The first impression which comes to most of the minds when thinking about Shanghai is probably the giant ocean of skyscrapers. And that’s what indeed Shanghai is. Even the vast majority of Chinese people use one simple word to describe this megalopolis – “modern”.
However, leaving aside the contemporary cityscape of Shanghai, fortunately enough, the coastal metropolis has got its share of pockets of less shiny developments which remember much older times. Therefore there are at least several interesting buildings scattered around appealing to the eyes of those who desire to find the ‘old’ face of Shanghai.
Don’t expect too much though – Shanghai does not get anywhere close to Beijing in terms of the heritage and sights remembering the imperial times. But still, there are a few places which might clearly satisfy the tastes of whose seeking the retreat from the ubiquitous modernity and high densities.
The ‘Old Town’ area, located in close proximity to Lao Xi Men and Yu Yuan Gardens subway stations maintains the reputation of preserving the character of the old Shanghai. In fact, when the city was managed by European superpowers, this particular district was known as the ‘Chinese Town’. Regrettably in recent decades large numbers of older dwellings have already faced the fate similar to some of the world-famous Bejing’s hutong districts and fell victims to the bulldozers.
Selected parts of the ‘Old Town’ have been recently rebuilt in the style reminiscent of the Ming and Qing dynasty architectural heritage. Needless to say that such massive scale construction of ‘new landmarks’ is a quite common phenomenon in China, with ‘fake’ touristy neighborhoods plastered around nearly every major city. However, leaving aside the posh, heavily crowded area adjacent to Yu Yuan Gardens, the remaining bits of the ‘Old Town’ maintain their original character, making it the highly enjoyable place to stroll around.
Although a lot of the local dwellings have a slum like appearance, at least they do not pretend to be something that they are not. This is also the place where one can get the firsthand experience of the large income disparity characteristic for China and plenty of other developing nations. While the shabby houses form the foreground, Pudong’s skyscrapers shine in the background from the other side of the river constantly reminding us that Shanghai and other Chinese cities are constantly undergoing some drastic changes. The land of massive contrasts, negations and chaotic developments – that’s what contemporary China indeed is.