Shanghai is a city best seen from above. I recently took in a view from a rooftop bar called Flair, on the 58th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.
The bar was full, but I was able to wedge into a spot overlooking the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. An array of neon lights from the skyscrapers in Shanghai’s Pudong district – an area that was mainly farmland until it was developed in the 1990s – gave the clouds moving slowly overhead a yellowish tint.
Shaped liked a rocket waiting to blast off into space, the Pearl Tower reminded me of one of the tacky electronic toys that vendors outside the Forbidden City in Beijing use to get your attention as you enter the palace. To the southeast, another behemoth of a building, the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center – jutted into the sky. Not to be upstaged by the bizarre Pearl Tower, the top of the World Financial Center resembles a bottle opener, with a gap large enough for a modern day King Kong to perch.
At 492 meters, it’s the tallest building in the city.
These architectural misfits contrast greatly with the European-influenced structures found on the west side of the Huangpu River, which separates new Shanghai from the old. The old area is better known as the Bund – Shanghai’s famous waterfront of concession architecture.
Constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the buildings once housed banks and trading houses from countries such as the United Kingdom, United States and Japan.
Today, Chinese flags whip atop these buildings, some of which have been converted into hotels, restaurants and shops. Statues of prominent foreign figures that once lined the riverfront have been removed, but stories of the neighborhood’s rich history have been preserved through plaques mounted on the buildings.