We arrived in Shanghai and checked into the historic Astor House Hotel which is located just off the Bund, Shanghai's famous waterfront. Our first impression of Shanghai is that it's an architect's nightmare -- just about every style of architecture can be seen within 360 degrees, from the "tinkertoy molecule model gone awry" style of the Oriental Pearl tower to the various incarnations of rocketship-shaped buildings all contrasted with the European stone edifices of the Bund and the enormous neon billboards along the water. It's all a bit too much!
In Shanghai, the boys have learned to say "I hate APEC", as the city is buttoned up tight with security for the conference which is being held -- coincidentally -- this week. They were crushed to learn that the Shanghai Live Insect Museum (which encourages TOUCHING the insects) was closed, as was the bizarre Oriental Pearl Tower (it costs $20 CAD per person to go up to the top "pearl"!!) because the area is serving as the media centre for the conference.
Shanghai is very cosmopolitan and has a much more business-like feel to it than Beijing had. The business areas are crawling with APEC delegates and expats and the whole place has a very hip and happening feel to it. Our impression is that an expat living here would want a hefty salary to be able to enjoy the city; I think you could drop a lot of cash in this town but have a great time doing it!
Shanghai has been a wonderful city to ramble in and we have spent many an hour wandering the streets, savouring the different flavours of the city. It's a complex place with a wilder feel; if the Great Wall is the only man-made thing that can be seen from space, the neon signs of Shanghai must come a close second!
The Western food here has been great and we've been taking full advantage of the opportunity to indulge (I don't think we ae going to get much in the wilds of Sichuan);I have enjoyed 2 blissful Starbucks coffees at 2 of the 15 locations here in Shanghai, while the boys virtually inhaled their chocolate brownies.
Despite the closures due to APEC, we've enjoyed many sites here in Shanghai. The Shanghai Museum was outstanding; we've been very impressed with the quality of the items on display at the museums we've visited so far, and this one was no exception. The boys were particularly fascinated by the coins exhibit which traced the evolution of currency in China and displayed the many varied types of coinage and bills used throughout China's history.
The Shanghai Zoo was, unfortunately, a dismal example of Asian zookeeping at its worst, featuring depressingly small enclosures and virtually no attempt at recreating habitat (the polar bear had only a dripping faucet as a water source in his fully concrete habitat). We did see two Great Pandas and several of the Lesser Pandas; however, given that these are endangered species indigenous only to China, the care given these animals is appalling.
On the bright side, the fabulous Yu Gardens, a beautiful Ming Dynasty era garden created by the Pan family in the mid-1500's was a wonderful surprise. More airy and treed than the more precise gardens of Suzhou, this garden had a fresh and breezy feel to it and the boys were treated to a performance of shadow puppetry in one of the pretty pavillions.
However, the show-stopper for us all had to be a visit to the Shanghai Circus. Housed in a circular theatre in the suburbs, the show featured tumblers, plate-spinners, magicians, jugglers, a contortionist and other circus acts. By a fantastic stroke of luck, our cheap seats up in the nosebleed section were swapped for seats ring-side when we arrived at the theatre, which allowed us to see the action close-up. It was a great show full of extreme skill and, at times, extreme courage. There were no nets and only once did one of the aerial artists use a safety harness. There was more than one time when we all -- including the aerial artist -- gasped in fear!! We all loved it -- it seems to be a style of entertainment that transcends age.