After beautiful Beijing with all its incredible historical sites, we made our way to stunning Shanghai via the bullet train. These trains really are brilliant - so fast, efficient and comfortable!
Shanghai is a 'mega city' with the third largest population of any city in the world (after Tokyo and Delhi) with around 24 million people. It's a major port in China and the name literally means City on the Sea. It has a very distinct East meets West vibe. After the first Opium War in the mid 19th century, the city was open to foreign trading. This is when Shanghai (which was then, quite a small village), became divided into 'concessions' or areas for French, American and British immigrants who brought their own influences of architecture, culture and society. So this is how the mixture of cultures began which you can really feel in the city... it's an international melting pot and you can see why it is often dubbed the Paris of the East!
We were staying close to the French concession area and what hits you straight away is the beautiful big leafy trees lining all the streets, adding green and nature to the otherwise neon lights of the jutting high rises. The most common trees found along Shanghai's streets are French planes which were first introduced by immigrants from France. The trees were planted all over the former French concession as a means for the French to relieve homesickness (city planners call it a super tree). Its secret is its peculiar camouflage-patterned bark, which peels off in quick succession, allowing the tree to ‘clean’ itself from pollutions. As a result, it has a high tolerance to pests and diseases, and captures smog and carbon well.
Just a short note about a very special Shanghai connection from the company! Our very own Madelaine Brennan's Great Grandad was called Cecil Barnes Dallas, he was half Chinese and lived in Shanghai where he imported tea back to the UK. Maddy was already feeling a historical connection as soon as she arrived and was keen to explore the Art Deco architecture which she loves.
On the first day, Didi and I walked around to get our bearings... it really is a mixture of huge streets and buildings, small parks and tiny corridors of life.
On one of our mornings, Daisy, Sophia, Maddy and I went to an area called Tian Zi Fang. It was a labyrinth of tiny winding streets, each turn producing another feast to the eyes or nose. It's hidden away from the main streets as it developed from inside the block and grew outwards. A man will be carving a coconut perfectly to produce a sphere of white flesh to a crowd of onlookers eager to see the magic and opposite him would be the cutest and skilful display of animal inspired dumplings. Under the trees would be a cafe where people might be taking a break from their day to sit and have a cup of Oolong tea and soak up the atmosphere... oh and don't forget the amount of teas you can buy! We all succumbed to buying presents from Modern Lady! I was in awe of the craftsmanship on display in this gorgeous boutique area. Traditional arts coexisting with kitsch gorgeousness!
Visiting Disneyland by Mark Samaras:
We arrived at Disneyland Shanghai first thing in the morning and left when the park closed at night. There was a 20 minute slot in the middle of the day where we got absolutely drenched watching the water show. We're massive Disney fans and it was my first time! We bought the premier tickets which allowed us fast pass the queues. It was such a magical day spent constantly smiling and laughing.
Visiting the Jade Buddha Temple and Zen in the City by Jamie McDonald:
I visited the Jade Buddha Temple on a moody, rainy, stormy morning before work, and it was breathtaking. You literally wander off the busy streets of Shanghai into what feels like a haven. I went so early in the morning that it was practically just myself and the monks going about their morning business, it’s quite difficult to put into words how magical it felt. It was so peaceful and quiet, it was like walking through an invisible blanket in to a different atmosphere of zen and calm, and for 2 hours I just sat and wandered through each hall, soaking up the energy.
We performed Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at the Shanghai Culture Square. It's a really big, beautiful theatre with a very wide stage and modern auditorium. The audiences were full every night and went crazy at the end! For some shows, Cinderella, Harry the Pilot, the Angel and Stepmother did a meet and greet front of house. It was really nice to get the reaction from the audience and see how happy they were. What was really lovely was seeing the range of ages coming to watch the show, grandparents and grandchildren grinning alike! And as it incorporated a photo shoot, the audience could take that home with them. Some fans and audience waited at Stage Door for us and gave us really lovely and thoughtful gifts such as canvas bags, electric fans for the heat and I even got some toys for my cat Herbie - how cute! Thank you!
Stephen Murray climbs the Jin Mao Tower:
The Jin Mao Tower is in the Bund area and was the tallest building in China between 1999-2007. Its has a shopping mall, offices and a hotel. I went with Millie (Wigs Assistant), Emily (Wigs Assistant), Jamie, Seren, Jo (Physio) and Harriet (Tech Swing). To climb the outside, you weren't allowed to wear jewellery or loose clothing in case they fell off the edge! We wore helmets and a harness. When you first go out onto the platform, there is a camera for you to pose for so you can get the picture at the end. As you walk along the Skyway, the guide makes you lean forwards, backwards, sideways, sit on the edge and stand with one leg dangling off! I was the worst because I kept shouting at everyone to be careful ha ha. At the end you get a medal and a certificate and I was interviewed by a Chinese radio station!
Lastly, I couldn't possibly write about our visit to China without a mention of the food! Being a complete foodie, and growing up in Hawaii where we had so much Chinese food I was really excited about experiencing it again.
At the end of Beijing, a group of us went to an incredible restaurant called Da Dong, famous for the duck but all of its dishes were like pieces of art! They really do care about the food and it carries a great deal of tradition and respect.
Shanghai served us a plethora of choice! We couldn't get enough of the tiny dumpling stalls where you could be fed for under £2, or feeling like you were in someone's kitchen while they cooked you noodles! And that doesn't even include all the western influenced cafes and bakeries... all the coffee aficionados in the company were very satisfied!
On a personal note, I really enjoyed both Beijing and Shanghai and hope to come back soon to explore more. Over the last 20 years, I have been lucky enough to to travel to all these exciting cities that perhaps I wouldn't normally visit as a tourist, perform with the New Adventures company in shows that unite all types of cultures and people around the world.
Shanghai was full of surprises - striving for openness - a juxtaposition of old charm and new commercialism. From cocktails on the Bund, to secret quiet spots and temples, to getting clothes tailored and climbing sky scrapers... and of course Disneyland. Shanghai caters for your every whim, you may not sleep but you will never be bored!
For our remaining international tour dates and further behind the scenes insights: