Shanghai. Gardens, art and the smog from hell.

Shanghai| China

Shanghai. What is it like to experience toxic smog?

We spent six days in Shanghai in total, after our initial introductory exploration of the city we got stuck into sight-seeing, dipping into our guide-book for ideas.

The glittering views of our first couple of days soon were engulfed in what I can describe as the most toxic smog I have ever experienced.

A choking sickening fog that caught on my throat, and closed the airport.

Yuyuan Garden

Before the smog descended the first place we explored was the Yuyuan Garden: a walled garden in the heart of the old city.

Surrounded by a crazily busy tourist bazaar of shops and eateries, this Ming Dynasty garden is a peaceful escape from bustling Shanghai.

The Yuyuan Bazaar

The Yuyuan Bazaar

The garden, dates from the 1700s and is so cleverly landscaped that it seems to go on forever yet occupies such a small space within the city.

Ponds teem with goldfish and terrapins creating reflections and bouncing around light, wooden walkways transport the visitor across them to delicate buildings and pavilions.

Ginkgo trees, fir, maple and willow provide dappled shade from the midday sun. The design of the garden is quirky, mirrors and windows increase the feeling of space and continuity.

Shanghai Yu Yuan Garden| China

The Yu Yuan garden suffered heavily during the Opium Wars but has since been restored to its former glory and is a fabulous example of a Ming Dynasty garden.

It can become hellishly busy here so I would recommend timing your visit well. As we were in China during the low season it was pretty quiet for us and we were able to experience the garden as it should be experienced, as a peaceful sanctuary.

M50 Art Complex

One morning was spent visiting the M50 art complex, a collection of old warehouses that have been revamped into a showcase for China’s contemporary art movement.

Caley and I walked there from the main railway station, the nearest metro stop. We wandered around the buildings into some interesting galleries, the art was edgy and thought-provoking, most of it was for sale.

The area around the M50 complex was the only place we saw street art {graffiti} during our time in Shanghai.

Sean and Caley both left us for onward travels during the week so we were back to travelling as just the two of us.

I had a day and night exploring Shanghai alone as Chris went off to photograph China’s national bird, the Red-Crowned Crane, at a wildlife reserve to the north.

I had a self-indulgent day of hunting out Shanghai’s best art deco architecture planned yet when I walked down towards the Bund mid morning I soon saw {well, you could say I failed to see} that this wasn’t the day to do this.

Toxic Smog

It was December 6th, the day Shanghai’s air pollution reached hazardous levels.

It was crazy although I didn’t realise quite how bad it was it at the time. I walked to the Bund where the towers of Pudong were invisible, completely lost to the smog, to this thick, almost yellowish haze.

Shanghai| China

A few people were walking along the Bund, they would materialize out of the murk like ghostly beings. The substantial old colonial buildings of the Bund seemed to slip in and out of reality.

I ditched the idea of an architecture walk and headed for some retail therapy instead but after a few hours of walking round the shops the air began to feel really heavy and I realised it probably wasn’t doing me that much good.

I went back to the youth hostel and got chatting to one of the guys in my dorm. He brought up the air quality index, just to totally freak me out.

Apparently, this was extremely hazardous, news-worthy air pollution. Children had been sent home from school, planes had been grounded, you get the idea.

An air quality index of 150 is considered unhealthy, when we checked it read 504 {I grabbed a screen shot of it}.

Suffice to say, I remained indoors for the rest of the day!Shanghai Air Pollution 6/12/2013

Shanghai | China

I took this photo the following morning, Pudong was just beginning to appear through the haze.

We had experienced a fair amount of air pollution in China but nowhere near as extreme as this, it was alarming.

At least we would be moving on and leaving China eventually but people have to live with this and the health implications it creates.

The open skies of the Mongolian Gobi desert couldn’t have seemed further away.

Remember my post last year showing how I write my travel journals? Well, you can now have a gander into my recent diary journalling our travels from the UK to Vietnam by train. I was kindly asked by Paperblanks {they make the most gorgeous journals and diaries} to let them ‘take a peek’ into it so they could make a blog post about it on their website. As an avid Paperblanks user I was more then happy to share my journal with the wider world. You can see the post here.

Take a peek into my journal

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toxic smog shanghai

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Glittering Shangai 

Have you ever experienced pollution like this?

6 Responses

  1. trixpin says:

    Gosh, that smog sounds really bad. I’ve heard about it but never realised it was so dangerous and so impenetrable. Poor you to have been there for that 🙁
    The other things, however, look so exciting and beautiful – the old city, the lovely gardens … how spectacular!

    • By the middle of the day I could feel it on my throat, it is worrying if you had to live there, I would definitely use a mask to cover my face. It certainly makes me far more appreciative of our clean air in Scotland, that’s for sure!

  2. Gah!! In Korea, they’ve done a lot of work to clean the air (clean vehicles, solar power etc….etc…, but we still have to deal with the pollution from China and it’s getting worse. Every spring, we have something called Hwangsa or Yellow Dust, and it’s when sands from the Gobi Desert get picked up, blown through the China (picking up all the pollution in the air), and end up on top of Korea. 🙁 We get lots of warnings to stay inside then or wear masks.

    This year though, for the first time, we’ve been getting new “super-fine” dust from China, outside of Hwangsa season. The world really needs to come together to find a solution, because even though it’s originating in China, it’s affecting all of us somehow.

    • Oh no! That is the worst news! How frustrating that you have no control over the drifting air currents from China, the thought of all that pollution drifting over where I live would break my heart.
      It is easy for us in the far west to ‘forget’ about China’s air pollution but as you rightly point out, it affects all of us in the long run. Unfortunately you bare the brunt of it in Korea. Experiencing that day in Shanghai scared me, this poisoned air is being pumped into our atmosphere every day, it is just weather conditions that make it more obvious on freakish days like this. Terrifiying.

  3. Dave Rowley says:

    M50 looks cool, nice graffiti! Sounds strange but it’s surprising to hear there is no graffiti elsewhere in Shanghai. The air pollution is really shocking to me – did you notice any health effects in your time in Shanghai? How often does it get so bad in Shanghai?

    • It was cool, great to see a contemporary art scene in China, edgy and hip. No, I don’t remember seeing any graffiti anywhere else, maybe we only really were in the ‘tourist’ areas rather than the less cleaned-up parts of Shanghai.

      That day grated my throat a little, the pollution showed more in my skin, aggravated my acne. It was only really smoggy for a couple of days the rest of the time it was pretty clear, Shanghai has better air than Beijing on the whole due to it’s location near the coast. This was particularly freakish. We were lucky in Beijing and we’re blessed with clear skies for the most part.