The Pearl of the East

Shanghai, China

A city where history, beauty and culture coexist with 21st century consumerism.

In its heyday, Shanghai was the place to be. It offered the best art, the most magnificent architecture and was regarded as the centre of business in Asia. Shanghai was also a party city with dancehalls, houses of ill-fame, glitzy restaurants, international clubs and even a race-track. The “Paris of the East” as it became known, was also known as a place of vice and indulgence. This was where the term ‘shanghaied’ originated, referring to the practice of abducting sailors (usually while they were drunk in a local tavern) to crew sailing ships undertaking long sea voyages to places like the Far East.

Shanghai, which actually means the “City on the Sea” is today one of China’s most open cities ideologically, socially, culturally and economically. While Beijing in the north is the capital and seat of Chinese government, Shanghai is the city of business and commerce and is a mecca for international visitors. It is also a mecca for the international marketing communication industry, as the city is generally regarded as the gateway to China and its 1.3 billion consumers. Sprawling across both sides of the Huangpu River, it has much in common with New York as a business and commercial hub. Maybe it should be known as the “New York of the East”!

10 days in Shanghai

I led a group of university students on a 10-day Industry Study Tour to Shanghai to visit a number of leading advertising and media agencies. The study tour itinerary reflected a cross-section of the industry’s key players; both large multi-national and smaller advertising agency groups demonstrating expertise in all forms of communication, but with a particular focus on digital and new media.  Additionally, we met with both national and international advertising industry representatives from the International Advertising Association (IAA) in China and the China Advertising Association.

Whilst I had been to China on a number of occasions, I had never been to Shanghai. Dinah accompanied me on this trip. We were met at the airport by Ling Sue who was to be our study tour guide and interpreter for the agency visits in Shanghai. While Shanghai is very much an international city, English is still not universally spoken. The itinerary saw us arriving in Shanghai via Singapore late on the Saturday evening. Sunday was a day to get over the trip and to explore a little of the city. Monday to Friday we had two industry meetings each day with advertising agencies and media companies, then free time in the evenings to enjoy the city by night. The final Saturday and Sunday were free days to explore the city, departing Shanghai for Australia on the Monday. In all, a full-on 10 days of business and cultural sightseeing.

Staying central

There are almost 7,000 hotels in Shanghai. Our hotel, the rather elaborately named Jinjiang Metropolo Classiq Shanghai Hotel was well priced and well located in central Shanghai on Nanjing Road East, a short walk from from the shopping mecca of Nanjing Road, the Shanghai Natural History Museum and the Bund. It was also within walking distance of the East Nanjing Road Metro Station and the metro line that runs east to west serving key central areas including the Science and Technology Museum and the skyscrapers of Pudong. We can certainly recommend this hotel. It is well located and excellent value for money. Check it out and book at:

For much of its length, Nanjing Road is a pedestrian precinct running through central Shanghai to the Bund, the waterfront embankment that runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River. Named after the city of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing Road is the main shopping street of Shanghai and is one of the world’s busiest shopping precincts. Here you’ll discover an eclectic mix of retail stores including large department stores such as the aptly named No.1 Department Store, the first state-owned department store in Shanghai; Yong’an Department Store in the classical European emporium style; Landmark Department Store; Lao Feng Xiang Jewellery; Shanghai First Provisions Store; Shanghai’s City of Books; the Silk Commercial Building; and Bao Da Xiang, a store that caters just for kids – the shopping destination at Christmas time!

Each day, rain, hail, shine or even snow, thousands of locals and tourists transverse its kilometres of shops – even more in the evening. Here you’ll find the world’s top retail brands side by side with stores selling unique Chinese goods. In the streets and lanes that run off Nanjing Street you’ll discover some of the best restaurants and eateries in Shanghai. One restaurant that we frequented during our time in Shanghai was the Longfeng Restaurant at the entrance to the Peace Hotel in East Nanjing Road. Serving authentic Shanghai, Canton cuisine and Sichuan cuisine food, this was a favourite of ours for dinner during our evening meanders down Nanjing Road. Street food too is plentiful in this area and it is excellent. However, if you are really homesick for western food there is always Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. There are myriad websites that provide information on where and what to eat in Shanghai. One we particularly like is themed “How to eat like a local in Shanghai” at: Or, if street food is your passion, visit:

Because GOCthePLANET is really about our travels and not about work, I won’t dwell on the business aspects of our time in Shanghai, save to say that we visited a number of leading advertising and media companies, including Havas, OMD, Team Design, Weiden and Kennedy, BBDO, Mindshare, McCann and Continuum over the five days of our working week. In every instance we received a warm welcome from the companies we visited. They were extremely generous with their time and the sharing of knowledge. I know that my students both enjoyed the experience and learned a huge amount about the Chinese consumer and communication market from these locally-based organisations. As one student stated at the conclusion of the tour “The industry contacts and personal friendships we have made on this study tour are invaluable. Goodbye Shanghai. I will never forget you.”

The lights and sights of Shanghai

While the focus of the study tour was on industry visits to gain insights into and knowledge of the consumer in China, an important aspect in the creation of effective communication is an understanding of culture and how it informs and guides everyday life. In this context, one might argue that the time we spent exploring the retail stores on Nanjing Road was in fact, consumer research. In reality, it was because this is a unique and exciting place to visit and the shopping is excellent!

