The Bund: If Walls Could Talk

The Bund area of Shanghai is thick with history, as are many places in China’s vast landscape. The birth of the Bund began with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. The peace treaty was signed in 1842 at the end of the first opium war. The Treaty of Nanking allowed foreign trade (predominantly British) to move into the port cities of China. One of those cities was Shanghai. The treaty changed China’s overseas trading rules and had a huge impact on the country’s foreign relations for decades to come.  Soon after the treaty signing, the British who were already in China settled along the banks of the Huangpu River and set up shop. American and French businessmen soon followed to put down roots in the Bund as well, but the French later moved south to what became the Shanghai French Concession, or the French Bund. The British and Americans eventually consolidated their settlements and named the area the Shanghai International Settlement in 1863. The area later became known as simply, the Bund.

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Towards the end of the 1800s the International Settlement was rapidly developing with banks, clubs and hotels being built in architectural styles from around the world. By the 1930s it was the financial hub of the eastern Asian region with all of the major Chinese and international banks located there.

In today’s modern Shanghai, some of these buildings are still used as banks, but the clubs and hotels were relocated and the buildings used for other purposes. This article will take a look at some of those historical relics on the Bund and their beautiful architecture.

The pictures below show what was once known as the trendy Shanghai Club, built in 1910. It was famous for its luxurious bar counter made of Italian marble that ran over 100 meters in length. Today this building is the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai hotel and it’s famous marble counter has been perfectly preserved to this day.

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This gothic style building seen below was built in 1906 and is the former China Merchants Bank building. It was the first commercial bank of China. Today it’s called “Bund 6” (after its street address) and it holds a Dolce & Gabbana on the first floor and a swanky Japanese restaurant on the second.

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Yours truly, outside the Merchants Steamship Bureau, built in 1901. It used to be a Russell & Co store and now holds high quality clothing and home furnishings.

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This monster of a building is the former HSBC building, once known as the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Building in 1923. Back then, HSBC was the largest bank in Britain and in the Far East. It was one of the most extravagant buildings of its day, having the most floor space and the widest storefront of all the other buildings on the Bund at the time.

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Below, two more shots of the former HSBC building.

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Side street shot down Hankou Road.

These two showcase some beautiful marble work, done in 1926 on the former Bank of Taiwan building. Today this building is known as the China Merchant Bank. I wish I could live there.

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This photo below shows the American Insurance Association (AIA) building, formerly the North China Daily News building. At the time of its opening in 1924, it was the tallest building in Shanghai. Before it housed the North China Daily, it was home to the North China Herald, an English newspaper, established in 1850 in Shanghai for the expatriate community and mostly covered shipping, trade and business news. The North China was the earliest known daily paper to be published in China.

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The inscription below the carvings read: “Journalism, science, literature, commerce, trust, printing”

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The view from the AIA building down to the Shanghai Customs House, known by its clock tower.

The “Bund 18,” as it’s known today, was once the Oriental Bank and the first foreign bank to come to China. From the Oriental Bank, it became the Chartered Bank Building and was the largest branch in all of Asia. Its construction was completed in 1922 and today is hosts world-famous brand names like Cartier, Ermenegildo Zegna and others. There is now an art gallery on the fourth floor as well as some fancy bars and restaurants on the first and seventh floor.

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The Peace Hotel, once known as the Sassoon building, was built in 1929. The hotel underwent massive renovations to restore the hotel to its original state in 2007 and wrapped up in 2010. The Sassoon family who once owned the building were business and real estate tycoons in the early 20th century Shanghai.

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A walk through the Bund is like peering through a window in time. A view to the past with a current view of the present and future. It’s absolutely breathtaking to see the old architecture of the past woven into modern day Shanghai. For those who are into history or who just enjoy looking at interesting buildings as I do, a walk through the Bund is a must-see when you visit Shanghai. Stay tuned for next week’s article when I take a walk through “new Shanghai” on the other side of the Huangpu River.

