Having lived in Beijing for nearly a year, and only visiting neighboring Tianjin and Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, I had grown accustomed to cities shorter in stature - those rich in history and culture but lacking the skyscrapers and other structural symbols of a modern age metropolis found in cities stateside.
A week before the World Expo 2010 was to open, I was sent to Shanghai on business - I would be part of a team filming a video to promote the city for the world event and I was anxious to witness another side of China I'd yet to see.
The slightest mention of the city's name conjures images of a Chinese cityscape vast in size, modern and typical of most American cities. And although I'd never visited the city before, Shanghai was far less foreign to me than my initial Chinese ventures to Xi'an or even Beijing.
I've heard Shanghai compared to New York City due to the similarities of the two cities' tall skylines. Shanghai was growing as a major financial hub for China and the rest of Asia - I'd even heard of an "Oriental Wall Street" somewhere in Shanghai. Then there was the hint of something Western almost everywhere I went.
For the video, we - a French and Japanese foreign expert, and three-person Chinese film crew, in addition to myself - would be visiting various locations across the city. I would be acting as a host, introducing each structure, venue or tourist spot as the cameras rolled. From the aged Waibaidu Bridge, one of the first bridges across the Suzhou River on Shanghai's north bank, and the classic Bund area, a stretch of buildings built in the early 20th century by foreign businesses with a presence in China, to modern Pudong on the south bank of the beautiful Huangpu River, I saw everything Shanghai had to offer.
Everything, that is, except the Expo.
While trial runs were being conducted to test the Expo's ability to cater to the anticipated 400,000-a-day crowds, we'd be focused on Shanghai's other attractions. I didn't mind - this just meant the next time I came to Shanghai for the Expo I wouldn't have to worry about seeing the rest of the city.
We spent the first morning of filming along the Bund area, later moving across the river to Pudong, Shanghai's prosperous commercial and financial area. For this segment, we'd be filming in the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in China at almost 500 meters, or 1,640 feet. Our ears popped as we took the elevator to the observation platform on the 100th floor.
A small art district, Tianzi Fang, and tourist hotspot, Xintiandi, were on our list of night filming locations. But by that time, my face had started to hurt and I realized I'd been sunburned. The sun that day had been shrouded in a layer of smog - I'd felt the heat but didn't realize my face was frying.
The second day of filming included a trip to Chenghuang Temple, a former place of worship now converted into a major tourist hub, and other smaller relics around the city. At each spot, large crowds of people encircled us with great interest. I told a Chinese couple that our French foreign expert was a famous French news reporter. They immediately pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures.
The final shoot would be at Nanjing Road, a shopping area similar to Times Square with lots of large, illuminated signs and things to buy. Aside from all the Chinese people, I could have easily mistaken the area for New York City.
But the highlight of my trip wasn't the bright lights of Shanghai's entertainment scenes, looking out across the city from an observation platform on the tallest building in China, or even the short-lived fan base we enjoyed at each shooting location - it was a photo I took while having lunch at Chenghuang Temple that so amazed me. Through a window, I could see winding bridges and ancient temple structures - remnants of Shanghai's past - while in the distance stood the Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center, two monoliths of the modern era.
This blend of ancient and modern made me realize what a diverse and dynamic city Shanghai is - a place actively embracing its past while striving to reach its fullest potential in an increasingly modernizing world.
Granted, the city has been spruced up for the Expo, but the combination of ancient Eastern culture with modern Western pizzazz was nonetheless impressive.
By the end of the trip, I was exhausted, but glad to have been given the opportunity to finally visit Shanghai. I'd originally planned to make the trip last September, but as luck would have it, I started working for Beijing Review instead. And had I gone last year, it would have been on my own yuan - this trip was paid for by my company.
Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/ . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .