Two bullet train rides and a total of 45.5 hours in Shanghai: this was my weekend, accompanied by my Yankee Beijing bestie and lodging with my German cousin who has his own Big Fucking International Business in SH.
The second capital, the Paris of the East, China’s Sin City and former coloniser central, Shanghai feels in many ways like China Lite for westerners. It was bizarre to see so much western architecture downtown, and of course Shanghai has a truly stunning waterside skyline (though let’s face it, not quite a match for Hong Kong’s, much as I love the Pearl Tower).
My weekend was a blur of skyscrapers and swanky venues. It saw me on the 92nd floor of the famous bottle-opener skyscraper (home of the Park Hyatt Shanghai), some fancy restaurants and an opulent rooftop bar complete with jacuzzi and beds (neither of which we made use of I might add). Saturday night was on the strange side, involving a monkey-themed hip-hop bar accessible only through a bakery, followed by a pirate ship-themed club. This second was a true Chinese club experience, complete with a garish singer wailing on stage, flanked by two strapping, dancing white men, cuddly toys, food, flowers and all manner of bizarreness. A fascinating ten minutes we spent in there.
In the age-old battle of supremacy between Shanghai and Beijing, I am and always have been Team BJ (get your mind out the gutter!) This Clash of the Titans has opinion split more or less down the middle. Both cities have much to offer, but I lean toward Beijing for its more authentic Chinese feel (fewer skyscrapers and no Western pretensions…sorry), more chilled-out atmosphere (the vibe in Shanghai felt distinctly more superficial and hostile; people STARE much more than in Beijing) and CULTURE! As cuz put it, there isn’t much to do in Shanghai apart from shop and eat. I suppose you can stare at skyscrapers and go up them, but there’s only so much of that one can do.
Shanghai folk are famous across the country for being super-proud (i.e. arrogant) about coming from Shanghai; something Shanghaiers have freely admitted to me themselves. They turn their noses up at people from anywhere else in China as unsophisticated and poor. I feel Shanghai is sadly impoverished of culture and soul, but that’s just my opinion… I suppose overall Shanghai, as I said, is a less Chinese version of China, so is good for foreigners who are wary of having the full-on and probably more difficult experience that is Beijing, if you don’t mind the arsey Shanghai attitude.
Generally the air quality is much better in seaside Shanghai compared to inland Beijing (though still bad… it is still China) but unfortunately we appeared to bring the smog with us for the weekend, during which the air was very good in Beijing. The distinct advantage of central Shanghai was that… well, there is a centre. Beijing is so big and sprawling, it takes forever to get from one place to the next, whereas downtown Shanghai is more compact, so getting around felt less exhausting. Unfortunately the underground in Shanghai gets just as crowded as in Beijing, though there are fewer cars on the road.
One thing that truly makes me glad I live in Beijing and not Shanghai is… radiators. Shanghai homes do not have any. It is colder here in BJ than in SH at the moment, but I was freezing every night in my cousin’s apartment, whereas we actually have central heating here in Beijing, so I’m quite comfortable. Though the winter temperatures in northern Beijing drop much further than in Shanghai, Shanghai is by far the colder city for this reason. No thank you!
But it was nice to get out of town for a weekend; I benefitted from some convivial company and thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Shanghai. I might call the place shallow but it was a bit of a relief to hang out in some expensive, clean-looking places and feel a bit more comfortable. We are but weak westerners, after all.