Shanghai endures many changes but manages to retain its charm

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A stroll down the Bund, the famous promenade along the Huangpu River in Shanghai, provides evidence of the recent rapid changes in the vibrant Chinese city.

Until recently, Pudong, the eastern riverbank, was farmland, but rice paddies have now been replaced by futuristic skyscrapers, huge factories and residential blocks. 

The 1,550-foot Oriental Pearl Television Tower and the 1,380-foot Jin Mao Tower, which houses the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in its top 36 floors, are two outstanding examples of these new Pudong landmarks.

On the western bank of the river, there is also a lot of hustle and bustle, but many of the older features that make Shanghai so charming still remain.

The ubiquitous bicycle is still the predominant form of transport, but taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. The subway is another excellent way to get around.

The promenade along the Bund provides panoramic views augmented by the bustle of barges and pleasure craft. Families and couples stroll, pausing to watch tai chi, shadow boxing or even a colorful fan dance. At night, architectural illuminations make for a visual wonderland.

Many historical buildings from Shanghai's 1930s heyday still remain, although name changes and different uses sometimes make them hard to identify.

For example, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, possibly the most important bank in the city in the early 20th century, became City Hall in 1949. In 1996, the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank took over the structure, restoring the marvelous marble interior, crystal mirrors and ceiling painted with the zodiac.

The Peace Hotel, once called the Cathay, is still a favorite Nanjing Road venue; its Jazz Bar is an institution. 

Farther down Nanjing Road lies People's Square. The futuristic Grand Theater holds court on one side, the superb Shanghai Museum on the other, crammed with priceless porcelain, pottery, jade and other crafts.

Centuries ago, the center of Shanghai was dominated by the lovely Ming Dynasty Garden, now called the Yu Garden. Inside the garden, built between 1559 and 1577, is a tranquil oasis of bridges, pools, artificial "mountains" and pavilions.

Another popular attraction is the Jade Buddha Temple, a symmetrical complex of prayer halls and ornamental roofs. The centerpiece is a huge, white Buddha, carved from a single piece of jade in 1882.

The new face of Shanghai may consist of skyscraping new buildings, but visitors don't have to go far to find the old heart of the city. Tucked away in side streets close to many popular hotels, the daily life of thousands of people living in huge housing complexes goes on as it has for decades.

Early morning is the best time to explore local haunts, especially the produce markets. Entire shops are devoted to door handles or bathroom taps, and the number of hairdressers, who include head and neck massages as part of services, is staggering.

For more, see Shanghai's official tourist Web site at http://lyw.sh.gov.cn/en/.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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