22 May 2016
As it is forecast to be a rainy day in Shanghai today, I have decided to visit the Shanghai Art Museum, take the high speed Maglev train and listen to some jazz at the Peace Hotel.
The Kingtown Plaza Hotel is very conveniently placed with just a few hundred meters walk to the People’s Park. I also pass the starting point for the Big Bus Tours that I have planned to do over the next couple of days so I get all the details for tomorrow, including that I can pay by credit card. They give me a map to peruse as well.
Talking of maps, one tip is to print out and bring maps with you of key areas you are interested in and including the subway. This has been incredibly useful for me in both Beijing and Shanghai. If the hotels have maps at all they are usually in Chinese and Google Maps is shut out by the Great Firewall of China, so if you like to know where you are and where you are going then bring your own maps with you. The maps in the subway are good and easy to follow but I like to plan ahead so that I know where I’m going when I get there rather than standing around looking like a totally lost tourist.
The sun unexpectedly starts to peek through the clouds as I reach the People’s Park so I slow down and explore. It is beautiful with lovely flowers and manicured gardens, and lots of shady trees – on the site of the old racecourse. It is an oasis in the midst of the towering skyscrapers of the city. It is Sunday morning and the park is well used by the locals. I can hear children playing in the playground area and I pass a group of older people doing Tai Chi. There is one stretch of path with some covered archways and all along here are older people with their umbrellas open and standing up on the ground, with pieces of paper with lots of writing on them taped on top. I’m not entirely sure what is happening here but I do recall seeing in a movie that parents sometimes do this sort of thing to find spouses for their children – perhaps? My guide confirms this for me later on.
The Lotus Pond is serene but also a hive of activity: groups of elderly men are sitting around having a good old chinwag; families are strolling around; a man plays a stringed instrument of some sort; there is a Tai Chi exhibition; and in another area there are several tables of people playing cards with lots of spectators. I am hoping to see mahjong being played but so far I only see cards. One old man stops to ask me if I have seen the Art Museum and tells me I really should; I thank him and then he starts a long winded rant about American behaviour over the past 50 years even though I told him I was from NZ; the rant gets louder and louder and the locals look pityingly at me but I make my escape. I was in fact on my way trying to find the Shanghai Art Museum, which I eventually find after quite a detour through the Shanghai Grand Theatre and along to the Urban Planning Museum (both spectacular buildings) whilst trying to find a way across the road to the Art Museum. I finally discover that there is a pedestrian tunnel that also doubles as the entrance to the subway and to another subterranean shopping mall.
The Shanghai Art Museum sits in People’s Square and is an amazing looking building: a square base with a circular top that has ‘handles’ that makes it look like a bronze jar. There is a queue to get in this free museum but it is moving pretty quickly. Inside (after a security check) is a domed atrium with staircases on one side and escalators on the other – going up 4 floors. I decide to start at the top and come down (motivated by the fact that my legs are extremely stiff today and walking up the stairs would be a challenge; walking down is marginally better). Although it is an Art Museum, it provides a wonderful history lesson into so many aspects of Chinese culture. A display of currency over the millennia shows all sorts of different coins and even some early bank notes (with various foreign influences), and there is a separate display of Ancient Silk Road coins. The Chinese Minority Nationalities Art Gallery was a favourite of mine, with a huge range of costumes, jewellery, embroideries and batik items. The Ancient Jade and Ming and Qing Furniture galleries were spectacular. The third floor housed galleries of Chinese seals – both official and artistic (ancient stamping!), calligraphy and painting. It was fascinating to see such a wide range of styles and to see how these developed over time with a range of different influences. Floor two was entirely ceramics from right across the ages, including showing how they were made. And the first floor has Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Sculptures.
My colleague Liverpool had sent me instructions on WeChat (the Chinese Facebook equivalent and everything else besides) as to how to get to where the MagLev train is. This is the world’s first commercially operated high speed magnetic levitation train. It takes people out to Pudong International Airport but as it only takes 8 minutes each way, it is a good return trip just for the experience. I’m feeling confident after my subway experiences in Beijing so I head down from People’s Square to the subway – Line 2 – and head east 8 stops to Longyang Road. Here you have to exit the subway and then go up an escalator to the MagLev tickets and check-in, and then up more escalators to the elevated platform and lines. The trains leave every quarter of an hour and there is a rapid turn around as people get out one side and new passengers then get in the other. During initial testing the train reportedly got up to 501 km/hr but now for commercial operations the speed is restricted to 300 km/hr – this is plenty fast enough! I am prone to motion sickness so I was expecting some ill-effects from seeing things flash by that fast but it wasn’t any problem. Apart from some swaying and a couple of ‘banking turns’ you can barely feel the train moving but the ‘speedo’ inside tells you how fast you are going. The cost for the return trip was 80 yuan (about NZ$20).
Now a seasoned subway user, I retrace my steps for 6 stops and get out at Nanjing Road East. Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street is one of the busiest shopping streets in Shanghai – full of high end shops. But I’m not there to shop, I exit out the eastern end as quickly as possible out onto the Bund. The Bund (and Riverside Walk) stretches for a mile down the bank of the Huangpu River and looks across to the modern Pudong Financial district. The buildings on the Bund were built in the 1920s and 30s and are mostly European-style buildings (the area was known as the Paris of the East). I have a quick look along the Riverside walk to have my first glimpse of the area – it is still very cloudy. But today I have a different reason for being here: I am going to the beautiful Art Deco style Fairmont Peace Hotel for some Sunday Afternoon Tea Jazz.
The Peace Hotel is famous for its jazz band that play every evening in the Jazz Bar at the hotel and on Sunday afternoons. These Chinese musicians are now in their 80s and have been playing here for over 50 years. I had seen it mentioned online but I couldn’t find any details so I emailed the hotel a couple of months ago to ask if it was still happening. I got a lovely email back saying yes it was and that they’d booked me a table up front near the band. The afternoon is held is the beautiful Jasmine Lounge and for 298 yuan you get a classic high tea with endless tea or coffee whilst you listen to the band from 2.30 – 5.30. If you want you can upgrade to get a glass of French champagne as well – I did. What a wonderful way to while away a drizzly Sunday afternoon! And don’t forget to have a look around the magnificent Art Deco interior of the hotel as well.
I get a taxi back to my hotel and decide to avail myself of the offered 20% discount on a Chinese Body Massage. I know it is only a couple of days since my last massage but my legs could really do with getting the blood flowing to get rid of the lactic acid in the muscles from my Great Wall hike. Ten minutes later the masseuse is kneading my muscles and getting all the acupressure points – bliss! I should sleep well tonight.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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