Thursday, May 20, 2010

One if by Land, Two if by Shanghai

Having lived in Beijing for almost a year, and only visiting neighboring Tianjin and Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, I’ve grown accustomed to cities shorter in stature – those rich in history and culture but lacking the skyscrapers and other structural symbols of a modern age metropolis found in cities stateside.

A week before the World Expo 2010 I was sent to Shanghai on business – we’d be filming a video to promote the city for the world event -- and witnessed another side of China I’d yet to see.

For the video, we – a French and Japanese foreign expert, and three-person Chinese film crew, in addition to myself -- would be visiting various locations across the city. I would be acting as a host, introducing each structure, venue or tourist spot as the cameras rolled.

We spent the first morning of filming along the Bund area, later moving across the river to Pudong, Shanghai’s prosperous commercial and financial area. For this segment, we’d be filming in the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in China at almost 500 meters, or 1,640 feet. Our ears popped as we took the elevator to the observation platform on the 100th floor.

My face had started to hurt by late afternoon and I realized I’d been sunburned. The sun that day had been shrouded in a layer of smog – I’d felt the heat but didn’t realize my face was frying.

The second day of filming included a trip to Chenghuang Temple, a former place of worship now converted into a major tourist hub, and other smaller relics around the city. At each spot, large crowds of people encircled us with great interest. I told a Chinese couple that our French foreign expert was a famous French news reporter. They immediately pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures. The final shoot would be at Nanjing Road, a shopping area similar to Times Square with lots of large, illuminated signs and things to buy. Aside from all the Chinese people, I could have easily mistaken the area for New York City.

But the highlight of my trip wasn’t the bright lights of Shanghai’s entertainment scenes, looking out across the city from an observation platform on the tallest building in China, or even the short-lived fan base we enjoyed at each shooting location -- it was a photo I took while having lunch at Chenghuang Temple that so amazed me. Through a window, I could see winding bridges and ancient temple structures – remnants of Shanghai’s past -- while in the distance stood the Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center – two monoliths of the modern era.

Granted, the city has been spruced up for the Expo, but the combination of ancient Eastern culture with modern Western pizzazz was nonetheless impressive.

By the end of the trip, I was exhausted, but glad to have been given the opportunity to finally visit Shanghai. I’d originally planned to make the trip last September, but as luck would have it, I started working for Beijing Review instead. And had I gone last year, it would have been on my own yuan – this trip was paid for by my company.

THE EXPERTS: The foreign experts on the trip stand in front of the Bund area. The Bund sits along the Huangpu River and is home to various buildings of Western architecture

MR. POPULAR: A crowd gathers around our French foreign expert

SKY SPIRE: The iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong District

GUMBY?: The Shanghai World Expo mascot Haibao looks a lot like a certain green clay-mation character from the States

NIGHT SHOT: We record along one of the many entertain venues in Shanghai

OLD MEETS NEW: Tourists walk along the wooden paths at Chenghuang Temple. The Shanghai World Financial Center and other tall buildings of Pudong District can be seen in the background

REACH FOR THE SKY: The Shanghai World Financial Center rises to the heavens

RED FACE, BRIGHT LIGHTS: The Bund at night. Notice my abnormally red face, compliments of Shanghai's smog and sun

LUNCH BREAK: The film crew takes a break to enjoy a local snack, small steamed buns filled with meat and vegetables, at Chenghuang Temple

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