Posted by: David Stewart | September 22, 2008

A riddle

I wave. I shimmy. I undulate.

I flex gently both up and down and side to side.

I float above the heads of the mean traffic and mess of the streets below. But sometimes I nearly touch the buildings next to me, allowing me to peek shamelessly through the windows of those buildings.

I stretch nearly eight miles from the center of Shanghai to the old international (and now domestic) airport in Hongqiao (Hong Chow).

What am I?

I am the Yan'An East-West Elevated Road in Shanghai.

My very first experience of Shanghai was being driven along this road by a hired car driver at night. My jetlagged senses were only reading this endless strip of light with 30 story sentental buildings crowding the entire length of the drive from downtown to Hongqiao.

Most of my 20 other trips to China have included some part of Yan'An. But this time, I decided to see it all from street level.

So, at 5:00AM on last Saturday morning, I ran the entire length from Hongqiao into Old Shanghai, then up the Huangpu (Wang Pu) river until things got too sketchy for me to continue.

This run painted the entire spectrum of modern urban life in China. From the swanky apartments on Hongqiao road where celebrities live and die, to the cramped barrio in Old Town. And everything in between.

There isn't much activity in Hongqiao at 5. But by the time I hit the barrio in Old Town, within the old city wall, things were very alive. I had run down a random alley, in the general direction of the Yu Yuan Garden, a major tourist spot, and didn't realize I would get caught in a dead-end slum. Mental snapshots include the place with a line of live ducks sitting all side-by-side, not caged, quacking quietly. And the guy mucking out something with brown liquid whose smell nearly made me throw up. Quickly now, out to the main street and Yu Yuan.

Along the way, I ran past the “Rendezvous Merry Hotel”, which was actually sleek with marble and brass. With a name like that, I bet it's merry.

Much construction: a new Kerry Center (Shangri-La Hotel) and what I think is the site of the Shanghai Expo 2010. Past a statue of the expo's mascot, a blue Gumby clone, standing by the Wang Pu.

Finally, after running past a lone Hyatt sitting in a forlorn neighborhood which may one day be the new cruise ship dock, I turn and pick up a waiting taxi for the drive back to my hotel.

I spray hand sanitizer all over the soles of my running shoes, and wash out my running clothes in the hotel sink before breakfast.


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