Shanghai's penchant for phallic grandeur is well-loved by all -- none more than me -- and a week or so ago the city's latest foray into proud, stately erections was triumphantly unsheathed: the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC). Eager to luxuriate in the treasures of this startling edifice first-hand, I got my passport in check and headed off to the shining vistas of Pudong to gawp and twitter along with all the other proles, shelling out a few tawdry renminbees for the pleasure, the right, and the duty of taking a meandering "Sky Walk" on the world's highest elevated observation deck.
Our jovial feelings of privilege and accomplishment were immediately quashed when we arrived at the base of the marvel and discovered a line-up of about 150 people waiting to get inside. We were told the wait would be 45 minutes, and I promptly lost all interest in going. I was persuaded to stay with the argument, 'we already came all the way out here' and was assuaged with the suggestion that we would get some beer for the line -- a promise, it turned out, no one could deliver on. There's nary a Kedi for miles.
After ponying up and making it through a lax security check-point we were led into another room called the "Pre-Show Room," in which the lights were dimmed, the doors shuttered, and we were treated to a three-minute light display with a scale model of the SWFC in a plexiglass tube with little cartoon birds and bats and flowers flying around it. And it changed colors and went 'wooooooo.' Production values were clearly of the variety pioneered by the Bund Tourist Tunnel and I clocked my enjoyment of the show somewhere between Starship Troopers 1 and Starship Troopers 3. It was awesome but not necessarily life-changing.
After this we were lead into another darkened room with huge digital numbers on the ceiling supposedly signifying what floor the elevators were on. After waiting here for a few minutes and being semi-marvelled by the big clicking digital numbers, the elevator doors slid open and revealed a futuristic white cylinder with circular glowing screens pulsating with blue and white colors. By this point it was clear that the SWFC was offering not only the highest observation deck in the world, but they'd also built Willy Wonka's Magical Castle of Mystery Delights in the basement floor. Very nice.
A speedy elevator ride ferries passengers to the 97th floor, which is just the bottom edge of the bottle opener. This room is a large windowed hall, that sort of feels like walking about a jumbo jet that's had all the seating taken out of it. And at last there you have the view: Shanghai bisected into Pudong on your right and Puxi on your left. And it's very arresting of course. Puxi was obscured by smog or clouds or whatever, but Pudong was laid flat and stretched back to the horizon. Interestingly enough, one of the highlights of the view is the Jin Mao Tower, and you get an overlooking shot of its goth severity from the top down.
More lines. This time to the 100th floor, which is the top side of the bottle opener and the location of the fabled "Sky Walk." One elevator transports passengers to this section which is again a large, windowed hall like the last, but shinier. But this time, the middle of the walk has been made translucent and you can see all the way to the bottom of the building. Scary. Also the edges of the room are translucent as well. The whole thing is pretty dizzying and one old grandma provided much entertainment to me as she refused to stand in the middle of the viewing area, and would only furtively step over the divide. I afforded myself a guffaw at her backward, peasant ways. What a serf you are, grandma!
Again the view of the Jin Mao Tower is quite interesting, as is the color-coded uniformity of Pudong -- who knew it had gotten so massive? And here you can spend all the time you need, scanning the Shanghai skyline, thinking about nuclear war, Allah, God, the history of human conflict and civilization, capitalism, the teeming multitudes, and the cosmic ballet.
Gift shop is on the 94th floor, and they've got various shite for sale -- key chains, pins, stationary, chocolate, soda, but no bottle openers -- a glaring oversight. More views, photo ops, and good feeling to be had herein.
A note on the crowd: we went at about 11:30am, right after it opened, and it was on a relatively clearer day. When we went back down an hour or so later, there wasn't anyone in the outside line. I would think that by now, the initial crowds are thinning out and it shouldn't be a bad time to visit.
The Observation Deck
Three floors of ooo's and ahhs at varying prices which are as follows: 94th Floor: 100rmb; 94th and 97th Floor: 110rmb; 94th, 97th, and 100th Floors: 150rmb. Opening time is at 8am. Admission closes at 10pm (they kick you out at 11pm). If you head in for a nigh time visit, make sure you get up there before 9:30-10pm which is when the Bund lights are turned off and then city is swathed in darkness and despair.
Opened on September 1, The Park Hyatt Shanghai spans the 79th through to the 93rd floors of the SWFC, making it the highest hotel in the world. Interiors are by Tony Chi and he took the modern Chinese residence as his inspiration (perhaps, wads of cash as his impetus): lots of private salons, courtyards, family chambers. Hotel restaurant/bar is 100 Century Avenue on the 91st to 93rd floor, restaurant is to serve western, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine and the bar is split into western (jazz/DJs) and Chinese themes (Shanghainese singer).
The Bulk of the building will be used for offices, and the word on the street is that an office in the SWFC runs you 24rmb/sqm per day. That's not cheap they tell me.
The basement floor of the SWFC is a two-level food court with mostly Japanese-owned or orientated options for dining, a convenience store, a donut shop, and of course, a Starbucks. Kind of mall-like.
Pros/Cons of the Big Shanghai Views
Pros: Still the symbol of Shanghai and the most recognized building internationally. Front row open-air views of the Bund.
Cons: When you're in it, you can't see it and it's not as high up there.
Pros: Cheaper. Untrafficked. Offers a great view down through the tower and a more panoptic 360 degree view of Shanghai.
Cons: Doesn't have the cache of being the tallest building in Shanghai anymore. It feels real John Oates now...
Pros: Highest observation desk in the world of course, and great views of the city.
Cons: Doesn't offer the 360 view of Shanghai. It's positioning has great looks at east and west, but south of Shanghai is obscured... good thing nothing's going on there. It's also more expensive than the other two.