A Farewell To Friends

It is with a heavy heart that I pen this piece, as it’s on the topic of people leaving. As alluring as the expat lifestyle may seem, at the end of it all most of us are living and working like everyone else, just farther away and with fewer friends. After working to connect with new people and find common interests among new acquaintances, the effort usually pays off. If we’re lucky, we expats garner a group of solid friends, consisting of like-minded people with a decent outlook on life. People from all over the world befriend us and enrich our lives long after we’ve parted ways.

When I was in Korea ten years ago, I was one of the fortunate who established an amazing circle of eight friends. They ranged in origin from England to Australia and back home to Canada and the USA. This time around I have been blessed once again to have met an amazing group of new friends but sadly, the group is diminishing.

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After a year and a half in a foreign community, especially one where most foreigners are also teachers and it’s normal to only be hired for a one-year contract, our future is always uncertain. One never knows for sure if they’ll have the chance to renew their contract at their school, or if they even want to stay. Another country may be calling by the time their twelve months wind-down. Family matters may have struck at home or educational needs bring them back to their motherland – we never know.


This article is dedicated to the amazing people I’ve met this time around and this is not to lament, but to honour their friendship and suggest ways to stay in touch. With the state of social media today, it seems that we could never really be out of touch, but what if some of your buddies don’t do social media? With this list of suggestions, perhaps you can talk them into doing at least one of these things:

Messaging Apps

1) KakaoTalk is a crazy popular phone app here in Korea but is available for use all around the world. I got a few friends back home to install Kakao on their phones back in Canada and we chat regularly for free (with no privacy infringement like Facebook). Kakao allows you to text, send pictures, voice recordings, short videos, and get free calls internationally with other Kakao users. (Both parties must have an account for this to work, as with most applications.)


These types of programs usually use up your internet data instead of charging you for a long distance call, so if you have a small data plan you may want to increase it for things like this. For an extra $10-12 a month you can usually get a whole other gig of data which is at least an hour and half of talk time (in Korea anyway). Kakao also has a computer version you can download if you want, but only works on PCs.


Viber is also a phone or computer app you can download for free and send texts, share photos or make calls with other Viber users. It works with Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and even Windows phones (I know, who has a Windows phone? Just sayin’).


Similar phone chat/messenger applications include WhatsApp for most makes of phone (see Viber compatibility), or Snapchat for sending photos or short videos to friends and family. Snapchat is a little different in that their photos and videos delete within one to ten seconds of being received, but still, some of the young’uns like this one.

whatsapp1 snapchat

Video Chat

2) To see your friends face-to-face, there’s the classic Skype application, ready for free download for computer or cell phone. The program allows you to “call” the person and have a live chat (provided the connection is working well) and see each other in real time. I use this with my friends and family the most and it has really helped to not feel so homesick. I’ve even installed it on my grandparent’s computer and we have Skype dates all the time. If you’ve got an iPhone, a similar application is “FaceTime,” but this is only usable between other apple phone users.


Kick It Old School

3) Lastly, I recommend old fashioned mail or e-mail. You may be wondering why I didn’t mention Facebook. For one, it seems too obvious. Aside from that, I don’t think people really stay connected there. Once people move away, friends click “like” on other friend’s pictures or write a quick “LOL” under a new photo posted, but often there is no real conversation happening. Some people write messages through the Facebook messenger app, but many don’t and to me, it can lead to a superficial way of staying in touch. As my good friend Heather once said, Facebook is like “keeping in touch without actually talking to people.”


This is why I suggest getting your friend’s regular e-mail address or even better, their physical address. It’s so nice to get a letter or a card in the mail. It’s such a personal thing to see a hand-written note or card and I, among many, miss that. Alas, we’re all busy and for those of us abroad where English is not the first language, finding a stamp and/or a post office may be difficult. In this case, I say regular e-mail.


With these tips in mind, staying in touch shouldn’t be that hard. For my closest friends who have left or are leaving soon, I’m trying not to let your absence get me down because with today’s technology, I can see your mug whenever I want. And for some of you (William), I have a feeling you’ll be back soon. Until next time Dear Readers, be well.