During the tour we did have an opportunity to see a little of Shanghai and learn about the people, the history and the way of life. Our evenings were spent visiting the various attractions best seen at night. The Bund is a must-see, both during the day but especially in the evening. In essence, the Bund is an embankment boulevard that traverses the western bank of the Huangpu River and is a favourite location for locals and visitors. A great place for a leisurely stroll during the day, and in the evening the Bund provides a panoramic view of the Foreign Buildings Complex, a collection of historic colonial-era buildings. Across the river you look out to the Lujiazui – the ‘Forest of Skyscrapers’ that is a maze of ultra-modern high-rise buildings, including the imposing Oriental Pearl Tower. The skyline comes alive a night with the buildings bathed in light. Viewing Shanghai from the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Centre is also a priceless experience. Great during the day, spectacular at night. You can look out over this sprawling international metropolis or you look down 100 levels through the glass floor to the scenery below. Personally, this was not for me as I hate heights, but the students loved it! Tickets to the World Financial Centre Observation Deck are around US$22 per person. You can book online at:

1400s Ming Dynasty to 1930s French Provincial

Our final weekend in Shanghai provided us two full days to really explore this fascinating city. There are just so many things to do and places to see in Shanghai – river cruises, food tours, walking tours, old temples and modern buildings, as well as theatre, concerts and musicals. We decided to spend our time getting to know the real Shanghai by exploring the amazing parks, garden and historic sites. A starting point was the Yu Gardens (Yuyuan Gardens) at Huangpu Qu. This extensive 2 hectare (5 acre) Chinese garden is located beside the City God Temple in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai. The gardens were built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty. Today they are recognised as a National Monument. This is a spectacular place to spend a few hours wandering the maze of walkways over rustic red wooden bridges and past temples, stone and bronze statues, fountains and ponds teaming with koi. If you are into bonsais like we are, there are some excellent examples of large trees shaped in the bonsai tradition throughout the gardens. The adjacent City God Temple, originally the Jinshan God Temple, dates back to 1403 and the Yongle era, and today enjoys a high status in Shanghai. The importance of this holy place to the city and people of Shanghai is captured in the saying: “One who fails to reach the temple never reaches Shanghai”. The temple includes nine palaces and enshrines three town gods. Here you can watch folk and acrobatic performances or simply meander the grounds, immersing yourself in the atmosphere, admiring the oriental architecture and exploring the many gift shops.

Then, for something completely different it was on to a district of the city known as the Shanghai French Concession, strolling down the tree-lined Huaihai Road past amazing art deco and provincial French architecture. Once the homes of famous Shanghaiites, these buildings reflect the city’s golden age of the 1930s. Today the French Concession is still the home of many residents of Shanghai as well as the location of many small businesses who choose the more eclectic village environment to the glass and steel of the CBD.

Not surprisingly, given the age and history of Shanghai, the city is an antique lover’s paradise. As is our custom when we travel, Dinah and I like to purchase something interesting for our home that will remind us of our visit. Not necessarily expensive, but always unique. Fuyou Antiques Market in Shanghai is just the place. Located on Fangbang Zhong Road in the Huangpu District, it is best reached by taxi. The market is open seven days a week, but the real action takes place at the weekend when out-of-town antique traders bring their wares for sale. While the auctions are the place to be for the serious antique buyers, for most of us simply browsing the stalls and bargaining hard will offer the best opportunity of securing a treasure.

Shanghai really is a full-on, fabulous city. A place where we could spend 10 days or a lifetime exploring. I am sure that I speak for my students as well when I say – we will be back!


Tips for the Trip

Unless you are a citizen of a country that has a Mutual Visa Exemption Agreement with the Peoples Republic of China, you will need a visa to enter China. You can check to see if your country has an exemption agreement at:

If your country does not have an exemption agreement with China, you should check the visa requirements as they pertain to your country. For Australians, there are a number of visa types but the most commonly issued visa allows a 15-day stay. However, you must be travelling with a least one other person to obtain this visa. You will require a valid passport and prepare some additional documents to obtain the visa, including passport photocopies, photographs, an itinerary and a completed application form. It takes the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre up to 10 business days to process your application, plus you’ll need to factor in the time it takes to post and receive your documents. And, they can’t be processed until 30 days before your trip. To speed it up, there is a iVisa process. Yes, the visa process is complicated, so best to check it out well in advance at:

It is important to note that while you do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, if you plan to travel across the border from Hong Kong to China (Hong Kong being part of China), you will require a visa.

Unfortunately, Shanghai can be affected by air pollution, the result of industrial activity in northern China. If you are asthmatic of have any respiratory problems, make sure you take the appropriate medication with you. It is also best to obtain a letter from your doctor to take with you confirming any medication you are travelling with.

Check the weather forecast for your stay in Shanghai. It can get quite warm in summer and really cold during their winter months of December to March.

Photo Gallery

Main picture: Magnificent bronze statues in the Yuyan gardens in Shanghai

  • The Bund on a typical Shanghai day
  • Thousands enjoy night shopping on Nanjing Road
  • Two stall owners enjoy a friendly game at the Foyan Antique Markets on Fanbang Road
  • Opps! Caught taking a ‘selfie’ at the City God Temple
  • Magnificent Chinese temples
  • Yuyuan Gardens at Huangpu Qu in the Old City of Shanghai
  • Are you sure the power was installed by a certified electrician?