Historically, Pudong (浦东, pŭdōng) has been known as the “wrong side of the Huangpu” – before 1949, the area was characterized by unemployed migrants, prostitution, murders and the most appalling living conditions in the city. It was here that bankrupt gamblers would “tiao huangpu”, commit suicide by drowning themselves in the river. Shanghai’s top gangster, Du Yuesheng, more commonly known as “Big-eared Du”, learned his trade growing up in this rough section of town. In 1990, however, fifteen years after China’s economic reforms started, it was finally decided to grant the status of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to this large tract of mainly agricultural land, a decision which, more than any other, is now fuelling Shanghai’s rocket-like economic advance. The skyline has since been completely transformed from a stream of rice paddies into a sea of cranes, and ultimately a maze of skyscrapers that seemingly stretches east as far as the eye can see.
The best views of the city are from the observation deck at the top of the 492m Shanghai World Financial Centre (环球金融中心, huánqiú jīnróng zhōngxīn), China’s tallest building. In contrast to its elegant neighbour, the Jinmao Tower, its lines are simple: it’s just a tapering slab whose most distinctive feature is the hole in the top. Locals call it “the bottle opener”. That hole was originally meant to be circular, but was redesigned as an oblong when the mayor complained that it would look like a Japanese flag hovering over the city.
The entrance and ticket office is in the southwest side. There are three ticket prices, depending on how high up you want to go; the top level is by far the most impressive and now you’re here you may as well bite the pricey bullet and go all the way to the top, where you’ll be greeted by a magnificent 360-degree view across the city. Hardened glass tiles in the floor even allow you to look right down between your feet. Landmarks are pointed out in the booklet that comes with your ticket, and you can get a photo printed for ¥50. The view is at least as impressive at night.