Archive | April, 2012

Visits: Nánjīng

17 Apr

Until early April, the only places I had been to in China were Beijing (and surrounding tourist sites: the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs) and Shanghai. It looks like spring is the season of bank holidays in China too, gracing those who work with long weekends and making my weekdays a bit less lonesome.

With some friends, we decided to go explore Nanjing which is about an hour and a half to the northeast of Shanghai. We woke up early and headed there with the fast train that goes all the way to Beijing. According to our research and guides, there are few things to see in Nanjing. After all, it was the southern capital* for a few centuries and dynasties. The trip was all in all very interesting but unfortunately not for the reasons we had anticipated.

Various sources will point you to a few places. Although we haven’t visited all of them, if you should go to one, it is the Ming Tombs. Yes as in Beijing, Nanjing’s got its own version of it. In many ways, they are similar to those outside Beijing, only perhaps smaller. But the site is beautiful, especially with all the plum trees in full bloom (which entitled us to a discount on entry tickets – plum tree festival or something), the buildings are impressive and the promenade from one tomb to the other very pleasant. Like for many historic sites in China, there is no available explanation on the site and you have to put up with aberrant things like a kids’ entertainment park within the premises of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But hey, it’s China and compared to what we saw before, it isn’t such an eyesore.

At the Ming Tombs

Golden tiles, colour of the emperors

That’s for the must. What you should by all means avoid is the Purple Mountain. It may have been an important site at some point, but now it’s just an attraction park for Nanjing’s inhabitants to escape the city and picnic or play cards. Thankfully, we took the cable car all the way to the top and back down (our initial plan was to walk) and then strolled from absurdity to absurdity, i.e. bad modern structures and sculptures supposedly spiritual or reminiscent of important people. The only thing we got out of it was probably some fresh air for our soiled Shanghai dwellers’ lungs.

At the Purple Mountain

The ex-neo White Cloud...

Back in town, the Linggu Temple is not really worth your while. It now feels more like a roundabout than a Buddhist Temple set in a park. Clearly we didn’t have the time to see everything, there are a few museums and other spots to check out.

That’s for the bad stuff. I’m not trying to undermine Nanjing or its heritage, but I can’t help complain about creating fake heritage sites and not emphasising properly (through information or design) those sites that are of true importance.

Now what I found of real interest is that Nanjing is actually a lively and pleasant city. At the moment, it has “only” 8 million inhabitants but clearly the authorities are foreseeing massive expansion of urban areas. We arrived at the southern train station which is in the middle of nowhere. However, it is surrounded by construction sites and I’m sure in a couple of years or so a whole neighbourhood will have emerged out of the ground. Another thing about the station, it is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE. It must be the size of two football pitches. You could organise the Athletics Championship in that station.

The arrival hall at the station

The pick-up area

Heading back to Shanghai

The departure hall

Access to the platform

Also the fast train’s tracks to Nanjing are elevated along the whole journey. It makes you realise that the level of investment in infrastructure from the government is phenomenal. I guess that’s where most of the money is going, along with defence, given that taxpayers pay high taxes but don’t really benefit from any social or economic security.

* nán = south, jīng= capital; běi = north … Běijīng = northern capital

Visits: 2010 Expo Site / Shibo Gōngyuan

12 Apr

I don’t know who reads this blog, besides my friends and family, but if there are any foreign residents of Shanghai or prospective visitors, this may be of interest to you. I’ve recently had two friends and my parents visiting and, with the lovely weather and warm temperatures back, I’ve started venturing around town again and beyond. This post and the next ones are about the places I’ve been to but also provide useful advice as to how not to waste your time.

Here’s my advice: if you don’t want to waste your time, do not go to the Shanghai 2010 World Exhibition Site (or Shibo Gōngyuan, i.e. park in Chinese). Really do not bother. Although I was very eager to see it, I felt a little bit suspicious about the whole expedition when I couldn’t find any clear information on the net or in any guidebooks about the site, what is still out there, if it is open to the public or freely accessible. To answer, to the exception of the China Pavilion – which is a beautiful and impressive building but one you can’t visit unless there is some event taking place- there’s the “Expo Axis” (also not accessible) and the rest is largely a wasteland. You have to walk a lot with a few other stranded tourists and equally stranded souvenir sellers only to end up in the “Mercedes-Benz Arena” mall, containing an ice rink, a few restaurants and a cinema but largely empty on a Monday morning. It does however offer a 360 degree viewing platform on the 6th floor, which confirms that there is not much to see in spite of our perseverance. Amongst the few still erect structures are: the apparently much spoken about and quite popular Saudi Arabia Pavilion known as the Moon Boat (I personally failed to see the interest of this building from outside at least) and the non-descript Qatar Pavilion and another Saudi building.

See for yourselves…

The China Pavilion - by architect He Jingtang also director of the Architectural Academy of the South China University of Technology

There are 56 beams, representing the 56 ethnic groups of China

The Expo Axis

Looking north

Looking west, with the Moon Boat

Looking southwest, with a pavilion being dismantled and the Chinese pavilion

The Qatari Pavilion and a big dump

After telling our disappointment to a friend and long resident of Shanghai, he told us that he thought the Expo was disappointing when it was ongoing and all the pavilions were above ground. However what he found quite good is the side event about cities. As you may know the theme of the Exhibition was “Better city, better life” and there were mini-pavilions about cities and how they are working towards improving the quality of urban life through design, transport, green spaces, sustainability, etc. I don’t know what are the plans for the Expo site, but that’s certainly some food for thought… You can still visit some of those pavilions. They are located across the Expo site, in Puxi. I haven’t been yet and as for the main site, I can’t find any clear information. I will go at some point and hopefully it won’t be a waste of time.

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