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Shanghai Dawn

Maybe it was the jetlag, but I was up at 6am on a beautiful sunny morning in Shanghai. From my hotel room I can clearly see the Oriental Pearl TV tower dominating over the skyline, demanding attention. Since I was wide awake, and none of the shops are open, I decided to go for a morning jog before beginning my day.

Since I’ve studied a city map the night before, I knew exactly where I was headed, the waterfront promenade, otherwise known as the Bund, a must see for all visitors to Shanghai. After a quick stretch, I jogged across an overpass on my way to my destination. But to my surprise, the overpass was already starting to fill. Not with people going to work, but with people with similar ideas as I. An old man was slowing jogging around and around the overpass as his daily exercise routine, and as I later found out when I returned from my jog, that others also gather there every morning for Tai Chi and other exercises.

As I made my way slowly to the Bund, the sweet smells of dumplings and other Chinese delicacies wafted by as I passed small restaurants that are just staring to open for breakfast. On my route, I also passed the little old women out for their early morning walks and dodged various buses and cars not yet filled to capacity due to the early hour.

When I neared the promenade I crossed a bridge and had to stop altogether because of what I saw. Barges filled with cargo chugged their way right beneath the bridge in order to reach the Huangpu River and ultimately to the mouth of the Yangtze River. Shabby little fishing boats and huge luxurious cruise ships all lined the Huangpu river in such an array of busy shapes and activities that I was both amazed and delighted to witness such a mix of old and new.

When my jog took me to the north end of the Bund I entered Hunagpu Park and saw many people doing Tai Chi, exercising their swords, displaying their birds, and to my surprise, flying kites and jogging as well. For some reason, I had this stereotype that Chinese people did nothing but do Tai Chi in the mornings, so seeing the various activities was a delightful surprise. Fancy kites of centipedes and Japanese samurais floated in the sky along with homemade kites of paper and bamboo. I was so busy with watching this that I almost ran over a fellow jogger coming from the opposite side.

The Bund at this hour is filled with locals. In this crowed city of over a million residents, the people must also share their open spaces with over a million visitors a day. The visitors could be tourists but they could also be workers from outside of the city as well, all seeking work in Shanghai during the day, but returning to their homes outside of the city in the evenings. Avoiding the crowds could be one of the reasons that so many locals hang out in the public places early in the morning, other reasons could be that they simply like to exercise in the mornings with the fresh air, or maybe they’re just early risers and simply want to enjoy their city in the glow of the sunrise.

Whatever the reason was for being up so early, all I know is that I’ve seen and learned more about the locals that morning than I’ve ever learned in guidebooks and local tours. The smell and the feel of the city in the morning is a totally different feeling than later in the day because later, the locals go inside and the sleepy tourists come out to the places that were previous populated with colorful kites, birds and groups of old men and ladies exercising.

I did not get the chance again in my trip to repeat my morning jog in Shanghai, but I will never forget the sights that greeted my eyes that early morning and hope that everyone may have the experience I did and take at lest one day to experience the city in the early mornings.

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