Shanghai: City of tomorrow

In a decade, Shanghai has gone from sleepy backwater to powerhouse of China's booming economy. Jeroen Bergmans takes a trip to a land of techno tycoons and soaring skyscrapers - and finds time for a cocktail or two
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The Independent Online

Shanghai is a city of skyscrapers and superlatives. It boasts the 550m Lupu Bridge across the Huangpu River, the longest arch bridge in the world. A Maglev (magnetic-levitation) train which transfers passengers between the city centre and the slick, new international airport at speeds of up to 270 miles per hour, making it the fastest railway line in the world. But most impressive of all is the district of Pudong, my first port of call. This area is the size of Singapore, and the hub of the fastest-growing economy on earth. Fifteen years ago it was just marshland and paddy fields, then, in the early 1990s, it was declared a showcase of "market socialism", and a quarter of the world's construction cranes began transforming it into the Manhattan of Asia.

Checking into the Grand Hyatt (you guessed it - this is the highest hotel in the world) is a perfect introduction to the city. In a matter of seconds, the lightning-fast lift brings me to the reception on the 54th floor, where polished staff dutifully wait for the inevitable stream of expletives and exclamations as I encounter the view of the city. But even more impressive is the vast, golden, honeycombed atrium documented by the photographic artist Andreas Gursky, so futuristic you may wonder if you're wearing a virtual-reality headset, viewing a backdrop from Buck Rogers or a scene from Star Wars.

Over drinks in Cloud 9, the lounge bar on the top of the building on the 87th floor, my hosts make it clear that the record-breaking building boom is far from complete. In a couple of years, there will be a Park Hyatt next door, in the elegant, screwdriver-shaped Shanghai Financial Centre which, at 1,614ft, will be the world's tallest building.

It's time to get back to ground level, before vertigo, visual overload and the jetlag start kicking in.

The Bund, a taxi-ride across the river from the hotel, is the district where colonial architecture, Art-Deco mini skyscrapers and rationalist apartment blocks have survived the demolition ball. Three on the Bund is the most fashionable address in town. A neoclassical building revamped by architect Michael Graves, it is home to Giorgio Armani's glittering new boutique, and the internationally acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's eponymous French restaurant where I sample the exquisite tasting menu and a couple of the 5,000 fine wines, in the company of China's first-generation millionaires.

I had been told that the city's nightlife was still finding its feet, but when we arrive at La Fabrique, it's like walking on to the set of a Bond film. An abstract neon arch three-storeys tall welcomes us into a vast, minimalist space where video projections flash in time to club tracks spun by DJs from Brazil and France, as the newly rich locals splash out on pricey cocktails.

The next morning, the concierge issues me with a list of the main places to see and also their names in Mandarin (few Shanghainese know more than a couple of English words). First stop is the Shanghai Museum. With four floors and 11 galleries displaying priceless treasures, even a tour of the highlights can be something of a cultural marathon. Then on to Xintiandi, the city's equivalent of London's Covent Garden, where modern retail outlets are housed in restored traditional courtyard houses. I stop for lunch at the hip Zenzibar before heading off in search of some contemporary culture.

At the Eastlink Gallery is the incredible work by a new generation of artists that is currently dazzling the art world - in both the East and West. It is here that I encounter the only picture of Chairman Mao that I will see on this trip. But it shows not a trace of the personality cult that inspired the propaganda posters of yesteryear - this is Pop portraiture. There is something exciting about the work on show. It is not derivative or inspired by artists in the West, but distinctly Chinese and modern. Shanghai already has the architecture and technology of the future, but just wait - soon it will have its own, home-grown Gursky, Jean-Georges, Armani and Warhol.

Jeroen Bergmans is the travel editor of 'Wallpaper' magazine

FIVE MORE CITIES OF TOMORROW

Bangalore

After China, India is the world's fastest developing nascent superpower and Bangalore is the Subcontinent's Silicon Valley. Its youth may start out in huge, corporate call centres but many join the ranks of wealthy techies. And the city is developing a hip, modern nightlife to help them spend their rupees.

Beirut

The civil war that made Beirut a site of carnage ended 20 years ago and since then it has undergone huge development and attracted millions of dollars of investment. Hi-tech banks now grace the once-ruined skyline, glamorous partygoers have transformed the city into the Ibiza of the Middle East and current tensions with Syria have done nothing to assuage its rebirth.

Dubai

Since opening the élite Burj al Arab hotel, this desert city state has been busy reclaiming land from the sea for two extraordinary developments, one in the shape of a palm tree, the other a map of the world. Both will be covered with luxury houses and hotels. State-of-the-art facilities have also attracted international corporations to Dubai.

Qatar

With the world's third largest gas reserves, Qatar is seriously wealthy and has invested billions of dollars to attract business travellers by hosting conferences and sporting events at a string of new luxury hotels. It is also building numerous universities in a bid to become an educational hub for the Middle East and Asia.

Valencia

Local architect Santiago Calatrava's futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex of museums and auditoria is attracting thousands of visitors and, next door, a huge stem-cell bank is making waves in the world of medical technology. Since winning the competition to host sailing's America's Cup in 2007, Barcelona's provincial neighbour is becoming a hip hang-out.

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