Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Bund


The Bund (simplified Chinese: 外滩, pinyin: Wàitān) is an area of Huangpu District in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. The area centres on a section of Zhongshan Road (East-1), which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River, facing Pudong, in the eastern part of Huangpu District. The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas.
The Bund is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai. Building heights are restricted in this area.

The word "Bund" means an embankment or an embanked quay, and comes from the Urdu word band, meaning an embankment, levee or dam (a cognate of English terms, bind and band, German term, bund, etc.). "Bund" is pronounced to rhyme with "fund". "The Bund" as a proper noun almost invariably refers to this stretch of embanked riverfront in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Bund has dozens of historical buildings, lining the Huangpu River, that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from Britain, France, the U.S., Russia, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the consulates of Russia and Britain, a newspaper, the Shanghai Club and the Masonic Club. The Bund lies north of the old, walled city of Shanghai. This was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement. A building boom at the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century led to the Bund becoming a major financial hub of East Asia. The former French Bund, east of the walled city was formerly more a working harbourside.

The Bund was famously featured in novel Empire of the Sun by British author J.G. Ballard, based on his experiences as a boy during World War II. The book was later made into a film by Steven Spielberg.
The Bund is a setting (and namesake) of the Hong Kong television series The Bund (1980) and film Shanghai Grand (1996). The story of both involve pre-World War II era gangsters competing for control of the Bund.

Boring intro aside, I had been planning to go and take photos at the Bund for ages but since I'd been here over a year now I thought I'd better get my butt into gear - before the hideous extreme heat of the summer comes - to take nice sunset photos. This requires a bit of planning.

I consulted this site which has sunrise and sunset times (it's excellent and has any location in the world, I've used it many times before, every photographer should have it bookmarked IMHO). So I knew that the sun would set around 6:45pm which meant that the 'golden hour' would be around 5:15-5:45pm (it is usually 1-1.5 hours before sunset). I also knew that it would totally dark at 7:19pm.

I planned to get there at 4:30-5pm but I was running a bit late plus it took way longer to walk there that I thought (from Nanjing East Road station). I just read on some website that it takes 5 mins to walk there. I don't think so!! Maybe because I was hot and tired, and carrying a tripod. I don't know. But I definitely wasn't walking slow and it took me at least 15 mins to walk to the Bund. So by the time I got there (and being peak hour there were fifty billion people and cars everywhere too!) it was already after 5:30pm. About an hour after I left home. D'oh! Oh well. Still, not too bad, I was still in the 'golden hour' period.

At the time I got there there were sooooo many people milling about, mostly tourists but some locals too I think. I had to get someone to take a photo of me (since I was by myself) and just stayed awhile admiring the beautiful view, and the interesting people at the Bund...

After a while I moved further south so I could see the World Financial Center building more clearly. When that building is completed it'll be the third tallest building in the world, and tallest in China, and taking over the Jin Mao building for the tallest building in Shanghai.

On the way I looked across the road to all the former French/British/American buildings. Unfortunately there wasn't much to see because that whole area was a massive construction zone and you coud only see the buildings unobstructed in a few certain areas of the Bund.

Then, I found 'my spot' and then waited for it to get dark. I set up my tripod (which is as tall as me, at 1.65 metres). Then of course people stopped and stared at me, but I just ignored them (you kinda learn that skill very quickly in China, or if you take as many photos as I do!) So I left my tripod up for quite a while and took photos of the Bund view over the Huangpu river to Pudong. I also took some self portraits using the 10 sec self timer (yes geeky and embarrassing! but hey they turned out great!).

I also have to mention that I had this 'idea' of doing this for so long in my head but was worried about the safety aspect. Would someone run away with my camera or my handbag? Well I was pretty much 'on guard' the whole time keeping my eye on both but I wasn't overly paranoid or fanatical about it. I just had common sense and actually I did feel really really safe. Not once did I think I was going to get bag snatched or mugged or anything like that. In fact, everyone was really friendly towards me, and just curious and interested about what I was doing/what I was taking pictures of.

I had several people ask if I could take a photo for them and I was happy to do so, and emailed it to them. I also offered to take photos for couples (with their own camera) while I sat around waiting for the sky to get dark. I think they were very grateful (and I'd appreciate the same gesture as I know how annoying it can be when you're travelling with someone else and there is never anyone around to take a picture of the both of you and if there is they have CRAP skills (blurry, off centre, tilted, head cut off, horrible composition, etc) OR there's that thougth that they might run off with your camera ala that Mr Bean episode...)

Anyway so I was actually pretty tired standing the whole time after having walked all day from morning to afternoon, only going home for about an hour or so. I was busting to go to the toilet but had to keep holding it in. Aahh the joys of being a photographer.

After it got dark, the atmosphere was beautiful. People milling about, lovers kissing under the lamplight and my favourite weather, the cool breeze of a summer night. It reminded me of Sydney and in Hawaii where even though the day time can be quite hot, the night time is just lovely with temperatures in the low 20s which is just perfect.

There were lots of people selling things (which is illegal and they'll run away when the police comes through every so often) and I bought some cute intricate ox bone carving pendants. I bargained down to 30 RMB for 2 and then I realized that I should've paid more. I felt bad because it takes 2 hours to carve one so that's 30 RMB for 4 hours of work :(

Anyway I had loads of fun and I think my pics turned out pretty good, especially since I don't even have an SLR.


An expat (living in Wuxi)'s account of his visit to the Bund at sunrise here

I have two comments about what he wrote... the English in the taxi? Hahaha. "Welcome to take my taxi" and "Please don't forget anything you take" don't exactly make sense. LOL. And 15AUD for a haircut? My hubby goes to a little place across the road from our apartment and only pays 10 RMB (that's $1.50 AUD). He's been there dozens of times and is really happy with them. I do agree with the author in that they do a better job than in Australia, and you get a free head and shoulder massage every time!

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