Shanghai seems to be rapidly competing to transform itself into a concrete jungle – with jagged skyscrapers – dominating its cityscape. Oddly enough, sandwiched in-between these grey zones are huge spaces of green. It wouldn’t be hard to find locals and expats spending their weekends strolling, cycling, jogging, paddle-boating or camping in the park. And with a plethora of parks and recreational spaces to choose from; it might even be a good idea to spend a day doing nothing.
Home to Shanghai’s prominent museums, up-scale hotels and art galleries; it would be hard to imagine People’s Square as an erstwhile racecourse. Shanghai Art Museum, People’s Park, and East Nanjing are all within a walk away. And if the weather is pleasant, you wouldn’t mind navigating through the hordes of domestic and international tourists walking along the streets. Traffic is particularly chaotic here and even the main subway line tends to be crowded. The exhibits of statues and modern installations are not to be missed.
People’s Park is a quaint park landscaped with traditional Chinese techniques. On a Sunday evening, its leafy confines are brimming with people. As we entered the main gates, we saw a number of people sitting or standing with photos of young men or women. Now, if you’re new to this, you’d think these people to be missing. After walking for most of the day, the last thing I wanted to see was sad people. But, before I could mull into the deeper implications of life, Basil explained that it was some sort of marriage alliance fair. Things seemed a lot clearer now. Smiling head shots of young men and women with their specifics scribbled on the placard. Yeah, it made sense! Narrow paths lead you to a pond or an art gallery – whatever you choose to explore at the moment. Under the shade of tiled roof-top pavilions; people while away their time eating snacks, sipping green tea or playing a game of cards.
The Yuyuan Gardens were constructed by Pan Yunduan, a wealthy officer in the Ming Dynasty. Although the gardens have been successfully restored, it might prove to be a challenge to escape the effect of time. With cool shady areas, soothing sounds of birds, and vibrant blossoms; the park lives up to its Chinese name, Yu, translated as being pleasing. Cobbled pathways lead you into and outside pavilions, rocky caves, and flower beds. Weekends bring their share of tourists with tour noisy tour guides. Choose wisely and you might be able to seek a spot of solitude.
We’re particularly fond of Century Park. Especially, since, Basil spent many a lonely weekend here, without me, in the winter of 2014. And that’s why he literally forced me to visit this park. The copious grounds of the park encase a lake, Suzhou-themed canals, manicured gardens, jogging tracks, and thick forest cover. You’d need more than a day to cover the different sections of the park. You could opt for a bicycle or tandem bicycle depending upon the number of people you’re with. There are two different water bodies to try paddle boating and smaller streams to try fishing. With few tourists, Century Park is perfect to unwind in the lap of nature. However, weekends tend to be packed with families, love-struck couples, and groups of teens.
M 50 might not be your traditional park or garden, but if you’re into art, it’s worth a visit. Finding it – might prove to be a challenge. We thought we could walk it up from the metro, not realising how far it actually was. Somewhere between getting lost and feeling utterly tired of asking locals for directions, a lone cyclist (with a carrier) offered to give us a lift for CNY 40. Now, it might have been easier to hail a cab, but unless you have a Chinese name of your destination, it might seem like a herculean task to explain where you want to go. After a 15 minute, bumpy adventure ride, we reached M 50. The brick layered buildings are mostly two storey high. Galleries showcase art, photographs, and even clay-works (much cheaper in Tianzifang). We chose to eat our lunch in of the cafes, before walking down the street to the main road. En-route you will find many more galleries and the work of local graffiti artists. A film crew shot models dressed in Roman attire and on the opposite side, a group of young teens posed as graffiti artists. After successive attempts, we finally found a cab who understood what we said. This time the fare was CNY 29.
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