My Shanghai Story: Shanghai’s many shades of green

17 05 2014

One of the things that I did find great joy in my recent Shanghai Adventure was the discovery of some rather delightful green spaces, spaces that are perhaps not what one expects to find in the midst of the urban sprawl of one of the world’s most highly populated cities.

An oasis in the park - a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui - Guangqi Park.

An oasis in the park – a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui – Guangqi Park.

Of the Shanghai’s wonderful parks and gardens, Yu Yuan (豫园) or Yu Garden, is its best known, and a well visited tourist spot. A classical Suzhou style garden, Yu Yuan’s origins go back to the reign of the Ming Emperor Jiajing in the late 16th century.

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

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

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

The garden does count as one of Shanghai’s main attractions, and while it does tend to be overrun by hordes of tourists and as a result lack that serenity (its name does mean “peace and comfort”) it was designed to provide as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, is still well worth the 40 yuan it costs to enter its 2 hectare landscaped grounds.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

The grounds, encircled by a dragon on top of its perimeter wall, is a joy to wander through and in it one will find several fine examples of Chinese architecture that are mixed in with bridges that take the visitor over carp filled pools and labyrinths of walkways leading one to the garden’s many archways, rockeries and pavilions. A visit to Yu Yuan, would of course be incomplete without first negotiating the right angles of the nine-cornered bridge for that pause over tea at the Huxinting.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

Inside one of Yu Yuan's magnificent buildings.

Inside one of Yu Yuan’s magnificent buildings.

While calm may not be what one does now find within the grounds of Yu Yuan, it is a quality that there is no shortage of in two parks that I did get to see some distance from the hurly burly of the old city in Xujiahui on the western fringe of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

The first, the sprawling green oasis that is Xujiahui Park, is a more recent addition to Shanghai’s cityscape. The 8.6 hectare park, was apparently developed on a former industrial site that was occupied in part by the Great China Rubber Factory (大中华橡胶厂). A chimney seen rising over the tree-tops, a remnant of the factory, is now all that is left to remind Shanghai of the factory.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park's industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park’s industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

At the base of the chimney.

At the base of the chimney.

The park, now a popular place amongst the city folk looking for a respite from the insanity that city life does bring, is also where a gorgeous red brick villa – built to house the offices and recording studios of the Pathé Orient (a record company which was to be absorbed by EMI) is to be found. The Dutch style villa, which now houses a restaurant, was where the song that was to become the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers, had first been recorded.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

A stone’s throw from the luscious greens of Xujiahui Park, is another pretty pocket of greenery, just south-west of Xujiahui Cathedral. The green space, Guangqi Park, is where a path that one enters through an ornamental archway, leads to the tomb of Xu Guangqi, a Ming Dynasty official who is responsible for the Xu in the name Xujiahui – where there once had been a confluence of rivers over which some of the district’s boulevards now run over.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

Xu Giangqi, also a learned scholar and an early Chinese convert to the Roman Catholic faith, collaborated and worked with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci whose influence was responsible for Xu’s conversion. It is not just in the tomb that the illustrious Xu is remembered, but also in a little memorial hall on the edge of the park, the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

The memorial hall, in which one is immediately overcome by the sense of calm provided in the grounds of a traditional courtyard house, is where Xu’s tremendous achievements through his life and career are celebrated. The house in which it finds itself in, is also one to celebrate. The origins of what was previously the South (Nan) Chun Hua house also lies in the Ming Dynasty. Re-located from another location to the park, the house is a magnificent example of Chinese architecture and typical of the residential architecture of the period.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Guangqi Park as well as Xujiahui Park, given their proximity to the French Concession, is perhaps also a good starting point for a walking, or better still, a bicycle tour of what is another wonderfully green and architecturally rich part of Shanghai in the former French Concession. The area is well served by the Shanghai Metro, with the closest stop being Xujiahui. Yu Yuan, is also served by the Metro, with Yu Yuan Garden being the closest stop.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page (current deals include a pay one-way deal and a two-nights free accommodation deal).


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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).