No gorilla in this mist

I’ve always been fascinated by skyscrapers. At 7, I remember watching King Kong scale the Empire State Building onscreen and wishing I could do the same. Years later, during a trip to New York City, I took an elevator to the top of the World Trade Center and marveled at the helicopters and small planes flying below.

When I visited Shanghai last month, I had to see the city from the top of one of its landmark skyscrapers. I picked the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, home of The Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel and one of the tallest buildings in China. A sign at the ticket window for the observation deck said “visibility poor,” but I decided to take my chances and paid 150 yuan ($24) for a ride to the top.

It turned out to be the worst 150 yuan I’ve ever spent. Clouds completely obscured the view. With nothing to see, I put down my camera and stared into the mist, wishing King Kong was around to part the clouds.

Looking down into the lobby of the Jin Mao Tower. This turned out to be the best view of the day.

View from the observation deck, looking down into the lobby . This turned out to be the best view of the day.

The 88-story Jin Mao Tower is located next to the (left) Shanghai World Financial Center.

The 88-story Jin Mao Tower is located next to the Shanghai World Financial Center (left).

The only blue skies I saw that day were in the elevator.

The only blue skies I saw that day were in the elevator.

Visibility was less than 100 meters at the top.

Visibility was less than 100 meters at the top.

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A tale of two sides

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.

View from the top of the Ritz-Carlton.

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. Continue reading