Here's a ride through the arm-pit of Shanghai south-west to the Sheshan & Songjiang area and the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. It's not pretty, not clever and not hard. For a slice of modern-day mainland and an opportunity to soak in all the aromas of light-industry before seeing some flowers (and once awesome garden-feature) then take this route...
The joys of Minhang and the millions of people that live here will be apparent as you pass mile after mile of junkyards followed by towering malls. People do two things here: make pollution and shop. We're not in Shanghai to be rolling countryside lanes, we want to get up close and personal with the motorcycle taxis, guys throwing cigarette boxes out of their car windows, kids with awesome hair and policemen driving the wrong way down the road whilst on the phone.
That's what you'll get but alas, it's all over far too soon and before long you'll see Shanghai's tallest mountain as a slight bump on the horizon with a satellite dish and a basilica on it. Now we're near Songjiang, the designated New Town famous for big open streets and Thames Town.
We're not going there today, but the Botanical Gardens; a couple square miles of nothingness on which some large scale landscaping has been going down. You'll know you've reached this China AAAA rated (their version of Unesco) example of natural beauty when you see a humongous wall of concrete sticking into the ground like a knife into nature. That's the visitor's center.
60RMB lighter, head across two or three expanses of concrete paving and you'll be right up against all the botanical nature. It's basically a bunch of ornamental lakes surrounded by some pretty brown grass (maybe it's in season) and a flower bed or two.
Of course, there's a network of paths just wide enough for either pedestrians or a fleet of electric shuttle buses. In true China nature they honk along in case you're feeling too peaceful. If you're not feeling completely lame it's also possible to simply walk around.
Head to the rear of the park and the star of the show. A disused quarry which has been turned into an attraction. Around the outside runs a wooden walkway which is showing it's age a little but is impressive nonetheless. It's actually one of Shanghai's most impressive attractions - an almost coming together of rock and wood and yeah I like it.
From a vantage point up an honestly steep path you'll get a great view of the park, the haze and the electric pylons. It's huge, you'll need an hour or two to do a lap and soak in the. Here are the highlights... a collection of 'rare' plants yet to germinate, a pagoda and a straw bison with a guy riding it whilst playing a flute.
Being english, I love a greenhouse and here they do not disappoint. They're full of leafy plants, the sounds of the jungle and actually green grass. Bliss.
Turning home, there's a longer but faster way up and back along the Huqingping highway. You'll be ready to stretch your legs and follow the scooters down it's generous bike lines before hitting the Yan'an elevated road and deciding whether to risk it or not!