Shanghai, a place to see what China has become and perhaps wants to become, and what China is, for the most part, not. At least, not yet.
What China is not, for the most part, but Shanghai is: The Shanghai most visible is that rising back forward to glory days, drawing on the allure of its past and combining it with a new drive.
That drive, to new heights both literal and symbolic, in structures and in shopping, is very much there. It is very Chinese, but a particularly Shanghai reality.
I went to think about such connections by going on from my exploration of two very different kinds of ‘temples’ of traditional Shanghai (see previous post).
First, this led me to Longhua Temple and its pagoda.
Shanghai at the very least feels like it has never been too strong in spirituality. Maybe it was its Colonial history as a trading port, maybe already its Chinese historical function as a port more than anything else.
Whatever it was, Shanghai never had much political function, and with that little spiritual connection, but business galore. And within more recent memory, high times as well…
All the more interesting to go and see the less common places, the ones more outstanding.
Longhua Temple is a particularly outstanding example as one of only three Buddhist temples in Shanghai I know of, and the only one with a pagoda.
Located rather outside the city, the temple is surrounded by roads to the point where its area basically forms just the inside of a curve (if a long one)…
It is well accessible by subway nonetheless, although road works made the approach to the entrance quite a long and hot affair as I went there.
Still, you just have to get out the subway station to catch sight of the pagoda rising up, and on the temple grounds, a very nice ensemble of the usual layout awaits you.
More impressions of the temple grounds and pagoda in the video (at the end).
From the Longhua Temple’s pagoda, the high-rise structure of ancient times, I went on to the latest in Shanghai rising, the Shanghai Tower in Pudong…
A very different structure in a very different place, the Shanghai Tower stands as the third extra-tall skyscraper on Pudong, the part of Shanghai that famously was no urban area until only a few decades ago.
The Shanghai Tower with its 632 m architectural/total height is currently the tallest building in Asia and the world’s second tallest after only the Burj Khalifa.
So, if you ever wanted reason to claim that the future were China, here is a solid – and sustainability-certified – example on which to hang such a claim.
Of course, high-flying dreams are not the reason for a visit; the experience of getting so high up in a human-made structure and the views from up top are.
Well, and it was an experience.
Air quality being as it is, the views were more or less good, but just jetting up in an elevator with a maximum speed of 18m/s is odd.
It is odd in how ordinary it feels; there is nothing special to notice (except maybe a slight popping in the ears). Or there would be, if only the floor sign didn’t show the elevator passing by floors, quickly reaching the observation deck on floor 118 (at 546 m)…
I stayed for quite a while, made a timelapse of the area around the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Bund coming to (night) life, getting a first view of the Bund to which I would add two others – which I’ll talk about in the next post.
If you want to get a glimpse of the experience, watch Tale of Two Towers: