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JUNE 5, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 22


Illustration for Time by Li Chi Tak with Harriss.

Shanghai Puts On the Ritz... Again and Again
By JAMES IRWIN

Each spring in Shanghai, a small army of workers erects what appear to be sawed-off wooden telephone poles, wrapped in cheap rope, along many of the city's streets. Visitors can be forgiven for wondering why the city doesn't plant trees instead. Of course, in a matter of days the tall stumps--actually saplings of the same plane trees that line the boulevards of Paris--have not only sprouted limbs and leaves but started earning their pay by casting Shanghai's streets in their characteristic green shade.

Things may be done a little differently in Shanghai. But there is no question that things do get done--and quickly. One plausible explanation for this efficiency is that China's heavyweight pols have tended to use the city as a launching pad for national careers. Leaders such as President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji have risen from Shanghai municipal posts to greater glory in Beijing. In their wake, they have left a legacy of city planning that is rare in the Middle Kingdom. China's Premier famously gained the nickname "One Chop Zhu" for his efforts to cut bureaucratic red tape while in office here.

The city continues to boom. In the runup to last October's celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, workers raced against the clock to finish a network of expressways and ramps crisscrossing the city, a huge airport in nearby Pudong, underground stations, cross-river tunnels linking Shanghai to Pudong and scores of smaller projects. At midnight on Oct. 1--the anniversary date--many workers laid down their tools. As much as any city of 13 million people can ever be said to be "finished," Shanghai was.

  TRAVEL WATCH
Shanghai Puts On the Ritz...
...again and again

Detour
Putuoshan -- a beautiful, windswept island off China's southern coast.

Hot Deals
With Shanghai's rich, international heritage, it's easy to send yourself back in time.

Short Cuts
Sex please, we're Chinese.

Hot Spot
Shanghai's Fuxing Park

As a result, the city is awash in new cultural institutions. People's Square, in the heart of town off Nanjing and Xikang roads, is home to two of the city's three impressive new arts palaces: the French-designed Grand Theater, which features internationally renowned shows each week, and the stunningly bulky Shanghai Museum, home to, as China's citizens are fond of reminding visitors, 5,000 years of history.

The colonial-era Shanghai Art Museum, located at 456 Nanjing Xi Road, has recently been re-opened to showcase the country's more contemporary artworks, including historical photography, sculpture and painting exhibitions. The city's huge new public library on Huaihai Road is another sign of the focus on civic works.

While the Yan'an Expressway was under construction, one of the city's most popular restaurants--1221, situated at 1221 Yan'an Xi Road--became the worst location in town, surrounded by dust and debris. With the highway finished, the three-year-old establishment continues to serve up some of the city's best Shanghainese fare in a much more congenial setting than before. (Tel: 6213-6585. No credit cards.) The prices, already reasonable, haven't gone up either.

The more upscale M on the Bund has become Queen of the Bund after an international culinary magazine recently named it one of the best restaurants on the planet. Perched on the top floor of an 80-year-old building that fronts the city's famous thoroughfare, M features Shanghai's best continental cuisine and the Bund's best view from its terrace (7th floor, 20 Guangdong Road on the Bund. Tel: 6350-9988).

For after-dinner drinks, one of the best new spots is Cloud Nine at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, across the Huangpu river from the Bund. Sadly, the bar's name is often apt, as clouds can obscure the view from its 87th-floor windows, more than 300 m above the ground. But when the weather is clear, the outlook is more like what you would see from a plane. For live music, head back to the Puxi side of the river and go to the Cotton Club on Huaihai Road, Shanghai's tribute to Harlem's original jazz-and-blues joint. Wynton Marsalis recently dropped by to jam, electrifying both the audience and the resident bluesmen. And that just goes to show that, with the dust settled, China's coolest city is ready to party.

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