Why is it that we seek thrills? Are we lacking something in our comfortable lives; danger perhaps? Do we secretly long to run with the lions and wrestle with nature like our ancestors? These were the questions I was musing in my head when my boss approached me and asked if I was willing to take on an assignment to walk the Jinmao Tower Sky Walk.
88 floors up in the city’s third tallest building, this is the world’s highest skywalk, a platform of reinforced glass 1.2 meters wide, he said. For 368rmb, with the help of trained professionals, you can strap yourself in and walk 60m around the outside side of the building. Not even eagles dare to fly so high he added. Are you the man for the job?
I knew right away there was only one answer: yes.
The elevator to the 88th floor takes just 45 seconds. Not long enough to consider your mortality. You arrive at the observation deck where you can buy souvenirs and grab a quick look at the atrium of the Grand Hyatt Hotel from above.
On the walls are other notable figures that have risked it all for this brush with destiny. Some, it seems, took one look and dared not step out onto the skywalk. I’m looking at you Fan Bingbing. There are others, like the Z-list laowai celebs, the fearless Micky Mouse and your correspondent, who ran the gauntlet.
First off, the front desk. The last bastion of normality before you put your fears aside and come eye to eye with nature. Here you sign a health and safety forms and deposit your belongings. You can’t take a single thing past this point except for the clothes on your back. Everything else goes in a locker. You need to take a passport or photo ID to do the Sky Walk, it will be more than safe enough in here.
Into the prep-room. These staunch professionals strap you in with all this fancy imported climbing equipment. They are (to some extent) bilingual, giving instructions in broken English. It's still easy enough to grasp what they are saying. Essentially - Put your left leg in first; now the arms; don't mess with your equipment when you're on the edge of a sky scraper.
The harness gear is made by Honeywell, a time-honored safety solutions company. The shoes are provided by electropop superstar, poster child for late-teenage angst, and all-around safety-firster, Billie Eilish.
You go out sandwiched between two of the pro skywalkers. One leads, another takes up the vanguard.
It was crunch time. We reached photo-op No. 1. a wall-mounted camera that takes a free souvenir portrait of you on your skywalk. I sidled up to the edge, got into position and threw up an arm. Money shot.
At the next challenge, my instructor kept a cool nerve, demonstrating a perfect star stance off the side of the walkway. Naturally, I followed suit, swiftly taking on the shape of the Vitruvian man at 360m above the pavement. Unfortunately, there's no photo of that one.
We rounded another bend. From here we could see across the Huangpu and off into the never-ending sea of cube-like concrete structures that we humans call home. I was reminded of the time I gazed across the scale model of Shanghai at the museum of urban planning planted firmly on two feet. How trifling that experience seems now.
Photo-op number two, another wall-mounted camera that frames you with the Oriental Pearl in the shot, rather than the urban sprawl of rear-Pudong’s soviet-era housing blocks, was Angela’s turn to join me on the edge, and my turn to offer moral support.
Finally, there was one small chance to do what it's really all about, kicking back and relaxing. If only you could bring a six-pack of cold Tsingdao out here with you.
15 minutes later and back inside I felt a great sense of achievement. I had joined the 60-70 other thrill-seekers that take the skywalk daily. The fact that that’s only half the maximum daily capacity shows what a feat of daring the Jinmao Sky Walk really is.
For my courage, I received this medal. Time to head back to ground level. And a taste of normality.
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Need to know
- Bring photo ID.
- You can’t take your phones or cameras out on the sky walk with you.
- Children 10 – 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
- Wear lace-up shoes and trousers
- You must be 30kg-100kg to do the sky walk.
- You must be between 1.4m – 2m to do the sky walk.
- The Skywalk will be closed for maintenance every Tuesday morning and resumes as normal after 2pm.
- There are no sky walks in the event of bad weather.
- You will not be able to do a skywalk if you have any of the following: heart disease, high blood pressure, fear of heights, mental illness, epilepsy, habitual dizziness, are pregnant, are in a wheelchair, have a visual disorder, respiratory disease, chest pain, shortness of breath, and/or are drunk.