Although the Communist Revolution denuded Shanghai of much of its notorious character, it still throbs with the vitality and excitement of an exotic world capital. Here are tips on discovering the unheralded thrills of this port city:
* Transportation: Shanghai is easily accessible. There are direct air routes from every major city in China, as well as Hong Kong and Japan. A Chinese passenger ship, the Shanghai, sails between Hong Kong and Shanghai twice a month. There is also a two- or three-day boat tour down the Yangtze River, which departs Chongqing or Wuhan for a breathtaking ride through the Great Gorges of China to Shanghai.
* Hotels: Your hotel will probably be chosen by the China International Travel Service (CITS) representative in charge of your tour group. Since I was travelling alone and unescorted, I simply walked in off the street and asked for a room at the Peace ("Heping") Hotel and managed to get one but that's not the suggested way to do it. Most of the tourist hotels in China are first-rate, and the service is excellent. In Shanghai, the advantages of the Peace Hotel and the Broadway Mansions is that they are on the Bund, the heartbeat of the city overlooking the river. The largest of China's hotels, the Jin Jiang, is situated downtown in what used to be the Old French Concession on Avenue Joffre. With a number of shops, bars and services, it is virtually a city within a city. Across the street, the Jin Jiang club offers foreigners a swimming pool and billiard room. It boasts the most splendid art deco interior.
* Restaurants: Shanghai cuisine is lightly and delicately seasoned and sweeter than in most other parts of China. There are over 600 restaurants. A unique feature of Shanghai is the profusion of coffee houses, where Shanghainese gather to satisfy their legendary sweet tooth and talk art and politics. For tourists who like to play it safe, there are the hotel dining rooms that feature Western and Chinese cuisine. Another distinct feature are the vegetarian restaurants. A famous one, the Gongdelin Shushichu, offers such imitations as mock Beijing duck, stir-fried shrimp and sweet and sour vegetarian whole fish. As in most restaurants in China, the Shanghai eateries close early. Nothing is open much later than 8 p.m. so you should be seated by 7 p.m.
* Getting around: The most hassle-free method is taxi, so comparatively cheap that you can afford to tell the driver to wait while you shop, sight-see, dine or run errands. For the truly adventurous, there are color-coded buses and trolleys, but enlist the aid of someone who speaks English and boards at the same time you do.
* Shopping: Shanghai is reportedly the best, most-eclectic shopping center in all of China. There is more available merchandise, but the prices appear to be slightly higher than in Beijing. For example, Chinese "chops" (stone-cut seals) were two to three times more in Shanghai. The Friendship Store on the Bund is a sure bet for gifts, but I personally preferred the Number One Department Store at 800 Nanjing Road. Half the size of Macy's, the store is a shopper's smorgasbord. I found everything from Frisbees to beach towels with a picture of the Bund on them. T-shirts with "Shanghai" stenciled in English and Chinese make an economical and practical gift. Crowds usually run four deep at the counters, but don't be surprised if they part for you. They may very well sidle up to you to see what you purchase. I once caused roars of laughter when I tried to buy what I thought looked to be handsome coats with attractive Chinese characters on the back. They turned out to be size samples which customers tried on. The lettering said: "Number One Department Store, Men's Size Seven."
* What to do: No problem here. Shanghai is still a "Paradise for Adventurers," and you may not have time for all the things you'd like to do. I might qualify that by saying there's a lot happening during the day. As in most Chinese cities, the sidewalks roll up early. The following is a grab bag of tourist attractions which I took in and enjoyed:
* Huangpu River boat tour: Although the 3 1/2-hour tour of the harbor that goes to the Yangtze River and back yawns on after awhile (huge gantry cranes line the shore like praying mantises), it's definitely worth it to see the skyline from the river and to see the mighty Yangtze.
* Old Chinese Quarter: An oval of winding streets spilling over with shops and humanity, the Old Quarter is the way you expect China to look -- not surprising when you consider that the famous "willow pattern" of chinaware was based on the Garden of the Mandarin Yu which dominates the area. Take an afternoon and browse and rummage through the novelty shops. Have tea in the famous Wuxing Ting Teahouse.
* Parks: People's Park and People's Square are in the heart of the city, opposite bustling Nanjing Road. There is an interesting historical museum in this park, which was once a race-horse track. It was originally laid out in 1861 by a foreigner who traced a large oval on horseback with his sword.
* The Children's Palace: There are a number of schools for children who excel in dance, music, mechanics and mathematics called "children palaces," but the largest and most famous is on Yanan Road. I was told that I could go to the palace only by appointment. I went anyway and wandered freely along the halls and gardens, often greeted by the children with "Good morning, Comrade."
* Shanghai Industrial Exhibition: This place is significant because it was once called the Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship, built in the '50s. It's a towering birthday cake of Russian architecture and totally out of place. It now houses the Chinese Industrial Exhibition.
* Jade Buddha Temple: Like the Garden of the Mandarin Yu, this shrine of two rare Buddha statues, each carved from a single piece of jade, is a touch of the Old China. The two statues were brought from Burma by a Chinese monk in 1882, and 24 monks live and work at the temple, running a religious goods store and vegetarian restaurant.
* Acrobats: You should not leave Shanghai without visiting the Shanghai Acrobats at their home base, a modern theater-in-the-round on Nanjing Road. It's a splendid show of physical dexterity, agility and humor, which also features the best magic acts I have ever seen. The CITS agent will arrange tickets. Book early.