Language, linguistics and travel. A blog that tries to bring them all together.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Shanghai - The Showroom of China

Two hours by train from Shanghai, the landscape becomes as flat as a table top and buildings unceasingly dominate the horizon. In waves the houses gather and close in toward the track to form villages and towns then break away again allowing the rice paddies to intervene . Then Shanghai begins in earnest. The outskirts of the city quickly become forest thick, high rise apartment blocks that increase in size and opulence as downtown Shanghai comes into focus. It is the showroom of China, a place of sleek, modern skyscrapers that turn into 21st century light displays at night. Below them, state-of-the-art pedestrian precincts are bursting with shoppers examining displays of latest fashions and midst it all are oases of squeaky clean, artistic parks that become temporary refuges for the citizenry both during the day and the night. A spaghetti bowl of neon-lit above ground highways and an expanding subway system tie the vast metropolis together with the current jewel in Shanghai's transportation crown - the Magnetic Levitation train that connects downtown to the international airport at a top speed of 431KM per hour. The Bund, one side of Shanghai's prestigious waterfront, has become an eight lane highway with a lengthy viewing deck running along its length. It's still fronted by colonial buildings of yesteryear, each sporting red Communist era flags and all in desperate need of a thorough cleaning. They appear small and insignificant in comparison with their new surroundings. Across the Huanpu River they face a growing, new skyline dominated by a rocket ship-like viewing tower of vast concrete tubes connected by great metal balls. Shanghai is booming and is not afraid to show it.

The pace of growth is astounding. The lethargy of the communist years is gone and in its place freewheeling capitalism has planted firm roots. But elements of the past still linger. Down the back streets the washing still hangs from lines strung between two buildings and the noodle shops for the workers are still crude and plentiful. The rapidity of the outward change still hasn't quite sunk in and many of the Chinese still have a difficult time accepting their new surroundings. It is rather like being in a city where half the people have won the lottery and still haven't had the time to adapt to the change in their circumstances.

I spent two days wandering the streets, my mouth agape.


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