Shanghai and Beijing: My tale of two beautiful cities

    When an opportunity to travel to Shanghai, China, dangled on the window of my mind, I flung open the door of my heart and received it without hesitation. My first trip to Shanghai, China, in 2012 thrust me in a shock bubble. I was stunned at how advanced the Chinese are in terms of economic growth and infrastructure. My only setback then was I had no time to explore the city.

    Going back to Shanghai in 2015, was my opportunity to resume what time robbed me of previously accomplishing. With my younger sister Uyi and cousin Uwa, joining me for their first visit to China, I knew it was going to be a fabulous trip. This time around, Beijing, the capital city of China was part of the itinerary. Up until the hour of our departures from the US and Canada (where my sister lives), we couldn’t contain our excitement. Upon arrival in Shanghai, we were like kids entering an amusement park of wonders. We couldn’t wait to discover and explore China to the best of our ability.

    Shanghai is the New York City, the financial and commercial center of China. It is a unique melting pot with traditional Chinese, European and American influences.

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    A partial view of Shanghai, China

    With a population of more than 24 million people, it is one of the main industrial centers of China. The first thing you notice in Shanghai is the architectural prowess in the city’s skyline. It’s like a war of spectacular skyscrapers fighting to be crowned “King of the clouds.”

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    Shanghai Financial District, Pudong – Skyscrapers compete in this area.
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    Shanghai Old Street, historically called Miao Qian Dajie. The buildings here reflect the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Development of this street began during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) up until when European influence fell on the city.


    The city is full of life, elegantly vibrant, cosmopolitan, yuppyish and fast paced. People in general are friendly though a lot of the Chinese residents speak little or no English. If you plan to go shopping, be prepared to acquire or hone your bargaining skill. The harder you bargain, the better the price you get for your purchase. If you are going to get around with taxi cabs during your stay in Shanghai, make sure someone translates and writes your destination in Chinese so you can give it to the cab driver.

    Almost immediately, we took the Hop on Hop off bus tour of Shanghai. (This is the best and most affordable way to see any city.)

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    Hop on Hop off Bus Shanghai

    The Bund and the financial district in Pudong, tickled our fancy the most. Among the many buildings spread throughout downtown, we marveled at the 2,073 ft. high and 128 stories Shanghai Tower and the 101 floors Shanghai World Financial Center.

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    Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in the picture


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    Shanghai World Financial Center – It must be the world’s largest bottle opener.


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    Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai

    They stood out like sore aristocratic thumbs. The Oriental Pearl Tower also left an impression on us.

    The Oriental Pearl Tower is China’s second tallest TV and radio tower. It houses a fabulous futuristic space city, a 25 room hotel and a great sightseeing hall.  The pearl at the top contains shops, restaurants, (including a rotating restaurant) and a sightseeing floor where you can see a good view of Shanghai. 

    The streets and surroundings in Shanghai are very neat. It beats my imagination how with the world’s largest population, it remains clean at all times.

    At night, lights do a classical number on the city. Most of the buildings are lit and on display.  One cannot help but marvel at the gorgeous sight of these.  

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    Shanghai, China at night. A beautiful city of lights!

    Chinese food in Shanghai is slightly different from what is served in America and other parts of the world.  It is simpler and tastier. We enjoyed eating savory duck meat and fried rice. There are so many ethnic and international restaurants to chose from.  Popular American fast food brands like Papa Johns, Subway, KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s are all over the place.

    In no time, our sojourn in Shanghai ground to an impressive halt. We had no regrets because we had accomplished our short term mission.

    No sooner, we were on our way to Beijing and looking forward to this very short leg of our trip.  We had two and a half days to see parts of Beijing, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square. 

    Beijing is the second most populated city in China. It is more conservative, cultural, educational and historical. Unlike Shanghai, the rhythm is slower and the skyline is free of skyscraper battles. There is interesting architecture scattered all over the place. Some interesting ones include the Beijing National Stadium and  CCTV headquarters.

