After dumplings and an interesting visit to a suit maker (Eric Lee is in the market for something custom), we decided we had just enough time to hop on the Metro and see Pudong. Nominally that’s the entire east side of the river, but it essentially refers to the knob of shoreline across from The Bund that’s sprouting skyscrapers like mushrooms in Maine this past summer.
Metro Line 1 to Metro Line 2 through the People’s Square station (flowing in an absolute river of humanity), then just two stops on Metro Line 2 and you emerge in a construction site surrounded by a forest of skyscrapers.
You are also surrounded by construction walls (inevitably covered in posters for “Expo 2010”, usually featuring (besides their doughy mascot) the faces of Yao Ming, Lang Lang (pianist), and a third guy who I think is a race car driver), around which you must navigate through a maze of detours and construction equipment to get to a street or a building, much less find a news stand or a food store (good luck). This neighborhood is all about glass and steel, and the people on the street are here to see that and have their pictures taken in front of it, or possibly to work in it, but they’re not here to live, at least not to live lives we would recognize.
But the buildings rise everywhere, mostly shiny, some very odd like the Oriental Pearl (based on a tripod, with bulbous thorax and abdominal segments topped by a spindle of a radio tower) and a new building swathed in ionic columns still under construction. Overlooking this madness are the Jin Mao building, and the Shanghai Financial Center building like older siblings surveying the youngsters among them. Until 2007 the Jin Mao building — a square-scalloped and bristly pyramid — had been the tallest building in China, fifth tallest in the world. Then it’s immediate neighbor, the SFC, overtopped it with a mirrored handle (kind of like a Phillip Stark toilet brush kit) 13 stories above it.
We visited both buildings, and thanks to the initiative of our friend Eric, we marched right into each hotel and used their lobbies as observation decks, foregoing tickets and lines and also getting a flavor of what it might be like to be a guest. The Grand Hyatt lobby is on the 57th floor of the Jin Mao building, and it wraps around 2/3rds of the periphery (though half of that is taken up by their lobby café). We picked a pretty good day to go up as the sky was clear as a bell, and the haze was at a minimum, mostly fuzzing out the street views between the endless carpet of high rise apartments as far as we could see in every direction. Views to The Bund were blocked by a crowd of 50 (or so) story wannabes along the east river bank. The interior design was Deco “-ish” with lots of right angles and parallel lines and the color scheme was rusty red and gold and black lacquer.
The Park Hyatt entrance (in the SFC) was well hidden behind some masonry walls away from the entrance to the observation deck and around an unmarked corner that could have been a service entrance. The only clue that it was not was a uniformed bell hop and two luggage rolling racks against the far wall. Around that corner was a security check point complete with x-ray machine and metal detector…although no one appeared to be viewing the x-ray image, and when I walked through the metal detector with my cell phone and Palm Pilot still in my pockets (not to mention keys, metal pen, belt buckle intact) no alarm sounded and there was no one on the other side of the detector to monitor and/or wand those who failed. The security men (dressed in Hyatt uniforms) were very friendly and seemed intent on getting guests through quickly. We then walked through a series of switchback chambers that grew darker and smaller until we were at a bank of elevators which whisked us up to the 87th floor. This lobby was dark and all muted grays and blacks like stepping into a bad Rothko painting. The windows were half a level above the lobby desks organized as a lounge/bar. And here, befitting a building with a security check for hotel guests, the staff was much more attentive to our “needs.” Attendants stationed at the top of the stairs to the bar level kept their eyes glued to us, and when we climbed up they asked very politely if we would like a “drink or dessert.” We asked if we could see the view, and they visibly frowned, but pointed us to the end of the lounge where there was a bank of seats in front of the windows. We walked over to the windows and I was jolted with a whiff of vertigo as the spiky top of the Jin Mao tower appeared below us. I stepped back in shock, but then took a quick picture to prove it was so. Then we turned to leave.