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Celebrating the bridges of Suzhou Creek

By Zhou Wenting | China Daily | Updated: 2016-06-11 09:09

Celebrating the bridges of Suzhou Creek

Shanghai's Waibaidu Bridge, a city icon, is a popular meeting place for couples. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The Suzhou Creek, nicknamed by the locals as a "natural museum of bridges" because of the sheer number of such structures on it, will soon be getting yet another addition to its collection.

The Shanghai government recently announced that a new Changping Road Bridge will be built in the area where the Shanghai Railway Station is at and where there are already seven bridges located roughly 480 meters apart from one another, citing the need to alleviate traffic congestion caused by a boom in the population of vehicles.

Construction of bridges over the Suzhou Creek, which snakes 17 km westward from downtown Shanghai and links the municipality with the city of Suzhou as well as other inland cities in Jiangsu province, began more than a century ago.

Most of the bridges along the eastern side of the creek were built before the 1940s and had European elements incorporated into them. Those on the west of the creek were introduced as the city started expanding.

The most famous of them all is arguably Waibaidu Bridge, or the Garden Bridge, situated at the confluence of the Huangpu River and the Suzhou Creek. Having been around for more than 140 years, this bridge is often seen in movies and promotional posters for Shanghai.

Numerous tour buses stop near the bridge every day as it is the starting point of the former concessions in the city. The wooden flooring on both sides of the bridge serves as an observation deck for tourists. From this point, people can enjoy the view of the rustic building clusters on the Bund, the narrow and old streets that criss-cross each other behind the waterfront stretch, and the breathtaking skyline of the Lujiazui financial district across the Huangpu River.

The bridge is itself a marvel to behold as well. Come nightfall, colorful neon lights illuminate the structure, turning it from a mere transportation tool to a romantic spot for lovers. In fact, engaged couples can often be spotted having their wedding photos taken at the bridge. The more adventurous ones even scamper onto the center of road when there is a short lull in traffic.

In 1856, the Wells Bridge was built over the Suzhou Creek, but it was barely utilized after locals complained about the toll charges. When a toll-free bridge was built 17 years later, people called it "waibaidu", which means "going across for free" in Mandarin and Shanghainese. This wooden bridge was then refurbished as a steel truss structure in 1907.

It is a tradition in Shanghai for a grandmother to carry her one-month-old grandchild across the bridge, as this symbolizes that the newborn has left behind all the twists and turns and will hence be able to get through life safely and smoothly.

"Waibaidu Bridge is a Shanghai icon. When my daughter was a baby she had a photo taken there with her grandmother too. It's been a family tradition for us to do so," said a Shanghai native Wang Xuefen.

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