Travel magazines usually have two approaches when portraying this part of “the Hai”. They either show you pictures representing the rise of the city as a metropolis with a back drop of elegantly dressed Chinese practicing Tai Chi, or as a smogged up, heavily polluted river that represents all the ills of the city with a further Chinese amateurish attempt at 21st century urbanism.
Truth is, pictures are deceptive and are usually captured through a uni-purpose lens. The feeling of approaching the bund depends on three variables: where you approach it from, what time of day and what time of year. There is the occasional outlier event such as the unfortunate event of the 2014 stampede that saw the departing of 36 souls that could change your experience on the bund from everybody else.
The 4th of June was luckily a sunny day during that wet season and we walked towards the Bund from Nanjing E Road, a “lu” scattered with the shiniest of brands and upscale malls. You already get a sense of a growing affluent base in the city. The Fairmont Peace Hotel could easily be mistaken for the Plaza Hotel off Times Square. However as you approach the bund sucking on some pearl tea from Coco, you are impressed with the beauty of the Pearl TV Tower. Stepping on the bund you witness the rise of China and behind you on the other side of the road the remains of the colonial (Britain, US, Germany and France) banking buildings, that have been occupied by lush local services companies or museums.
I could not help but connect to the philosophy of the I-Ching that had a seemingly obsessive stance towards perseverance and acceptance of change “周易” or Zhou Yi. In a book that addresses the soul of China it says: “Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim.”
This reflects Shanghai’s position as a city that was built out of materialist, imperialist plans, occupied by the hedonist and the scavenger and enforced on a culture that believes in the dao, corrupting some through the opium trade, others through sex and most through money. Those people are now gone, what remains is the stink of capitalist ambition represented through the rise of business holding sky scrapers, flashy lights of attention seeking bars and night clubs (see Bar Rouge Experience), smell of burnt marine gas oil released by boats chugging along the Huang Pu and the watch full eye of Beijing run local police ensuring that the wildness of the city does not push you over the edge. If you come from a western culture and traveling with a partner there is a huge temptation to use the view as a platform for seductive drama but one should refrain since the Chinese have a negative stance towards public shows of affection. Don’t judge, since their marriage success rates far exceed that of the occident…
I remember the beauty of the Bund getting us all excited with Juli stepping for a picture on the edge of the railing when Ray Ban sporting guards walked and “ordered” discipline through a hand gesture and stiff face.