature styles of architecture providing a glimpse into a Shanghai of a time when European powers attempted to dominate China, are beautifully illuminated at night.

I can now say that I have finally done what I had longed to do, managing to take a stroll down the Bund, as many in the crowd that one can never escape from on the streets of Shanghai had gathered to do on the cool and foggy midsummer’s evening, and taking in the magnificence of the view on offer. The view of the mile stretch is even more breathtaking by night, the glowing green roof of the Peace Hotel featuring prominently in the row of beautifully illuminated buildings that revel in the attention that a wealthy China can now give, that having been built in the lavish styles that only money made from the exploitation of the concessions that were made by a once crumbling China, they could only have only previously begged for. It is a sight that having for so long wanted to see, will certainly long remember.

Architecture that speaks of the money that the business that thrived from the concessions.

The former McBain Building at No. 1 marks the beginning of the one mile stretch.

No. 2, the former Shanghai Club.

No.3 (left), the former Union Assurance Building, and No. 5, the former NKK Building.

No. 6, the former Commercial Bank of China Building.

No. 7, the former Great Northern Telegramme Company Building (now Bangkok Bank).

No. 9, the former China Merchants Steam Navigation Company Building.

No. 12, the former HSBC Building, now the Pudong Development Bank.

No 13 (far right), the Customs House.

No 14, The former Bank of Communications Building.

No 15, the former Russo-Asiatic Bank Building.

No. 16, the former Bank of Taiwan Building.

No. 17, the former North China Daily News Building (now AIA Building).

No. 18, the former Chartered Bank Building.

No. 19 (left), the former Palace Hotel, now the Swatch Peace Hotel.

No. 20, the green roofed former Cathay Hotel owned by Victor Sasson, now the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Another view of the former Cathay Hotel.

No. 23, the Bank of China Building.

No. 24, the former Yokohama Specie Bank Building, now the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Building.

No. 27, the former Jardine Matheson and Company Building, now the Foreign Trade Corporation Building.

No. 28, the former Glen Line Steamship Building, now the People's Broadcasting Station.

No. 29, the former Banque de l'Indochine Building, now the Everbright Bank Building.

European high fashion on the former European High Street of the Far East.

The Signal Tower on the Bund.

Another view of the Bund by night.