Shanghai: Hi-tech dragon

Chris Pritchard discovers China’s futuristic mega-city, which successfully blends its enthusiasm for the future with respect of its colourful past

City officials whisper there must be some first-time Shanghai visitors who don’t squeeze in time for a Bund walk – but they’ve never met them.

An amble along this world-famous street is almost mandatory. Early-evening throngs include family groups – locals and tourists – plus people jogging or talking business.

Asking anyone who’s visited Shanghai (China’s biggest city, home to 25 million of  the nation’s 1.36 billion) prompts rave recollections of futuristic marvels and celebrated examples of a colourful history.

Moments after stepping from aircraft, many business visitors’ first experience is the astonishing Maglev (magnetic levitation) train covering 30 kilometres from Pudong International Airport (sharing Shanghai schedules with Hongquio International Airport) at up to 430 kilometres per hour.     

China’s biggest city uses history to flag uniqueness, but technological innovations are everywhere – as noted by Shanghai tourism chief Yang Jinsong, pointing to increased tourist numbers and promising it will become “even more appealing to visitors”.

Shanghai without the Bund is like Sydney without the harbour. Actually a section of Zhongshan Road, it’s at the edge of 113 kilometre Huangpu River. Promenading crowds admire its mix of skyscrapers squeezed against gorgeous historic buildings.

Advise the boss to gaze from the 632 metre Shanghai Tower’s observation deck. Other options include a 468 metre communications  tower – formerly Shanghai’s tallest structure, still a landmark – called Oriental Pearl Tower. Then there’s Shanghai World Financial Centre.

Executive PAs planning business trips should urge adequate time for sightseeing.

Sights include Yu Garden (with traditional Chinese pavilions), the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai Museum (with centuries-old Chinese art) and People’s Square, a public space hemmed by high rises, but anchoring narrow streets with restaurants, bars and nightlife. Time-warp Tianzafang arts and-crafts precinct has mysterious lanes and alleys begging exploration. Then, of course, there’s the ever-crowded shopping drag of Nanjing Road.

Remind your boss punctuality is super-important. Men and women should dress conservatively (jackets can be discarded on tropically hot days). Business cards should be examined several times during meetings. It’s polite to have one side of the card – presented facing upwards – printed in Mandarin. Use a reliable printer who’ll avoid mirth-inducing misprints.

Worthwhile advice to give: don’t be a yokel at lunch, using chopsticks as drumsticks or placing them upright in bowls (reminiscent of funeral incense). Insist on paying, allowing the host to end up doing so as custom dictates.

Private homes for dinner?  A tasteful Australian souvenir is best. Avoid white flowers, another reminder of funerals. Before taking a taxi or metro, ask a concierge to write addresses in Mandarin.

If the boss insists on a particular hotel chain you’re in luck. Almost every hotel brand  is represented, generally with opulent offerings. Prices are modest, service efficient.  Many hotels are in cosmopolitan Pudong, close to the Bund and many appointments.

Hotels compete for small and medium-size conferences. The Four Seasons, for instance, welcomes 700-plus delegates; the Hilton touts 2500 square metres of conference space, including hideaways for as few as a dozen. Availability of the latest gadgetry can be assumed even at three-star hotels (though double-checking doesn’t hurt).

Shanghai’s mega-size convention facilities (hosting gatherings of as many as 25,000) include Shanghai Convention and Exhibition Centre of International Sourcings, Shanghai International Convention Centre and Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall. In a city deeming local contacts important, using a good events management company with strong Shanghai representation is sensible.

One gem we’ve discovered is the German Centre, a five-level facility in the heart of Pudong’s Hi-Tech Park where many IT companies are based. The complex occupies  30,000 square metres, rents out  large and small offices and apartments (similar to hotel suites), boasts hotel-style recreational facilities and has a business centre, with 700 square metres of convention and event space, it has catered for 1000 guests, theatre-style. Despite a key role of promoting trade between Germany and China (particularly Shanghai), people using its services don’t have to be German – and most aren’t.

Shanghai is arguably China’s best place to do business – but, for many visitors, it’s also the Asian giant’s most memorable destination.