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A Shanghai Fourth of July

Posted by Keith on July 4, 2007 at 5:54 pm  

Treasure Our Independence Day

Shanghai’s 16 million people went about their business yesterday without so much as a nod to our Independence Day. But then, in a nation with little political freedom, and with, in particular, almost no freedom of political speech, why would they? How could they?

Yesterday, above and below a large color photo of Chinese troops marching in their newly-designed uniforms, the state controlled English language tabloid here, The Shanghai Daily, featured two articles on its front page: Yuan jumps to new high against dollar, and US Urged to pull China Piracy Charge.


In Yaun, the paper implies that our currency must inevitably decline against theirs. It barely mentions that their exchange rate is set by administrative fiat, and not by an open market. The US urged to pull… article was nothing more than a press release by China’s top Intellectual Property Rights official. In it he alleges that claims by the US of intellectual property rights theft in China are overblown. But in Shanghai we saw an endless selection of pirated CD’s, and countless knock-off designer items such as watches and handbags.

Our Day in Shanghai

We arrived from Hong Kong at the Shanghai airport – a Stalinesque expanse of grey buildings dimly lit on the outside, about 40-minutes from town – about 10 PM on the 3rd. We promptly made our way to the Jin An Hilton and fell instantly asleep.

Yesterday (the fourth) we went to Old Town here, a too-touristy reconstructed shopping Meca, but with much more authentic shops nearby. We then went The Bund – a riverfront collection of old imperial-power buildings; and we took the bizarre Bund Sightseeing Tunnel across the Yangtze to Po Dung, the glass and chrome city within a city housing much of Shanghai’s business community.

The incongruity of calling a tunnel a “sightseeing” destination notwithstanding, the Bund tunnel features the tackiest display of thematic neon lights we’ve ever seen. It is impossible to explain except to say it was an E-Ticket ride gone horribly, laughably wrong. But it was all good fun.

In Po Dung we took an elevator 369 meters into the air and enjoyed the view from the observation deck of the space age Oriental Pearl Tower. Unfortunately it rained most of the day so photo opportunities were rare.

After we returned to the hotel, my daughter Laura, and her boyfriend, Mike Bodenstedt, being young and energetic, returned into the city to enjoy the nightlife. The rest of us went to sleep.

This morning (the 5th), sitting outside the Real Shanghai Café and Bar on Huashan Road, across from the Hilton, I watch the early morning commuters make their way to work.

Shanghai is mainland China’s economic hub. Much of the “old” China is gone here, replaced by densely packed high-rise apartments and office buildings.

The city is vast, grey and packed. The workers are much like workers everywhere. Clerks dress like clerks, executives don their designer suits, and the young wear whatever is tight and looks most American.

While most Chinese are slimmer than Americans on average, and while obesity is rare here, it is not hard to tell the mainland newcomers here from those who have for years adopted the city life. Those just arrived from rural areas are physically hardened and look bewildered, while the experienced city dwellers adopt a blasé attitude and, often sporting an urban paunch, they seem softer overall: A sign that the abundance of urban living has its downside everywhere.

Deadly Air and Water

But the cities are deadly here. According to a World Bank study, as reported by The Financial Times, air and water pollution here kill about 750,000 Chinese each year! Sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities are in China. The World Bank report, originally released in March, was strenuously objected to by Chinese authorities. Because China is a member of the World bank, the Bank reluctantly redacted almost of third of the details, including its carefully documented conclusions as to which cities in China were the most deadly. The data are still secret.

The government’s excuse for demanding the suppression of this information is that it does not want to cause panic among the population. Translation: They don’t want the people they serve to demand that the government more effectively address the problem. This is totalitarianism at its worst, and demonstrates as clearly as can be seen though the smog-ladened skies here that the government of China is willing to sacrifice nearly a million people each year upon the alter of economic growth.

Meanwhile, the six of us will today take a van to Hangshou, two and a half hours away. It is a place renowned for its beauty, cooler cleaner air, and as a vacation destination for those lucky enough to afford the trip. We’ll stay at the Hyatt. More later…

–Keith


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