Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some More Impressions

It looks like its time for another early morning post. The jet lag is
slowly getting better, but I wish I could at least sleep until 7 or
so. In my last post, I suggested that Shanghai isn't all that
different from other modern cities. I would like to revise that
statement. Shanghai is a city that underwent modernization so fast
that it failed to keep up with itself and failed to install enough
checks and balances.

For example, I realized that of all the weird smells, two dominate the
most. These smells are raw sewage and motor exhaust. Sometimes I can't
even believe how polluted this city is. I can actually feel myself
inhaling toxic fumes, which really grosses me out. Everywhere you
walk, these two smells are bubbling around you. If you manage to
forget them for a second, one look at the gray, misty sky is all it
takes to remind you. And if you don't look up to the sky, the dirty
phlegm building up in your throat will do the trick. The weird thing
is that I wouldn't call Shanghai a dirty city. The streets are
actually very clean as are most of the bathrooms. But the city's air
is polluted beyond belief.

The other overwhelming thing about the modernization of Shanghai is
the construction. You cannot walk more than two or three blocks
without running into a construction site. It seems as if the entire
city is constantly being assaulted by jack hammers and scaffolding. It
also seems as if there are no labor laws in China, so the construction
goes on 24 hours a day, presumably for the last 15 years. Five new
subway lines have been installed in the last 3 years. The impressive
Jinmao Tower is now overshadowed by the Shanghai World Financial
Center, which is the world's third tallest building and looks like a
giant bottle opener. Streets are constantly being torn up or widened
or repaired. And the coolest thing about it all is that half of the
scaffolds are made out of bamboo. That's right, bamboo. Sure, New York
City has had its fair share of construction sites, but the difference
in China is that you can mistakenly walk right into the middle of a
construction site and no one will stop you. You can walk down the
street and have saw dust poor down on your head, which is what
happened to Mimi the other day. This city is a bit more chaotic than
it seems.

Here are some photos of cool/ridiculous buildings. Hopefully they are
sized correctly.

The other really interesting thing about Shanghai is that despite the
modernity, so many Chinese cultural habits remain. Spitting, squatting
(which is actually really comfortable), and yelling remain as some of
Shanghai's favorite past times. People here love to squat. But they
love to spit even more. I love watching old ladies hack up the most
disgusting loogies and just let them rip onto the sidewalk like no one
is watching. After they finish spitting they usually whack their
husband on the back of the head and yell at him for not doing whatever
he was supposed to be doing. That's the other interesting thing about
Shanghai: the women clearly dominate. Everywhere I go I see old men
getting yelled at by their wives. Mimi's father says that every woman
in China wants a Shanghai husband because she will be able to get him
to do all the shopping and cooking.

I guess what I'm saying is that despite all this rapid modernization,
the pace of which is truly breathtaking, Shanghai still has a ton of
character and flavor. It's truly bizarre to get a delicious homemade
steamed vegetable bun made literally on the street, only to raise your
head and realize you are right below a 70 story building. Plus, where
else can you drink hot fresh soy milk (read: bean juice) from a
plastic bag with a straw. Only in Shanghai my friend.

We leave for Beijing on Friday night, but all in all, I think that
Shanghai is my kind of town. It's bustling, easy to get around, tons
of cheap and delicious street food, and more than enough visual eye
candy (whether it be the skyscrapers or the old ladies).

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