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The City of Tomorrow
January 21, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
The City of Tomorrow
By Karina Aggarwal
 
 
Boomtown, they call it. In Shanghai skyscrapers seem to erect themselves at a 'blink-and you'll- miss-it' speed. Yet, there's a charm to China's economic hub that isn't easy to come by in a buzzing metropolis. It may be the city of the future, but it really is worth discovering today. Shanghai sparkles. Perhaps it is the steel and glass catching the sun during the day and the flickering neon lights at night which convey that
impression, but it's a shine nonetheless. And it is captivating. Distracting, even. But, if you pay close attention, you'll find that around every corner the old peeps out from behind the new. Just a day in Shanghai can introduce you to the past and the present, each as compelling and fascinating as the other.
 
Cityscapes
Shanghai's most recognisable skyline, the Bund on the banks of Huanpu River is where Shanghai's dichotomy of the old and new is most visible. At first sight the embankment seems flooded with high-rises; billboards of international banks and five-star hotels scream out at you. Then you notice the quieter structures, those that clearly belong to another time. At the Bund, it is the architecture that tells the story.
 
The Bund in Shanghai used when the first British company set up base there in 1846. In the decades that followed, it became hotspot for traders and Western exchange. Bit by bit, the Bund grew to become as it is today – a lesson in architecture, holding buildings styles including Renaissance, Gothic and Art Deco. Another beautiful area for a stroll is Yu Yuan. Yu Garden, as it is commonly referred to, once again juxtaposes Shanghai's past and present.

Here metallic skyscrapers give way to traditional eaves, painted tiles and wooden decks. Yu Garden is the best classical Chinese Ming garden in urban Shanghai. Manicured gardens, levelled ponds, engraved water spouts and intricately designed pavilions create a haven of sorts. Despite the tourists, there's a calmness and serenity to Yu Garden that can't be meddled with. Explore the many lanes that branch off from the garden and you'll find a cluster of thrift shops selling all kinds of souvenirs. If anything, the alleys are the Chinese version of 'Chinatown'. If you have a good eye you could pick up some antiques and trinkets for a real bargain!
 
Tete-a-tea
In China, tea drinking is a ritual. The tea culture is centuries old, nding its beginnings 2737 BC. The story goes that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was a scholar and herbalist whose paranoia about germs and disease led him to insist that his drinking water be boiled. On one his travels, a chance wind few leaves from a wild into the boiling cauldron. The aroma they released and the colour they infused intrigued the ruler. A single sip was all it
took, and the world has known the wonders of tea ever since.
 
To the Chinese, the practice of drinking tea elevates the spirit and wisdom of a person. It is a ritual that deserves the concentration of every sense and also, the soul. Tea houses in Shanghai are fairly common but only a few of them invite guests to partake in this ritual. These shops are set apart by the rows of tea jars and packets that line the walls. The owner or a family member will guide you to a seat in front of a table and then the ritual begins. In the minutes that follow, boiling water, antique jars, earthen pots and tea cups are lifted, rinsed and filled in a motion so fluid it is almost like a dance. Speckled with stories about each type of brew, the art of tea-tasting is one of the most cultural experiences Shanghai has to offer.
 
Gastronomic indulgence
There's no dearth of options when it comes to food in Shanghai. Pick your cuisine and you'll find a restaurant that caters to a tee. There are the standouts though, like M on the Bund. Possibly the most famous restaurant, this institution has spent over a decade reinforcing its dominance over other culinary favourites in the city. Fine-dining at its best, M on the Bund is housed in a gorgeous space in Bund No. 5 Building. Another favourite is Mr and Mrs Bund serving French flair along with Jean Georges at Three on the Bund. Fine-dining apart, no traveller should leave the city without trying a few staples. Start with the Xiao long bao dumpling available at any small local eatery. Served in the traditional bamboo steamer baskets, Xiao long bao is a 'soup dumpling' that is filled with either
pork or crabmeat and a broth. Like heaven in a basket! If you're feeling adventurous try the stinky tofu and blackened Century Egg too. You'll recognise these at first sight or maybe smell them from a distance as mobile food carts cruise by you on the street. Ah, the sights and smells of Shanghai!
 
The bar is open
Known to have some of the best in the world, Shanghai is famous for its rooftop bars. The most popular are those that look out over the Bund. At the 'top' of the list is Flair. On the 58th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Pudong, this is the highest open air restaurant in the city. It offers a magnificent view of the river below and brings you so close to the unmistakable Oriental Pearl Tower that you'll be bathed in the hot pink lights of the famous building. A favourite with Shanghai's expat crowd or those celebrating a 'special occasion', this rooftop is a pricey affair. Guests are asked to cough up a minimum charge of RMB 350 for a table with a view, but then again with a sight like that it's entirely worth it.
 
Get a taste of Shanghai's cocktail prowess. Young, innovative and edgy mixologists have taken centre-stage over the last few years, pushing the cocktail envelope in many top city-bars. Bar Rouge is one such spot, where the wellheeled come to see and be seen, with a cocktail in hand, of course! Another is the recently opened Apothecary. Originally a Beijing favourite, the nightspot brought its legacy and its substantial cocktail list (over a 100!) to Shanghai last year and already has many a cocktail enthusiast owing allegiance to it. If you like the sound of extravagant parties, guest DJs and the occasionally celebrity doing the rounds, then head on down to the hottest club in town - M1NT. And don't leave behind those dancing shoes, because Shanghai knows how to party! There's something for everyone in this beautiful and vibrant city. You'll be lost one moment and blissfully happy the next. Shanghai is one of those cities that you fall in love with in a day. And once you do, there's nothing that will compare.

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