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March 29, 2010

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Excited crowds greet remade Bund

ALONG the riverfront promenade that stretches along the west bank of Huangpu River, eight-year-old Shao Meirenyu gave out a yell.

"I can see it, I can see it."

Shao was just a pre-school girl three years ago when the Bund was closed for renovation. And the riverfront and the high-rises facing the river were just subjects on television or pictures for her.

Yesterday, she and her classmates and teacher joined the tens of thousands of people who poured onto the riverfront to view the renovations as the place made its long-awaited return on a Sunday that shone with sunshine after days of overcast weather in Shanghai.

The area, once a terminal for docks and a lane for lovers, was closed in 2007 as the city planned to make it "as charming as the Champs Elysee in Paris."

Three years, to locals, are not long enough to forget, but long enough to remember.

"It's worth being remembered by heart and documented by pen," said resident Tao Jun.

Tao, 81, said he used to stroll along the Bund at night. "I felt at peace as I watched the rolling river."

"Peace" seemed to be a thing that could be found nowhere yesterday, however.

Crowds leaned against riverfront barriers, where once stood concrete walls that had permitted a less-open view of the river. They walked along the broad new promenade that stretches over 2,000 meters.

Many stood on the 2,000 new benches to take photos.

"It's amazing to see so many people," said Smets Karel, a visitor from Holland.

During his last trip to the city in January, the area was still blocked to the public. He could only view the Bund from across the river in the Pudong New Area.

To Judy McKinney, a teacher from the United States, the trip meant a huge difference.

"When I came here 25 years ago, I could not see so many high buildings along the skyline," said McKinney.

"Are there still senior people doing tai chi in the early morning around here?" asked McKinney. She remembered the groups of people, exercising in morning light, who typically gathered along the Bund riverside.

Though some facilities have not been fully completed and shops not opened, curiosity was hard to resist.

The 500 parking spots in the area were filled by morning and some cars had to park on nearby streets.

About 400 bottles of water at two small stands selling soft drinks soon sold out.

In contrast to the hubbub above, the underground tunnel which also opened yesterday saw a quiet beginning.

No congestion was reported as it was not a workday, police said.

The tunnel, which runs beneath the promenade, aims to alleviate heavy Bund traffic.

Visitors generally gave high marks for the brand-new facilities, but some people, especially elderly ones, complained of too few places to get shade from the sun.

Authorities said they would make some improvements after soliciting people's suggestions.

The grand project formally opened at 9:30am, after a 30-minute ceremony attended by Shanghai's top government officials and local celebrities.

"Everything is under control," shouted a police officer to his walkie-talkie as the speeches ended and the crowds, which had been standing outside the ceremony site, swarmed in to catch places along the riverside.


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