The Oriental Pearl Tower: More Fun Than a Barrel Full of Babies (The title will make sense to you later. I think.)

June 17, 2012

Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower is pretty hard to miss.

At 468 meters high, it towers over Shanghai’s city skyline. When it was completed in 1994, it was the highest structure in mainland China. Today, it’s the fifth tallest tower in the world.

It also happens to look exactly like what I thought all the buildings of the future would look like when I was a kid. I was also pretty sure we’d all be riding around in flying cars and hanging out with robots and eating Dippin’ Dots at every meal by now. (It’s the Ice Cream of the Future, people. The future!) So it’s possible I was a bit off on my predictions about what life would be like in the Twenty-First Century. I blame The Jetsons, really. (But, hey, they got the whole video-phone thing right. And I never thought that would happen. So, why don’t we have robots already, huh?)

So, yeah, if you go to Shanghai, it’s kind of impossible to not see the Tower.

Even if you’re like me, and you spend most of your time in Shanghai doing this:

What I’m usually doing when I’m in Shanghai.

Anytime someone comes to visit me and we go to Shanghai, we always go to the Bund to check out the Tower from across the Huangpu River. It’s just kind of what you do when you’re in Shanghai. Besides, you know, drink cocktails.

View of the Tower from the Bund. Ooo, future-y, right?

But I never once thought to go inside of it.

Probably because when I’m in Shanghai, I’m usually too busy thinking about other things. Like, well, cocktails.

This week I had plans to meet up with one of my loveliest blog readers, Selly, who was visiting Shanghai. (Of course, you are all lovely. But Selly is particularly lovely. Probably because she always leaves me lots of flattering blog comments. And, really, I can’t think of anything more lovely than flattery. Except, maybe, cake.)

Selly being her typical lovely self.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous to meet her.

I worried that she might actually expect me to know a thing or two about Shanghai. And really the only thing I know about Shanghai is where to get sloshed on girlie drinks. And while this knowledge impresses me, I sincerely doubted it would impress any out-of-town visitors.

As luck may have it, she brought along her wonderful Chinese friend, who was more than happy to act as our tour guide and lead us around Shanghai.

This way I could do what I do best – follow behind and get easily distracted by shiny stuff.

Before I knew it, we ended up on the side of the Huangpu River I’d never been before. We were standing directly below the Tower. And that’s when I realized we were actually going to go into that thing.

Erm, you want me to go where now?

Now, I don’t mind being in tall buildings, really. I’m not particularly fond of heights, but as long as I’m surrounded by walls, I’m usually okay.

But being in a tall building that looked like it had been made out of Tinkertoys?

This just seemed like a really bad idea to me.

After buying our tickets and standing in line, we ended up in an elevator that hurtled us 350 meters into the air to something called the “Space Module.”

The “Space Module” turned out to be the Tower’s highest observation deck. And, not, say, where they kept all the robots.

I know. I was pretty disappointed there weren’t any robots.

Also kind of disappointing?

The view.

The view from the “Space Module.” Apparently, this is what space looks like — really smoggy.

Luckily, the views from the lower levels turned out to be much better. Or at least a little less murky.

Ooo, I can see buildings! And other stuff!

Then there was the view from the “Sightseeing Floor,” where you could, in fact, see through the floor. And straight on down to your pending death below.


At first, the only way I could walk on the glass floor was by tip-toeing across it. Because everyone knows that you weigh a lot less when you’re on tip-toe. That’s why ballerinas are so skinny.

While I was carefully tip-toeing around waiting for the floor to burst open beneath me, everyone else was splaying themselves across the glass in their best glamorous photo poses.

The kind people at the Tower had even provided a helpful sign with some “sample photos” so we could get an idea as to how we might want to pose. Should we, you know, have thought to pack our white tuxes with us for the occasion.

White tux recommended.

I finally got up enough courage to sit down on the floor and bust out my own photo pose. Luckily the floor didn’t open up beneath me. And because I was sitting under some kind of air duct, I got the added bonus of windswept hair.

China’s Next Top Glass Floor Model, for sure.

Aside from the smoggy views and the Glass Floor of Death, the Tower was packed with a number of other attractions I never would have guessed were in there.

None of these attractions had to do with robots, but they were all pretty awesome.

There was an arcade.

And a roller coaster.

Ooo, dangerous game!

And then on the ground floor, there was a history museum with a number of riveting exhibits.

Including this one on wheelbarrows:

It’s about time wheelbarrows got the recognition they deserve.

While I’ve seen a number of museums in China, I have to say this may have been my favoritest museum yet. It was possibly even better than the beer museum in Qingdao. And, lest you all forget, the beer museum served beer.

First of all, there were wax statues everywhere. And I just love me some wax statues.

I think the guy on the right is throwing out gang signs.

Plus, the English signage was both informative and hilarious.

Not another infestation of foreign adventurers! Gah!

Probably my favorite exhibit in the museum was the cheerily titled “Farmer’s Fun.” According to the sign, the exhibit had been designed to show the “fun life of farmers in the Ming Dynasty.”

