Shanghai straddles past and future

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SHANGHAI -- Modern glitz overshadows the pagoda-style architecture in this most Americanized China city, but Shanghai has not forsaken its roots.

To magnify the contrasts, stand in front of the Bund, a group of 1930s-era buildings once known as the Wall Street of China, and look directly across the Huangpu River to the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghais tallest skyscraper at 1,380 feet, and a cluster of ultramodern structures in the Pudong section.

In Pudong, the 1,535-foot Oriental Pearl Tower exemplifies Shanghais futuristic look. The needle-like TV tower rests on a base resembling childrens jacks and sports two bulging globes at either end. The lower globe houses a restaurant and the upper a hotel, with a deck popular for its spectacular views.

Across the river, the Temple of the Jade Buddha often looks as though all of Shanghais 13 million residents have crowded in to worship. The devout jostle tourists for positions at altars to light their incense and kneel in prayer. Among the array of statuary are the revered green jade idol and two huge Buddhas carved in white jade.

The Bund Tourist Tunnel goes under the river to connect these dramatically different locations.

All tours stop at the Childrens Palace. At this after-school day-care center in the palatial former home of a Chinese millionaire, youngsters are taught new technology and old cultures. During my visit, 8- to 10-year-olds demonstrated the art of calligraphy and performed on traditional musical instruments, and the kindergarten set offered a rendition of Inky Dinky Spider.

Nanjing Road is so famous for shopping, its a tourist attraction. Department stores, souvenir shops, boutiques, food stalls and kiosks sell everything from top-name brands to cheap trinkets.

The Road is not the place for bargaining, but slip down tiny side streets where residents shop and the scene changes. 

Stores with wide-open fronts invite a streetside audience of Shanghai fashionistas who eagerly discuss the merits of the outfit youre trying on and give their advice -- in Chinese, of course, but the meaning is clear.

A day spent at the Shanghai Museum impresses visitors with the history and endurance of the Chinese people as well as their many practical and cultural contributions.

This museum is alive with architectural style. Escalators rise four floors through a dramatic central atrium, right up to the domed ceiling. The top floor is devoted to the lifestyles and dress of Chinas 56 minority nationalities, detailed in fascinating displays and explained on an audio device rented to visitors.

Other floors exhibit furniture, sculpture and ceramics from several dynasties, exquisite brushstroke paintings and ancient currencies. Its a virtual tour of China through the ages.

Outside, at noontime, locals gather to practice Chinas universal craze, ballroom dancing.

Familiar brand-name hotels welcome guests in Shanghai. The lobby at the 468-room Sheraton Grand sets an Asian mood with teak tables, hand-painted vases and silk wall hangings.

In Pudong, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai goes futuristic at its Cloud 9 bar on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower. The hotel occupies the 53rd to 87th floors of the building.

Tour operators offer options to book the Hyatts, Westins, Hiltons and Marriotts, but Asia-brand hotels are their core offerings.

Contact the China National Tourist Offices, (212) 760-9700.

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

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