SHANGHAI [March 21 - 23]
China! Left on this trip with little sense of what I was about to see except for the big attractions like the Terracotta Warriors. Perhaps crowds of people, lots of bicycles, polluted skies, very old buildings ??? We actually arrived in Shanghai in daylight, so, as the bus transported us to dinner and then our hotel, we could get a sense of the city along the major roads/streets the bus followed. No mind-boggling masses of humanity, very few bicycles, definitely polluted skies, not that many old buildings and the ones that looked ‘Chinese’ were fakes! Mostly reproductions!
The efforts of each successive regime in China to erase most traces of its predecessor has left China, I think, scrambling to hold on to or re-create much of its past, at least in the sections of Shanghai we visited. Sure there’s some old structures but often when our local guide referred to ‘the old’, the old was really quite recent like the Bund area which dates back to the early 1900’s. The new is really new, like the 10 to 15 – year old structures of Pudong, across the river from the Bund. Frequently we would see piles of rubble. These did not seem to be signs of neglect or procrastination in cleaning up a mess as may have been the case in India, but rather an indication that something had to go because it was a mess or because there were plans afoot for some other structure which would be of more 'benefit' to the public. All the land is owned by the government and the long term leases don’t seem to hold much weight if public buildings, highways and overpasses, or a world’s fair are on the agenda. We passed a building which housed the ‘ministry’ of planning; the guide said the public was able to go view the long range plans. Not entirely jokingly he suggested that if ones home did not show on a future map, then perhaps there was cause for concern!
That said, the city did display a variety of architecture, massive efforts to transport the millions who live there, and efforts to have as many green spots as possible [lots of trees and shrubs along streets]. And, it was very clean. There were street cleaners of both the manual and machine type! I’m not sure we ever figured out where all the garbage went!
We saw few bicycles in the main parts of Shanghai because they are outlawed – too dangerous with so many cars! Even licenses for motorbikes have been discontinued except for in the suburbs! Everyone wants a car [Some very fancy ones on the streets and in the display rooms!]; it’s a status symbol. Some people even own a car but don’t drive it! Others don’t own a car but they own a garage! Good real estate investment! This may be a communist country but some very capitalistic practices are part of the lifestyles of a sizeable part of the population.
The polluted skies are no mystery! Enough said!
During the drive from the airport, it didn’t take me long to decide that I would like even a smidgeon of the industrial crane business in China! An unbelievable number. Most employed in the construction of high rise complexes [Actually many of these buildings are vacant! Many are being built by foreign investors who are waiting for prices to go up!] As many as 50 could be seen on some projects. The Chinese joke that the crane is the national bird of China! Actually China doesn’t have an official national bird.