I don’t think the wax statues in the exhibit knew they were supposed to be having fun, though. Because, seriously, those were some depressed looking statues.

For a good time… plow.

Even the exhibit’s one and only wax baby statue looked pretty bummed out. Probably because she was stuck in a barrel.

Barrels: every mother needs one.

We finally stumbled out of the Tower hours after we’d arrived — and that was after skipping over all the gift shops. And there were a lot of gift shops.

I was kind of shocked it took us so long. Okay, so maybe I had spent an inordinate amount of time taking photos of wax statues. But, seriously, that tower was a good 468 meters of entertainment.

It was possibly even more fun than a Ming Dynasty farm.

But, I’m not sure.

You’re going to have to ask this guy here:

Have you ever been to a tourist sight that turned out to be much more fun than you expected? What was it?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On June 17, 2012 at 6:47 am James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly said:

    Yah! Finally the first to comment. Go Twitter! Wait. I have nothing to say. Oh, maybe except that I challenge Selly to a Best-Reader-Meet-Up when you come to Saigon next month. You think you know what LOVELY is? I’m gonna wipe Selly with my loveliness. Sigh. I’m gonna go google “wax statues” + “Saigon” right now. Can’t let Selly beat me…
    James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly recently posted..Unemployed, Alone and Often Confused — And Loving Every Minute

  2. On June 17, 2012 at 6:50 am Ashley said:

    The day I discovered the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and the wax museum at the bottom of the Oriental Pearl Tower was my favorite day in China. Taking pictures posing with wax figures is possibly the most fun a person could have! And who doesn’t like a wax figure opium den?

    Oh the memories this post has rekindled…
    Ashley recently posted..The Number One Reason to Visit Japan

    • On June 17, 2012 at 7:11 am Sally said:

      What? Wax museum opium den? We somehow totally missed that. I think I’m going to need to go back. And I’ve heard the Sightseeing Tunnel is totally trippy, but I haven’t done that either. Yep, I totally need to go back.

  3. On June 17, 2012 at 6:53 am Janice said:

    Haha, hilarious as always! And so informative. Now I know (a) why ballerinas are so skinny and (b) Ming Dynasty farmers knew how to live-it-up! You should invite them for cocktails next time you’re in town! 🙂
    Janice recently posted..Adventures in my Hot and Spicy Kitchen…

  4. On June 17, 2012 at 7:02 am Ceri said:

    Okay, there’s no way you’d get me on glass floors that high up. How can people have fun on those things? Eek! Very brave of you to sit on them!
    Ceri recently posted..Letter to My Father

  5. On June 17, 2012 at 10:19 am Jaime said:

    You crack me up ” Because everyone knows that you weigh a lot less when you’re on tip-toe. That’s why ballerinas are so skinny.” – I LOVE IT! Looks like you had a good time & I would have never thought all those things are in there. How though did you manage to skip the gift shops? For some reason… I am attracted to those tragic things. I mean really I love to see all the tacky things that are invented because of a certain attraction. Oh & the last time I had this much fun with a huge tourist site was the LEANING TOWER OF PISA… oh I was so naughty with it…lol. If the Statue of David in Florence didn’t have all the security it did while I was there I would have had more fun with him… but oh well.
    Jaime recently posted..India’s cow dilemma!!!

    • On June 18, 2012 at 5:08 am Sally said:

      I love to check out gift shops too, but we were running pretty late at that point. (I don’t know why… I mean, okay so maybe I took a photo of EVERY SINGLE wax statue… and there were a LOT of wax statues).
      And I think I remember seeing your photos from Pisa. You dirty, dirty boy. 🙂

  6. On June 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm jan said:

    I am pretty bummed about Selly being your fav. Anyway – Everyone knows mother’s are not supposed to have favourites – and you are the mother of this blog!
    Luckily Selly had the Chinese friend along or you would probably both have just got sloshed on pretty drinks and eaten dumplings – hang on that sounds OK…

  7. On June 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm Priya said:

    I feel like ALL tall buildings like that are the same within tourist attraction sites. Can you believe that I’ve never been up the Sears Tower ( well, Willis Tower now…*rolls eyes*)? I did, however, go up to the CN Tower while in Toronto and let me just tell you, I thought that standing in line for two hours would be much more fun. It was very pretty when I finally got up there and there was also a glass window thingy where I can do all types of poses and maybe take a nap, too. BTW I think you make a lovely Glass-Floor-Model.

    Oh, and I think your knowledge of where to get girlie drinks is quite useful, especially since I’m not a beer drinker.
    Priya recently posted..Networking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With Your Life

    • On June 18, 2012 at 5:06 am Sally said:

      Most tall buildings I’ve been in have had the observation decks, but I’ve never been in one with a roller coaster & an arcade & a museum. I was really surprised at all the stuff they managed to cram in there.

  8. On June 17, 2012 at 8:38 pm Penguinlady said:

    When we were in Barcelona, we dropped into a museum in the Barrio Gotic, just to get out of the rain. It turned out to be a really neat place! Underneath the building was an archeological dig of a Roman ruin, and you followed a catwalk right on top of it. Then, the tour wound up inside a 15th century cathedral or something. All because I needed out of the rain! (Also, we went into the Catedral Barcelona because I needed to pee, and that was great. I think I should just randomly walk into places.)

