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March 26, 2010

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Bund abounds in city memories

As the renovated, rebranded Bund opens this Sunday, four residents share their views of the landmark area and memories of its changes over the years.

Peter Hibbard

Historian, 53

Historian and Briton, Peter Hibbard recently received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his work in Shanghai. He first visited the city in the 1980s and has lived here for the past nine years. He is president of the North China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, an NGO dedicated to Sinology, and author of "The Bund Shanghai: China Faces West" (2007). He was the historical consultant in the Peace Hotel renovations.

Q: What do you think of the reconfiguration?

A: It's great that there's less traffic and it's more human - you can walk across the road to the Bund and it's a reflection of days gone by. The wider promenade also means a more leisurely walk with more public spaces. With the North and South Bund also renovated, there's a rebranding of the Bund to include the whole waterfront.

There are more important ramifications for Bund establishments. Though the Bund was essential, people passed through without going into the buildings. This will change when the Waitanyuan project opens, plus the Peace Hotel and other businesses. Eventually buildings behind the Bund will also become a destination, and people will spend the whole day there.

Q: How has the Bund changed in your time here?

A: When I first came, the Bund was a bit shabby. Exceptions were the Peace Hotel and the Old Shanghai Club. I thought the Peace Hotel was amazing and really special. With so little written on it or the Bund, it became a major reason for me to come back and stay. I also ran tours here in the 1990s and I insisted we had lunch in the Old Shanghai Club. The Bund changed a lot in the 1990s when the flood barriers were put in, which cut off people from the water, and traffic cut off the buildings from the Bund.

Q: Will you be revising your book on the Bund?

A: Yes. I hope to take it up to date and reissue the book in June.

Yu Jun

Administrator at the Shanghai Postal Bureau, 33

Yu was born and grew up on Yuanmingyuan Road, close to the Bund. His family was relocated when he was 28 and they now live in Jing'an District. Yu still works near the Bund, just as his father did with the Bund port authority.

Q: What were your first memories of the Bund?

A: My grandmother lived in Pudong, which was just farmland back then. As a child I visited her every week across the Huangpu River in a small boat - there were even seagulls! The Bund was the lover's corner, and all my aunts and uncles dated there. It was just dark water, no lights, but it was filled with Shanghai couples who had nowhere else to go. Going for a Western meal at the Peace Hotel was a treat for me. A meal for three cost 10 yuan (US$1.46, which was a lot at that time).

Q: What was it like living in a historic building?

A: Before the Friendship Store was built we had a great view of the Bund. Our building was a Dutch bank, I think. In 1949 there were six families on one floor, but it increased to 18, and everyone had around 20 square meters. Dinner times were the happiest as everyone was doing the same thing. Neighbors would share food but also bicker over petty things like mahjong. Now that life is completely gone.

Q: Will you go to have a look when the Bund reopens?

A: I was quite sad to leave and came back a few times to have a look, until it was closed off. Before the reconfigurations, it wasn't a very comfortable place and there were too many homeless people and vendors. I hope it will go back to the way it used to be. Even though Shanghai is a new city it should preserve some old things properly.

Sky Liu

Photojournalist, 28

Liu moved to Shanghai from Sichuan Province in 2008. He recently worked on a documentary about the return of Waibaidu Bridge (Garden Bridge) after a year's renovations, for the local paper Oriental Morning Post.

Q: What does the Garden Bridge mean to Shanghai?

A: It's Shanghai's mother bridge. In the past there was a bridge for foreigners that Chinese couldn't use, then the Garden Bridge was built and Chinese could use it for free - which is where its Chinese name, "Waibaidu," comes from. As new buildings went up around it on the Bund and in Pudong, the bridge has remained the same - small and simple but comfortable. It has watched the Bund, and China, grow.

Q: What was it like making the documentary?

A: There were 13 journalists recording the return of the bridge to Suzhou Creek over 72 hours. Hordes of people turned up spontaneously, it was a dark mass below. The atmosphere was amazing, people were shouting and laughing. Some crazy people even climbed up to the highway nearby to take pictures.

I interviewed a bridge engineer, Professor Pan, who advised on the renovations. He is in his 70s and had worked on bridges all over the world, but this was his favorite bridge.

Q: What does the Bund mean to you?

A: I feel proud of it. It's very modern, romantic, very Shanghai. I'm always trying to include it in my pictures as a signature of the city. The most memorable was shooting the countdown this year at the Bund to the new decade.

Ren Xiaolin

Office worker at the Pudong Development Bank, 33

Ren has worked for eight years at the Pudong Development Bank, which occupies one of the most significant historical buildings on the Bund, the former HSBC building constructed in 1923.

Q: What are your deepest impressions of the Bund?

A: We used to run along the Bund before work in the mornings. It's a great start to the day - you're waking up with the whole of Shanghai. It's very different at that time, it's not crowded, there are people flying kites, doing tai chi, and guests from nearby hotels also running. We get there at 6:30am, run for half an hour and have a shower in our building. I'm really looking forward to doing that again and enjoying the sun when the Bund reopens.

Q: How has the construction affected you?

A: It's been very difficult. Traffic is chaotic and congested especially around the Nanpu Bridge, and it's dusty and noisy. But we all understand why it has to be done. I think it will be much more enjoyable for pedestrians in the future.

Q: What does the Bund mean to you?

A: As a child I was always impressed by people who worked on the Bund, and now I am one of them. My parents were "rusticated youth" - intellectual Shanghainese who were sent to the countryside during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). When they returned to Shanghai they were very emotional at the sight of the Bund. They went on dates there as did everyone in those days.


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