Postcard from… Shanghai

It’s two years since my wife Elaine and I first arrived in Shanghai.

A vivid memory of that rain drenched arrival via Hong Kong was the drive from Shanghai’s monumental Pudong Airport through the 30 kilometres of construction site of part-finished spaghetti junctions and elevated roadways, then crossing the Lupu Bridge with its view on both sides of the enormous cleared site for the 2010 World Expo.

The following days took me to our office on the Puxi side of the Huangpu river on Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (Shanghai’s historic Bund) with its old Shanghai and colonial feel of marble floors and art deco lifts.  An amazing contrast with the vista on the opposite Pudong side of the river with its Blade Runner skyline of space-age towers and shopping centres (including my daughters’ favourite Super Brand Mall).

A constant fact of life until April this year has been the ever present construction work.  The Bund in front of our office has seen continuous scaffolding, roadworks, blocked and rutted pavements and traffic jams.

The picture was the same through Shanghai until, lo and behold, I returned from a week’s business trip to Beijing and the construction site had disappeared as if by magic, along with miscellaneous beggars, street hawkers and shoeshine men.  In its place a mile of full-grown trees, thousands of flowers boxes, pedestrian walkways, shortly to be joined by thousands of Chinese tour groups each with their matching coloured caps so they don’t get lost in the masses.

Only China, surely, could get so much done in such a short space of time.  Everything had to be  ready by 1 May for the fireworks and razzamatazz that launched Shanghai World Expo 2010 – the Expo theme ’Better City, Better Life’ has been showcased, not only by the inventive and spectacular Expo site itself (with its 200 pavilions, vast red Chinese Pavilion next to what looks like the world’s biggest flying saucer) but also by the way the city has taken the opportunity to improve so much of its infrastructure – it really is a better city giving people a better life. 

Besides the Expo, Shanghai’s normal buzz continues, the leafy streets around the area where our apartment is and those near our office are bursting with small shops and restaurants where you can get every type of food. We act for a mix of international and Chinese clients, so we see a real mix of people visiting the office but they all love the building and enjoy the local food. A favourite is the Sichuan Tianfu restaurant, where we sometimes go for office lunch and take braver clients – Shanghai spicy frog soup is a speciality.  A real contrast with the ex-pat sports bars like my favourite, the Camel, where you get great Guinness and can watch all the Premiership football matches live.

It certainly is a privilege to see Shanghai live its dream in Expo year.

Jonathan Reardon is a partner in Pinsent Masons’ Shanghai office