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Window-Shopping on Nanjing Donglu

Or, the joys of walking in Shanghai

Kennedy By Bruce Kennedy
CNN Interactive
Pudong: The futuristic skyline of Shanghai's new Special Economic Zone  

SHANGHAI (CNN) -- During CNN's coverage of the Fortune Conference here last week, our contingent stayed in the hotel attached to the site of the conference. The place afforded us spectacular views of the new development in Pudong and of Shanghai proper, across the river.

Pudong is a new Special Economic Zone. It is, in a word, oversized -- a forest of skyscrapers and immense buildings, all planted well apart. Some resemble huge versions of Japanese transformer toys -- you expect them to sprout arms, helmeted heads and fists, and uproot themselves from the concrete.


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Nanjing Donglu
Nanjing Donglu

It was, however, the other part of Shanghai, across the Huangpu River, that I wanted to get to know.

Nanjing Donglu is the street that runs from the Bund through the center of the city. It is the address of the venerable Peace Hotel, and as it winds its way inland it opens into a window-shopper's heaven.

Toward a prosperous future

Part of Nanjing Donglu was turned into a pedestrian mall just several weeks ago. At the northern end a statue marks its construction. The statue depicts an idealized couple and their child. The kid sits on the father's shoulders holding a cluster of balloons as the family strides toward the prosperous future.

Look at that: Tourists take in the view of Pudong from Shanghai's Bund  

Two interesting details: the woman clutches a shopping bag, the man a video camera. Replace the shopping bag and camera with weapons, and the street clothes with uniforms, and it would be a monument to the revolution. I suppose that is the point: For many Chinese the past 20 years of economic reforms have brought with them the triumph of consumerism.

I stopped into what is best described as a Chinese delicatessen. It was open to the street in the front, and the smells from inside drifted out onto the sidewalk. Workers in white jackets and caps helped customers from bins of dried fish, oysters and shrimp. In the back, a spectrum of meats hung under a "Preserved Peppery Food" sign in English.

View from Huangpu River Shanghi from a rooftop
River Shanghai

Some British tourists were admiring a large selection of teas when I wandered into the next section. The rather plump sales woman pointed out the "Superslim V26" diet drink to me --- only U.S.$45 for the box.

About a half-mile up the street I found a shop with a truly eclectic mix of products. It had a pet section with bowls of baby turtles perched on shelves across from large tanks of tropical fish. Farther down the aisle you could buy delicate scrollwork and prints.

Go fish: This well-stocked market offers a variety of dried seafood items  

Then I came to what was, to me, the most incongruous collection of all, a lawn care section. Weed-wackers, lawn mowers and bug sprayers all competed for my attention.

Historic preservation

The physical changes in this part of Shanghai are just as dramatic. From upon high, you can see new buildings sprouting in all directions, well into the hazy distance.

The city planners, to their credit, are also doing something to preserve the past -- recycling and renovating buildings that are surrounded and endangered by the new development.

Shanghai building
A piece of the past: Architectural detail from one of Shanghai's older, European-style buildings  

You will find many of the old stone colonial structures in the historic area along the Bund and just behind it bearing the words "municipal preserved building" on blue metal tags just at eye level.

Nanjing Donglu has pedestrian overpasses on some of its busier intersections. It was on one of these overpasses I saw a building that could have been lifted directly from Manhattan and placed here. The detailed brown stonework and little Art Deco flourishes all spoke of the 1920s and 1930s when the architecture was solid even if the future wasn't.

As I headed back toward the Bund, a man began to speak to me in perfect English. I learned he is an artist from Beijing who was in town to prepare for an exhibition of his work.

September 20, 1999

  • China's new spirituality
  • Returning to a Beijing transformed
  • September 21, 1999

  • A visit to the Ming Tombs
  • September 22, 1999

  • Tiananmen Square preps up for the big day
  • September 23, 1999

  • Is China's health care system heading for a crisis?
  • September 24, 1999

  • A virtual tour of China's Aviation Museum
  • A contemplation of the so-called Americanization of China
  • September 27, 1999

  • Surfing in Beijing
  • September 28, 1999

  • Railway journeys: On the Red-Eye to Shanghai
  • September 29, 1999

  • Sunday in the Park with Lu Xun
  • September 30, 1999

  • A visit to the Jade Buddha Temple
  • October 1, 1999

  • Watching China's celebrations...from the sidelines
  • October 4, 1999

  • Window-Shopping on Nanjing Donglu
  • October 5, 1999

  • Royal Real Estate
  • He pointed out that Beijing has been China's cultural as well as political capital for centuries. "The emperors wanted the artists to be near them," he said. But he likes Shanghai and visits often.

    "Beijing is so formal, and Shanghai is relaxed," he said.

    I can verify that last point. One of the truly enjoyable things about this city is its sense of ease. Even the police have it in their postures and mannerisms.

    I saw a cop issuing a ticket to a motorcyclist the other day. He was standing like all big city police do, his hip pushed out to support the weight of his gun belt. And he nodded and listened patiently as the cyclist gestured and complained.

    As we walked, my new friend told me about how much Nanjing Donglu has changed. The new pedestrian mall meant the end of shops that sold essentials. Many downtown residents now eat and shop nearer their homes.

    Something like New York

    But who are these crowds of people I see here, if not Shanghai locals? "They're almost all tourists," he said. Then it hit me that he meant tourists from elsewhere in China -- another relatively new concept.

    Later, I took myself out to lunch. I picked the place because of the building that housed it -- a 1930s European-style office tower. The restaurant's interior was old as well, with scrollwork, columns and intimate banquet rooms visible behind etched windows.

    The place was nearly empty. I dined on tofu with white crab and braised noodles with pork. The waitresses watched me eat as they stood at a distance, alternately swatting mosquitoes and talking about clothes.


    I am told that most Chinese view Shanghai and its people the way many Americans regard New York -- with equal parts suspicion and fascination.

    To me that parallel is obvious. As a New York native, I have felt very much at home in Shanghai, and I know I am going to miss it.

    Bruce Kennedy was a Chinese history major at Bowdoin College in Maine. He worked for Visnews, the international television news agency, for five years before joining CNN in 1988. After a stint at CNN International, he began work at CNN Interactive. Kennedy has extensive experience in East Asian affairs, having studied and worked in the region.

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