China’s Tallest Tower Suffers Visibility Problem
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2017-04-28 14:26:47

In many ways, the Shanghai Tower is impressive: It is China’s tallest skyscraper, featuring the fastest elevator in the world and a modern, energy-efficient design. But the landmark has yet to make much of an impression on the city’s tourists.

The observation deck on the 118th floor of the Shanghai Tower opened to visitors on Wednesday. For 180 yuan ($26), tourists can ascend to a height of 546 meters above ground in just 55 seconds, where they can enjoy a 360-degree view of Shanghai’s ever-changing skyline.

Yet on Thursday, not many tourists in the area seemed to have included sightseeing on the observation deck in their itineraries. Cao Teng, a high school Chinese teacher from China’s eastern Shandong province, was in Shanghai on a business trip, and managed to squeeze some time out of his schedule to tour Lujiazui, the business district east of the Huangpu River that is home to the city’s tallest buildings.

Shanghai residents and tourists discuss the city’s most famous landmarks. By Yin Yijun and Hai Yang/Sixth Tone

Cao said he had heard about the Shanghai Tower and planned to check it out, but would instead prefer to enjoy the view from the Oriental Pearl Tower, which he considers Shanghai’s most famous landmark. “I’m so excited now that I’ve seen it!” he told Sixth Tone while posing for photos in front of several of Lujiazui’s architectural landmarks. “Finally, I’ve seen in real life the stuff of legends, something I’ve only ever seen before on TV.”

The Shanghai Tower stands beside the city’s now second- and third-tallest skyscrapers, the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Jin Mao Tower, respectively. Some have found the proximity confusing.

Li Wenqi and Gao Ming, young women in their 20s from nearby Suzhou in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, had a difficult time identifying which was which when they exited the Lujiazui subway station. They even had trouble picking out the Jin Mao Tower, where they had reserved a hotel room. “There are too many tall buildings in Shanghai,” Gao said.

When it comes to recognizability, all of Lujiazui’s shiny glass giants still stand in the shadow of the Oriental Pearl Tower, with its distinctive globes affixed to a rocket-like structure. Tang Gongqi, 58, came to Shanghai to visit his son, a graduate student at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. For Tang, there was no doubt in his mind about which landmark to visit: “The Oriental Pearl Tower. That’s what I came here for.”

However, for the small crowd who had paid a visit to the Shanghai Tower, going up to the observation deck in the world’s fastest elevators was high up on their list of priorities. “We came here today for the experience,” said Zhou Mingjuan, who lives in Shanghai, “to experience the 55-second elevator speed.” In Zhou’s mind, the Shanghai Tower has overtaken the Oriental Pearl Tower as the city’s number-one landmark. The management of the Shanghai Tower did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Inside the observatory, visitors speaking different languages and Chinese dialects enjoyed the spectacular bird’s-eye view of Shanghai, sprawling into the distance.

“The Oriental Pearl Tower was and still is a landmark of Shanghai,” said 26-year-old Li Xingbang from the Shanghai Tower’s observation deck. A doctor from southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Li was visiting Shanghai for the first time. “But the Shanghai Tower represents the city better.”

Li has known about the Shanghai Tower since its construction, and even remembers its exact height: 632 meters. “Skyscrapers showcase the development and urbanization of the city,” Li said. “They make the city more attractive for foreign business and investment.”

The tower may be a sign of China’s thunderous urban development, but views from the top could fall foul of a symptom of that very development: smog. Yao Wenge, a 61-year-old photography enthusiast, has witnessed the urban development of the city’s business district. “It’s so great, but the only pity is the air quality,” said the Shanghai native. “With improved air quality, we could see more clearly and set our sights further.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Tourists look out from the observation deck on the 118th floor of the Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, April 27, 2017. Hai Yang/Sixth Tone)