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   S H A N G H A I   C I T Y   G U I D E

Shanghai: A Great City To Get Lost In


By SHIRLEY BRADY

When violinist Itzhak Perlman played Shanghai with the Israel Philharmonic in the early 1980s, he commented to the then-vice-mayor that his city had "wonderful audiences, but the worst halls." Not anymore. The city on the Bund is flush with pride over the Shanghai Grand Theater, the opera house that made its debut in August with the National Ballet of China's sold-out presentation of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The stunning glass-and-granite theater, which overlooks People's Square, can seat an audience of 1,800. Two smaller halls (for chamber music, dance and theater) that open in the spring will mean an additional 800 seats. More than 60 shows are scheduled at the Grand this year, including The Nutcracker Dec. 24-27 and the Shanghai Traditional Music Orchestra on New Year's Eve. Tickets can be booked by calling 86-21-6472-0354; the theater will also fax upon request a schedule of coming performances.

The Shanghai Museum, the city's other architectural wonder, struts its stuff across the park. Admission to this world-class collection of Chinese art is only $2 (free on Saturdays). Set aside half a day to explore the exhibits, beginning with the minority costumes on the top floor. The new Shanghai Library (Asia's largest) on Huaihai Zhong St., is also worth a browse.

Shanghai is also action central for sports lovers. Soccer-mad locals have been flocking to a new 80,000-seat stadium to cheer on the Shanghai Shenhua (the Flowers of Shanghai), while hoops fans are vying for seats at Luwan Stadium, where Yao Ming is the star center of the Shanghai Sharks. There are also more than 200 bowling alleys in Shanghai--the Quyang and Ouden lanes are popular late at night. Other hyper-activities include go-karting, bungee jumping and ballroom and salsa dancing.

Beyond cultural events and the thrill of competition, Shanghai is a wanderer's paradise. The old French concession is now home to upscale boutiques and cafes; venture out to its back streets to view the quickly vanishing turn-of-the-century architecture. When you tire of walking, hop in a metered taxi (they are cheap and plentiful), or take a break at a hair salon, where a wash and a scalp massage costs less than $6.

The "city on the sea" is also a city on the move. To appreciate its rapid development, take a cruise along the Huangpu River, where the futuristic Pudong economic zone (with its space-age Oriental TV Tower) stares down the 1920s buildings across the water. A three-and-a-half-hour tour for $14 takes you to the mouth of the Yangtze (where legend says you can see the waters change color), while a $4 one-hour cruise goes as far as the Yangpu bridge. Tickets are sold at a kiosk south of the multi-level disco/karaoke/restaurant (you can't miss it) on the Bund. The elevated waterfront walkway along the Bund, by the way, is still a must-stroll.

You can also take a ferry across the Huangpu to explore Pudong. The view from the TV Tower is well worth the long queues and entrance fees of up to $12. Check out the view of the Jinmao Building (site of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, which, at 420 m, is billed as the world's tallest hotel and is scheduled to open in March), and note the beginnings of the World Financial Center, slated to be the world's tallest building, exceeding Kuala Lumpur's 452-m-tall Petronas Towers by 8 m. Kitsch fans should spring for the $10 admission to Space City in the tower's lower orb. The four-story theme park features an indoor roller coaster, laser-tag war games and robots set in an ersatz space station.

Above all else, Shanghainese love (correction: live) to eat. Hardy travelers can sample xiaolongbao in the street stalls along Sichuan Zhong St. ($0.60 gets you a steamer of four dumplings). You'll need to book ahead for a table at local hotspots 1221 (on 1221 Yanan Xi street; tel. 86-21-6213-6585), Henry or Cafe 1931, which all serve Chinese cuisine with modern flair. Hong Kong's galloping gourmands, the Garnaut sisters, are also helping to define Shanghai chic. Nicole opened Park 97, a nude-muraled salon set in leafy Fuxing Park (packed during weekend brunches and Friday night dance parties) as a spin-off of her Post 97 restaurant in Hong Kong. And Michelle next year will open her chichi Shanghai rooftop spot, M on the Bund, an offshoot of her Hong Kong eatery, M at the Fringe. The former residences of another set of enterprising siblings, Shanghai's famed Soong sisters, have been reborn as adjoining restaurants, with the restored French quarter mansions linked by a garden dining area. Sasha's serves California cuisine mixed with local touches and an extensive wine list, while the more relaxed Mandy's next door is a beer and sports bar. Other happening spots: Goya, a pocket-sized space serving 35 kinds of martinis; the Yin Yang club's upstairs lounge; Zoobaa, a bar/restaurant that adopts a different theme every night; O'Malley's for Guinness on tap; and the Cotton Club and George V bars for live music (a welcome break from the tired strains of the jazz band in the Peace Hotel).

Local hipsters also make the scene by sipping Chinese tea served in teahouses that are both funky (like Beiyou-tian and Xian Zong Lin, which each have several locations around the city) or philosophical, like the Old China Hand Reading Room, photographer Deke Erh's ideas-stuffed teahouse, which is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

At the rate things are changing, all of the above could be passe or closed by next week, so check out free entertainment weeklies like Shanghai Now, or the glossy free monthly Shanghai Pictorial. Above all, have fun: it's what Shanghainese do best.




OFF THE SHELF
Few cities on earth have experienced the turmoil of this century more poignantly than Shanghai, and few books have brought to life its vibrancy and debauchery, color and horror

WEB CR@WLING
Fancy taking a dram with the Shanghai Scotch Malt Whiskey society? Or savoring a stogie with the cigar club? Then find out more at Shanghai-ed, the online version of Shanghai Now

SHORT CUTS
If you wake up in Shanghai to clear skies, seize the opportunity to get an overview of the cityscape on a U.S.-built Bell 212 helicopter

DETOURS
Try the Shapo Guesthouse in Ningxia province if you'd like an escape from the big city

HOT TIP
Fuyou market, a sprawling four-story mock Qing dynasty arcade, is a colorful and entertaining source of antiques

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