Shanghai is divided into the East and West segments with the Huangpu River (黄浦江) flowing through it. As such, the area to the east is called Pudong (浦东) and the area to the west called Puxi (浦西). Pudong is where the international airport and the central business district is located so modern skyscrapers including the Orient Pearl are the norm. Across the river would be the historic city centre in Puxi, including the Bund and concessions in Shanghai. It was on our last full day in Shanghai that we finally decided to dedicate half a day to Pudong, chiefly for the purpose of scaling either the Oriental Pearl Tower (东方明珠) or the observatory on the 100th level of Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC).
A quick discussion with friend A who has been working in Shanghai for the past two years was all we needed to make up our minds. SWFC it was, for a couple of reasons:
- There is always a crazy queue at Oriental Pearl Tower; and
- One can’t include the tower in the picture if one is up on the tower.
Our choice was a no-brainer given that we were running out of time. Furthermore Shanghai is close enough for us to do several more revisits, so we could always accommodate the Oriental Pearl Tower in one of them.
At 150RMB, entrance tickets to the Observatory has officially become the most expensive of this trip. And true enough, there wasn’t a queue to get up to the 100th level. In fact, the whole place was so quiet almost to the point of deserted that I almost regretted our choice. That was until I saw the impressively detailed mock-up of Pudong and Puxi around the Huangpu River housed in one of the rooms we had to pass by to get to the elevators.
As if wishing to impress us further, the room mimicked a typical day with ambient light switched on to depict daylight hours, and building lights switched on in the darkness to depict night. A fierce thunderstorm was even included in the mid-afternoon, with all special effects imaginable thrown in. We stood rooted, completely spell-bound, until interrupted by a group of tourists making their way into this same room. That was our cue to move on, which we did, with much reluctance.
To reach the 100th level involved a complicated combination of escalator-riding, elevator-riding and then back to another set of escalators followed by elevators. The lack of a crowd on the way to the Observatory made it a stark contrast to the many other observatories and towers we had visited. In particular, Fernsehturm Berliner came to mind and stood out as the tower that made us wait the longest. To be fair, the iconic Eiffel Tower comes in a very close second. Not that we were complaining (about the lack of a crowd). We just felt… weird that jostling around to get to the most favoured window panel for pictures was not in the least necessary at all.
The view at the Observatory was quite spectacular, even on the hazy day we went. The weather could be better, but this was not something we could help. Making best of the situation, the tripod was set up in hope of capturing a better view (than what our naked eyes perceived) with a longer exposure. It helped marginally. Only with some photoshop processes did the above picture make the cut.
Since there isn’t a limit in duration as to how long one could stay up in the Observatory, we lingered around a little to wait for sunset. Many other like-minded tourists did the same, and while sitting around, I spied Italian and Japanese nationalities, amongst many others. But most didn’t come as prepared as we did, what with a tripod and remote control. If I am frustrated with the quality of shots I took with my set-up, I can only imagine how much more vexed they must be.
Most of the night shots didn’t meet my cut, largely due to the bright lights from a neighbouring building illuminating my part of view. Fortunately the picture that the mister wanted of The Bund turned out really quite fine in that two of the prettiest building structures on The Bund – Shanghai Pudong Development Bank on the left, and Shanghai Custom House on the right – were captured in their full glory. Such beautiful buildings they are!
If buildings on The Bund exude an air of opulence worthy of Shanghai’s yesteryears, then the commercial buildings on Pudong side of Shanghai radiate with modern resplendence befitting Shanghai’s current status. Our after-dinner walk through Pudong to the Oriental Pearl Tower was frequently punctuated with my ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahhs’. I have fallen deeply in love with Pudong’s night skyline, which I must say is one of the most alluring I have seen. Even the mister, who is not a person into buildings much, was in unison with my view.
Strangely enough, I felt completely underwhelmed when I finally stood before the Oriental Pearl Tower. It simply looked, for lack of a better description, plain. This tower looks way better from afar.