Lesego Alicia Keimetswe at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai (COURTESY PHOTO)
Late South African leader Nelson Mandela once said bravery is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. This sentiment rang true for me when I first visited Shanghai in 2012 and had the opportunity to climb the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. As a small-town girl from Molepolole, Botswana, I was awestruck by the towering skyscrapers that dominated the city's skyline. During my two-week winter camp sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Botswana, I had the chance to visit many of Shanghai's famous landmarks, but it was walking on the transparent glass floor of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower that left the biggest impression on me. Confucius Institutes, named after ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551-479 B.C.), serve as nonprofit public institutions to help foreigners better understand China by teaching the Chinese language and culture at universities in their host countries.
Though my fear of heights sent shivers down my spine, I summoned the courage to stand firmly on the glass path and take in the breathtaking view of Shanghai. Looking back, I realize that Mandela's words were right—the best way to conquer our fears is to face them head-on, and what a pity it would have been to miss out on the beauty that awaited me at the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
The glowing, tall and slender tower, which resembles a space rocket, is located in Lujiazui, a bustling financial center, and is visible from many places in the city. The tower's three primary floors are located within the spheres that give the structure its distinctive shape. The first level is where the entertainment center is located. The next level is the first elevator stop at a height of 270 meters, where there is an open observation deck with a glass floor. Two floors above this terrace is a panoramic level that is accessible through staircases. It offers views of the entire metropolis. The third ticketed level is the 340-meter-high Space Capsule, which is the last level. It is the highest accessible point of the tower, from which one can observe the city below and where video content is displayed. It gives a feeling of being in an orbital station or something similar. It was fascinating to view a video projecting what China's infrastructure and hi-tech developments will look like over the next decade, in addition to brief video clips about events in space.
I was blessed to find myself on the highest floor of one of Asia's tallest towers—an experience beyond my wildest dreams. Every time I recall that sensation, a new set of memories floods my mind. The whole trip was worth it, and I took many photos and videos to share with my family and friends on Instagram. I even kept a snapshot of the tower on my phone's lock screen, visualizing the day when I would return to China.
And sure enough, that day came in 2019, when I was awarded a scholarship to pursue my doctorate at East China Normal University in Shanghai. A month after arriving in the city, I dragged an acquaintance from Botswana who had never been to the tower before to relive the memories. It all felt like a dream, and I am still in admiration of Shanghai's beauty. As I wander through Shanghai, I marvel at how much I've come to know this city. Each corner reveals a new surprise, a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. But despite all the places I've explored, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and its dazzling surroundings still captivate me. I recommend visiting this iconic landmark at night, when the city transforms into a vibrant sea of colors and the tower itself is illuminated in all its splendor. It's a spectacle that leaves a lasting impression, a memory that will stay with you long after you've left the city's bustling streets behind.
The author is a Motswana student at East China Normal University in Shanghai
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
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