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    Beijing’s Birds Nest stadium

    People are friendly and more aggressive. For some reason, Chinese people here were fascinated with myself, sister and cousin. We got a ton of requests from strangers to take pictures with us. We were absolutely flattered and wondered if they were mistaking us for Hollywood celebrities. In all, we basked in the fleeting but refreshing glory of being a 5 minute celebrity. Two common denominators Shanghai and Beijing have are their alarming number of chain smokers and terrible traffic.  Beijing’s traffic is worse and like none other. What do you expect when 6 million cars ply the roads.

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    What traffic looks like on a good day in Beijing

    Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing was our first port of call. A bittersweet experience because of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

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    Tiananmen Square

    Monument to the People’s Heroes (the largest monument in China’s history), Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall (Chairman Mao’s embalmed body lies in a crystal coffin here), Tiananmen Tower and the Great Hall of the People are all on this ground. By 8 on Saturday morning, the square was mostly packed with local tourists pouring in from different parts of China.

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    From the left is my sister Uyi, cousin Uwa and myself in front of the National Museum of China, Beijing.

    Across the street is the Forbidden City, the largest ancient palatial structure in the world and a sum total of great traditional Chinese architecture. We were in awe of this place.

    It was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. It was built by over a million civilians and 230,000 architects. Yes, 230,000 architects!

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    Entrance to The Forbidden City
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    Hall of Preserving Harmony – The Ming Emperors would usually change into their ceremonial garments
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    Ceiling in the Emperor’s room
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    The Imperial Garden was built in 1417 during the Ming dynasty. It was the private garden of the emperor and his family. It is about 12,000 square meters.
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    One of the many courtyards in The Forbidden City

    It is 1,600,000 square feet and consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms. When our tour guide said it will take at least four hours to comb it, we were shocked. Too huge for comfort!

    We saved the best for last. The Badaling section of The Great Wall of China! This was a life long dream come true for me.

    The Great Wall of China is an impressive architectural feat, a symbol of the hard work, defensive mechanism and persistence of Chinese people. It is the most extensive and longest structure ever built by humans with a length of 5500 miles over a long 2300-year period.

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    The Great Wall of China

    It was conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang for preventing the entrance of barbarian nomads into the Chinese empire from (221 – 207 BC) in the third century B.C. It was also built by the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) to protect the Silk Road trade.

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    We were very thrilled to be here. Behind us is one of the many Lighthouse towers on the Great Wall. Back then, soldiers kept watch round the clock for any one approaching the wall. If it was an imminent attack, they lit fires to alarm the foot soldiers.


    The popular and best-preserved section of the Great Wall was built by the Ming Dynasty from 1368-1644. It is known as the highest price in human lives, sweat and blood and more than 30 percent of it has disappeared due to erosion and other natural causes. Walking on The Great Wall was worth the chills that raced down my spine during the terrifying cable car ride to the top of the mountain.

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    Inside a Watch tower in the Great Wall of China

    As we left the Great Wall of China, I had a great sense of fulfillment. It was a gratifying pleasure ticking it off my to-do-in-my-lifetime-list.

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    Me at The Great Wall of China

    Alas, it was time for us to return to our individual homes. We travelled back to our different destinations the next day and haven’t stopped thanking God for His faithfulness. We are still talking of Shanghai and Beijing to whoever lends his or her ears to us.

    In the future, when another opportunity to travel to China presents itself, I will jump at it faster than before and explore the places time robbed me of visiting this time around.  

    May Oyairo
    May Oyairohttp://www.mannaexpressonline.com
    is the Founder and Publisher of MannaXPRESS.

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    1. Well documented May. Thanks for showing me what China really looks like. I obviously have a wrong impression of what China looks like.

    2. Am Chinese and really excited to read this well put account of my country. Am sending it to all my friends that seem to have the TV’s impression of China invaded by Kungfu fighters and their masters. Thank you for doing this.

    3. God knows, it feels like I have just visited China. I love the way you wrote and presented the facts and images. Great job!

    4. May, I want to go with you on your next trip. You seem to know the touring ropes very well. Where are you heading to next? Let me know so I can start saving.


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