    • On June 18, 2012 at 5:05 am Sally said:

      Ooo, that museum in Barcelona sounds awesome. I went to the Han Tombs in Xi’an, and it was kind of similar. You could walk on this glass catwalk over the tombs to look inside at the stuff that was being excavated. It was really cool & creepy.

  9. On June 18, 2012 at 2:50 am ChinaMatt said:

    Really? I had no idea you could go inside. Can’t believe I missed that on my trip so many years ago. Oh well, still had a great time in Shanghai.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..Sunset Temple

    • On June 18, 2012 at 5:04 am Sally said:

      I knew you could go inside, but I figured it would just be observation decks and gift shops. I had no idea there was a roller coaster and a museum. I think I will never be allowed to go in a tall towery building again as this one totally spoiled me!

  10. On June 18, 2012 at 3:22 am Emily in Chile said:

    I was going to comment that I for one would be happy with girly cocktails in Shanghai. And then you posted that picture of the sample poses. And now I will never be content with cocktails because that is hilarious, and I want to see it for myself someday. You’d think after all that they’d label the air ducts too to show you exactly where you can get the windswept look!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Saturday in Santiago: Chang Thai Restaurant

    • On June 18, 2012 at 5:03 am Sally said:

      What would be EVEN better would be if they just sold girlie cocktails on the Sightseeing Floor. That way you could fit your cheesey poses in with your cosmos. Yep, I’m a genius person.

  11. On June 19, 2012 at 4:28 am Selly said:

    It is half five in the morning in Dublin, my body clock is decidedly out of wack, at about 2am it started to think it’s 8am. It’s not so wrong there only it appears my body clock is on the wrong side of the world. Anyway, half five in the morning seems like a pretty decent time to read this blog post and burst into laughter. I will never forget the baby in a barrel, shall run this idea by my man when we have our first baby. I’m sure barrels will be easy to get in China!

    I’m pretty flattered to hear that I’m your favourite blog reader / comment poster or one of them anyway. I had a blast with you in Shanghai and thanks to my lovely tour guide we really didn’t need to know anything. Walking around clueless is so much more fun when you really don’t need to worry about getting lost.

    I still can’t believe how much they cramped into that tower, it really is for entertainment only, not that I’m complaining, it’s a pretty awesome place to hang out at just for fun!

    • On June 20, 2012 at 2:01 am Sally said:

      Well, I did some research (aka Wikipedia… yes, that’s research) and it is also a TV & radio tower. So it’s not just for tourists… I guess.

      • On June 21, 2012 at 10:02 am Selly said:

        Yep, I realised that too when I checked Wikipedia for the Chinese name, still it’s main purpose seems to be to entertain, not to hold any offices or anything like that.

  12. On June 19, 2012 at 4:30 am Selly said:

    Oh and I forgot to say…… Explosive Dog.

  13. On June 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm Waegook Tom said:

    Hahahaha oh Sally, this was HI-LARIOUS! Please tell me you can buy Mr White Tux in the tower? Or at least rent him by the hour? In a totally non-prostitutional kind of way, I assure you.

    Now that the world of wheelbarrows has been put out there for the world to see, I’m looking forward to more innovative exhibitions on things like shoe horns, book binders and the changing faces of dessert spoons over time. Not tupperware, though. They already have their own parties.

    p.s. that view from the top of the tower SUCKS. Boo to smog.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..5 Ideas for Busan

    • On June 20, 2012 at 1:59 am Sally said:

      Yes, they should really rent out Mr. White Tux. I had many photo pose ideas in mind but they all involved a partner… and I’m talking totally non-prostituitional poses, by the way.

  14. On June 21, 2012 at 9:16 am choi kum fook said:

    There had been many historical stories around Shanghai Bund and many traditional old songs been sang to memorize it as well.Miss Sally, do you know some of them? The most impressed me among the pictures taken in the post was a baby stuck in barrel! WHY?? Because I had experienced it, instead of barrel, my mother used a wooden carton just in order to avoid me creeping away! So that she could concentrated on works! Ha!Ha! I think this was most simplest and cheapest to control a baby in olden day in Chinese family in China! It seems a lot things to see inside the towel and worth to visit. I do not know the K.L.Towel in Malaysia because I have not been. I only know that the K.L. one is a bit Lower that Shanghai one!

  15. On September 11, 2012 at 12:40 am KopyKatKiller said:

    Hahaha! Great
    I went to the tower a few times back in 2001 and 2002. Seems things have changed. Back then there was no museum or roller-coaster. All people could do on the ground floors was get pictures taken of themselves in from of wall sized pictures, like a jet on a runway so they could pretend they had actually flown somewhere.
    KopyKatKiller recently posted..China’s safe, right?

    • On September 11, 2012 at 7:53 am Sally said:

      They had those pictures still. I took a photo of myself in front of the Great Wall. It was almost better than being there as it didn’t require my climbing any steps.


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