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Celestial commotion in the Celestial Kingdom as China welcomes solar eclipse

Ancient Chinese believed a dragon ate the sun during a solar eclipse, so they made a great commotion, beat drums and banged on pots to scare the beast away and bring back the light.

That was when China was known as the Celestial Kingdom.

On Wednesday there will be another great celestial commotion in China -- of a very different, exhilarating kind -- when astronomers and stargazers from around the world join China in welcoming a total solar eclipse.

It will be the longest in 2,000 years, and it's the chance of a lifetime as you'll have to wait 300 year for the next one as long.

China will be the best spot on Earth to view the breathtaking event, though the actual ideal spot (where totality is longest) is way out over the Pacific Ocean.

In China the best spot is around Anji in neighboring Zhejiang Province.

But Shanghai offers great spots for viewing the event starting at 8:23am and ending at 11:01am. The total eclipse will last almost six minutes, from 9:36am to 9:41am.

You can see it everywhere.

Shanghai Daily selects three sites that are especially promising and offer interesting educational activities: the Yangshan Deep-Water Port in Pudong (Luchao Port and Shanghai Flower Port), Yuehu or Moon Park in Sheshan Hills of Songjiang District and the nearby Sheshan Observatory.

In addition, there's the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Park Hyatt hotel, People's Square and Jing'an Park, among other spots.

You can have same observation experience from your own balcony -- downtown is as good as the suburbs -- unless you want to take professional-quality photos, according Bai Tao, president of the local astronomy society.

The society, the Phosphor Amateur Astronomer Union (PAAU), is organizing viewing at Sheshan and the Yangshan Deep-Water Port. They are also spreading the word on safe viewing (direct viewing can damage the retina).

Bai estimates 5,000 people will go to suburban Sheshan, but other estimates are far higher.

There will be two telescopes and a video camera at Yuehu Park in Sheshan and one telescope and video camera at the port.

At, China's largest Internet retail Website, solar filters for safe viewing have been selling fast for a month, ranging in price from less than 1 yuan to 1,000 yuan (US$146).

Some experts recommend solar eclipse viewing glasses with Baader AstroSolar Safety Film. They meet international standards, give high contrast and clear view, and are reasonably priced. Yangshan Deep-Water Port

The Shanghai Sightseeing Bus Center has developed a summer route that will make viewing easy. It links Yangshan Deep-Water Port, Dishui (Water Drop) Lake and the Donghai Bridge.

Ticket costs 150 yuan, call 6426-5555 for details.

The port is near the chain of islands between Hangzhou Bay and the mouth of the Yangtze River. It's connected to the mainland by the Donghai Bridge, the first cross-sea bridge in China. It was also the world's longest until the Hangzhou Bay Bridge opened in May last year.

Dishui Lake is a large man-made freshwater lake covering about 5.5 square kilometers.

Many tourism programs offer a magnificent seaside view of the solar eclipse, as well as delicious seafood from the East China Sea, says Dai Haibo, executive deputy magistrate of the Pudong New Area People's Government.

By car: Take Expressway A20 (toward Pudong International Airport), then transfer to A2, exit at Donghai Bridge, then take a 30-minute ferry.

By public transport: Take Metro Line 2 to Longyang Road Station, then transfer to Bus Longgang Line Yuehu Park

The park, also known as the Shanghai Sculpture Park, in Songjiang District offers many daily activities through the day of the eclipse. They include educational events, exhibitions and interactive programs in cooperation with Sheshan Observatory (now the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory).

The park will sponsor a photography contest for photos of the solar eclipse.

Tickets: 150 yuan/set (permits entry on eclipse day and any other day during the week. Solar viewing glasses are free.)

Tel: 5779-8090 Downtown spots Since the total solar eclipse will be taking place during working hours, most people won't be able to visit the suburbs, but almost any spot will do -- parks, tall buildings and squares.

"There is no difference between downtown and suburban areas," says Bai of the astronomy society. "You can actually have the same observation experience on your balcony unless you want to take very professional pictures."

A popular science fan group, the Science Nutcrackers, mostly plan to stay downtown.

Visibility could be a problem.

"There's a 50-percent chance of rain, so clouds and precipitation may influence the observation," says Ji Shisan, founder of the group.

The Shanghai Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences will cooperate with observatories in Chongqing, Wuhan and other cities in China to provide live online broadcasting of the eclipse.

Some romantic fans have suggested taking airline flight to witness the eclipse for as long as possible, chasing the event in China. A flight from Wuhan to Shanghai would be perfect, but airlines don't meet celestial schedules. A chartered flight would be glorious.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

The 468-meter tower in Lujiazui area of Pudong offers a 360-degree view of the city. The sightseeing floor is 263 meters high, including exhibition halls and a panoramic view at 259 meters.

Admission to sightseeing floor: 100 yuan

Admission to three main spheres: 150 yuan

Jing'an Park

Between Nanjing Road and Yan'an Road, the park is a stone's throw away from the Jing'an Temple Station of Metro Line 2. Although it is surrounded by skyscrapers, it's a green respite from the concrete jungle.

People's Square

In the heart of Shanghai, it's easily accessible.

Eclipse-viewing at hotels

The Hilton Shanghai hotel opens its hardstand for the first time, but you need to order the champagne breakfast or one-night stay with a breakfast.

Reservations are required.

Tel: 6248-0000

On Tuesday, the second International Solar Eclipse Summit will be held at the Pudong Shangri-la Shanghai.

"Famous scientists and astronomy lovers will exchange views," says Angel Mao, PR manager of the hotel. A package service is offered. The hotel will send customers by car to Yangshan Deep-Water Port.

Reservations are still available.

Tel: 6882-8888 Sheshan Observatory

Near Yuehu Park, the famous observatory on West Sheshan Hill is the highest geographic spot in Shanghai. Its telescope will be operating.

Le Meridien She Shan Shanghai reports that all suites with the right view have been booked through Wednesday.

Some rooms cost more than 2,000 yuan a night.

Tickets to Sheshan Hill and observatory: 30 yuan Yuehu Park & Shenshan Observatory

By public transport: 1. Take Metro Line 9, get off at Sheshan Station, then take Bus Songqing Line, or walk about 20 minutes.

2. Take Sightseeing Bus Line 1B at Shanghai Stadium.

By car: Take Yan'an Elevated Road, then turn to Expressway A9, get off at Zhaoxiang Exit, turn left to Jiasong Road M., drive down to Linyinxin Road, turn right.


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