After 5 days in Shanghai I would have to say “I dig China”. Not that I didn’t think I would going in, but it’s just very different then I expected. Most of my preconceived notions of what China would be like (formed by time spent in various China towns in western cities and the US media), were wrong. I didn’t find a hectic, overcrowded, police state with a heavy big brother government presence, and harried if not aggressive people living on top of each other. Shanghai is huge. But it seems to work and felt relatively well in balance. It didn’t feel over crowded at all. I had just come from Paris where the traffic was far worse and it makes NYC look old and pretty run down. The infrastructure I saw in Shanghai was all brand new, incredible modern architecture with amazing style. Great chic restaurants and some of the nicest hotels I have ever seen (and I’ve seen me some nice spots). They build it big and bold over there. The freeway has a bright blue strip of LED lights along both sides and underneath it at night. There is also the old Shanghai with alleys and street food tucked in between the new city with it’s luxury malls and skyscrapers. The difference is pretty extreme and you can see where the old is being leveled to make way for the new in dramatic fashion.
The China Expo is opening in Shanghai in a few weeks and they are shutting down all construction to improve air quality once it starts so that means the place was going all out to get everything finished. Everywhere you looked someone was building something. One night on the way home from dinner at 11:30pm we were sitting at a stop light and 10 guys were putting up a lamp post by hand next to the car. It’s really the city that never sleeps. I kept feeling that energy of a place that is on the move, expanding in all directions and determined to make a mark on the world with big industry, big business, big buildings, big opportunities and big ideas. A lot like it must have been in NYC in the late forties and fifties. I had a feeling of opportunity and possibilities I didn’t expect in a place with the government they have. I actually didn’t see much of any government presence the whole time. Sure I couldn’t access Facebook, Twitter, or this blog while I was there but somehow I lived. In fact the heaviest propaganda I saw the whole trip was a video playing at baggage claim at JFK when I got back called “America the Beautiful” with lots of slow mo shots of cowboys, inner city kids playing in a fire hydrant sprinkler and seniors playing golf.
I should also say that people were very friendly and helpful even when we could barely communicate. I wandered into a construction site and took some pictures when the workers were taking a meal break and they all wanted to know where I was from, were very pleased to hear NYC and they then offered me some of their food all without speaking a word of each others language. I had a great customer service experience with Air China when I missed my connecting flight with lost luggage through Beijing on the way there . I had a great crew of all local people. And when trying to buy a tea pot at a tiny store where the owner didn’t speak any english another Chinese customer stepped in and translated. He recommended his favorite tea which we all then tried together while discussing digital cameras. Great stuff and not the aggressive Chinatown vibe you get here.
So in other words, I liked Shanghai. I had a great time. It was not what I expected. It was better. Here are a few shots I managed to squeeze off: