Wednesday, April 08, 2009

More on Shanghai

The embedded reporters are still in Shanghai and they offer more insights on growth and concrete in one of China's major cities. I plan to take their diary entries and write a travel book around them. I'm hoping that Harvard Press will publish this. I am willing to write the preface.

Dateline: Wednesday, April 8.

We had dinner last night at Jean George. The food was as good as the restaurant in NYC by the same name. The service, lots of it, was impeccable, the decor rich sort of clubby and dark opulent huge space, sort speak-easy chic. Location near the Bund a promenade near the river. The promenade is not so great because of all the nearby construction, but when cleaned up will rival the view of lower Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. The view from the restaurant was perfect looking out over the river to the financial district with its large futuristic buildings on the other side. We were surprised that the staff badly outnumbered the dinners and that only a small percentage of the tables were occupied. I hope the weekend is better for them, they deserve it.

This morning we awoke to much clearer air and we could actually see clearly for some distance. We decided to tour the financial district: The amount of construction is unbelievable. The second tallest building in the world hardly seems to stand out from the crowd of tall buildings. Interesting the tall buildings were interspersed in some areas with old buildings likened to poor tenements with wash hanging our of each apartment, A huge space has been cleared for the next tallest Building I think it will be called the Shanghai Tower. I noticed that the usual temporary space for workers had clothing hanging out to dry, as most of the apartment houses do. This must mean that the construction teams are actually living on-site as the building is going up. How about that for efficiency. I found my camera charger did not work yesterday. So we were off to explore the problem. First stop a Best Buy in a half finished mall in the financial district. The Best Buy was huge with every known electrical device. Several pleasant, attractive helpful sales people gathered around us seemingly very interested in my problem. The studied my charger carefully a Panasonic. Alas, it was an old charger that was no longer made. But I bought it last year. They could not help. From the number of people in the store, they missed there only chance for a sale this morning. Again personnel outnumbered shoppers. We went on to Pacific. A local store. Again, pleasant, attractive, helpful people with little to do but to solve my problem. Off to the storeroom but confirmed the charger is no longer made. An urgent call to a supervisor: a somewhat older, intelligent thoughtful man who was not adverse to wielding a box cutter on every package that contained a charger on the floor to solve the problem. He did several experiments on my charger, declared it beyond resuscitation and found me a suitable replacement. Sale price about 350 Yuan. Everyone was pleased, their morning seemed complete. Off the to the Shanghai History museum. Very well done. A series of photos and dioramas that tell the history of Shanghaii. It was a busy museum. Chinese tour groups were everywhere. I did note that world war 2 and the Japanese occupation, which did have some impact on the city, was not mentioned. This is interesting because they are still bummed out over the Opium War with its resultant concessions and colonialism. At first I was critical, but on reflection I think the Chinese are teaching something to consider.

Back in the car, bicycles, cars, motor scooters, pedestrians all competing without the unusual restraints and I thought NYC cabbies were difficult. Then we saw him. Among the smartly dressed, busy attractive young people on the street, there was an old man on a bicycle that was carrying an impressive amount of cardboard. Our guide said he was a sanitation worker. My wife dubbed him a recycler and did not even realize, she successfully punned. Off to a restaurant in the old French concession. Lovely lunch. Walk on a pleasant mall. Bought some small stuff for the secretaries and back to the hotel to nurse a case of travelers diarrhea. At the hotel, I was struck by the large number of well appointed young people hired by the hotel to stand in the lobby, look attractive, pleasant and helpful and smile and greet as you passed.

Tomorrow we are off to Beijing and more to report.

HE IS THERE WITH ANOTHER REPORTER, here is her independent report

China is not your grandparents China! Twenty five year olds in Shanghai look like Japanese Club kids, are frequently as tall as Americans and live in airconditioned skyscrapers. We still can't figure out what people do for a living but they are talkative and mellow. We visited a five hundred year old river town where they sell twenty varieties of chinese pickles, live shrimp swim around with carp and catfish for sale, and saying "bo" meaning "no" doesn't help much to ward off sellers of dragon kites, fans, and fake rolexes.

Although the government is tearing down everything in sight to build skyscrapers the residents aren't sentimental about ditching the past as the population of the Shanghai region is 17 million and there would be no place to house everyone if they lived in traditional three story four generation farm houses. They have ribbon parks between the skyscrapers. The new development looks a lot like Guyaquil Ecuador which may not be surprising as there are a lot of Chinese investors in Ecuador and the climate is similar in Guyaquil and Shanghai.

We saw a terriffic troupe of Chinese acrobats that we had seen twenty years ago in Disney World, Florida. We went to the Shanghai art museum and historical museum and toured the modern art gallery district. Eating is terriffic also. Tomorrow we are off to Beijing.