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Shanahai; From the bustle of busy streets to the calm of ancient temples, KARIN JONES finds modern-day China rubbing shoulders with its age-old past, in the conclusion of a two-part feature.

Byline: KARIN JONES

THE cities of Shanghai and Beijing are hard to ignore. The flashing neon signs and huge skyscrapers symbolise the modern Asian city you've seen in the movies.

But look carefully and you'll catch fleeting glimpses of a more mysterious past.

I had expected Beijing to be the more Chinese of the two but it was Shanghai that proved to offer the delights of a bygone era.

A bewildering tangle of alleyways forms the heart of the old districts of the city. Here, it's best just to wander and get lost, immersing yourself in a China fast being overtaken by modernity.

Beijing, on the other hand, has bulldozed much of the older parts to make way for sprawling freeways, stadia and huge hotels gearing up for the 2008 Olympics.

But this didn't detract from my amazement and enjoyment of this city, which has an excitement in the air and has been designed in a way that makes it quite beautiful in a modern way.

There are still some older parts of town known as "hutongs" and you can take a tuk tuk ride through the narrow streets for a glimpse of what Beijing use to look like.

This area is also close to a number of quaint alleyways packed with some lovely bars and restaurants.

Must-sees include the immense Tian'anmen Square - the largest of its kind in the world - leading you into the amazing Imperial Palace or Forbidden City, as it became known.

People were banned from even approaching the palace walls during the reigns of 24 emperors. Nowadays it is open daily and is one of the city's most visited attractions.

A welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city is the tranquil park of the Temple of Heaven, regarded as the highpoint in Ming design - the temples themselves are simply stunning.

As would be expected, the city has an abundance of bars, clubs and good restaurants. That's unlike the rest of China, where you won't find many watering holes because the Chinese tend to drink only with dinner.

The city also offers fantastic shopping and one of the best places is the old pearl market, which sells exquisite cultivated pearls at great prices, but also Chinese silks, shoes, fake leather goods and electronics.

We spent hours trawling its different levels and had to buy an extra suitcase to get everything home.

Nanjing was another city on our tour. Still considered by many to be the rightful capital of China and is also the gateway to the Yangtze river, it's a wealthy, cosmopolitan city of broad, tree-lined boulevards and balconied houses within Ming walls and gates, plus a wealth of historic tourist attractions.

Nanjing has a dramatic history. Perhaps the most well-known events took place in 19 3 7 when the name of Nanjing became synonymous with one of the worst atrocities of World War Two.

In what has become known as the Rape of Nanjing Japanese soldiers butchered almost 300,000 citizens. The Memorial to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre is worth a visit, although it is a sombre experience, detailing many of the personal stories from people caught up in the events.

Another important monument is the mausoleum of Dr Sun Yatsen, the first president of China following the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911.

It was Dr Sun Yatsen who first thought of the idea of building a dam that would stop the regular flooding of the communities downstream of the Yangtze River.

By the time the project is finished, it will have cost the Chinese around 205 billion Yuan and caused endless protests from ecological groups and the communities that have had to be re-housed.

Many speculate that it won't even be able to prevent the flooding, anyway.

A visit to the Three Gorges Dam and a cruise down through the locks is an interesting experience. We took an overnight boat down the river passing through five locks and ending up close to the Dam.

The Government is trying to recoup some of the money by promoting tourism, and the area around the Dam that has housed thousands of workers will soon be turned into a luxury resort.

No doubt, however, about China's biggest attraction.

The Great Wall of China is an incredible feat of the Chinese determination to guard their territory.

Building began in the fifth century BC and parts were still being completed in the 16th century. It stretches 6,000km and much of it today remains as it was first built.

No visit to China is complete without a walk on the wall, and there are a number of places where this can be done around an hour or so from Beijing.

We visited the wall at Mutianyu, around 90km out of the city and one of the least developed parts. Built in around 1368, it was renovated in 1983 and the lush hills all around provide a spectacular backdrop.

To get up on the wall is a steep climb up many steps, which takes around 20 minutes, or an easy cable-car ride. We opted for the climb and it was a rewarding experience when the wall became visible.

The usual hawkers on the way up sell all sorts of Chinese souvenirs but once on the wall you can escape the crowds and walk for large sections on your own, marvelling at a construction that stretches as far as you can see.

China is one of the most exciting countries I have ever visited.

It is a fabulous place with world-class attractions and some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world.

CAPTION(S):

CURRENT TRENDS: a cruise along the Yangtze river reveals spectacular scenery and the changes brought about by Sun Yatsen's dam
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Aug 20, 2006
Words:960
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