Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shanghai for a week

Notes: 6/7-8/2011   - Shanghai

Shanghai is a really big metropolis. Does not have the claustrophobic crampiness of HK. However, it is so spread out, but the weather patterns make it difficult to tell how big it is from even high rises.  The haze - is it pollution or is it just dense haze all the time?

There are 13 subway rail lines , first line apparently built staring 1995 ? Need to double check the date on this . Subway rail line #2 is visibly older than line 10. were probably built in order of line number is my best guess.  The Line 10 subway cars approximate the new HK MTR rails in their electronic sophistication. The line 2 cars have a very loud and annoying buzzer for their door closing. The Shanghai subway system is one of the more difficult systems to navigate on arrival, mostly because there so many lines. The good part is that there is english/chinese on every rail station.

subway lines in the city close down at 11pm . The subway lights are also fairly dim. I'm not sure what the reasoning is behind the low wattage  lights. This is present in both new and old stations. Also i see a lot of fluorescent tubing

Bar manager at The Long bar, waldorf astoria restored from 1930s glamour is shanghainese, says that there is a lot of price inflation but not necessarily wage inflation. Says that he can make 10k rmb as a manager here in shanghai but in tokyo can make 10k as a regular bar tender, back in 2008. Prices are exceptionally high, for a diet coke beautifully presented cost 55RMB, which was about 9 USD! Current exchange rate is 6.47 RMB = 1 USD. The experience was worth it though. (pic here IMG_1257.jpg).

The Lights at the People's square are shut off 11pm??? I asked the cab driver if this was a just a weekday event or if this is was a regular case. He replied that it was a regular event, even on the weekends? that the lights were shut off. The photos show how dramatic the difference is. IMG_1290.jpg is about 10 min after the lights are shut off. IMG_1222, IMG_1278 , IMG_1283 is a little before 11pm.

see pictures here:

There is a very clear disparity between areas like the bund and the people's square and the spaces in between. Most interesting to note: If you go back 1 or 2 streets from the bund on a normal, not highway street, there is little traffic, mostly dominated by cyclists and motorbikes/mopeds.  There are many very grand neocolonial (style?)  historical buildings that are simply vacant or boarded up. Its as if they only opened up the front row of the bund to the public and "showcased it" in a hurry. for events like the 2008 olympics or 2010 expo?  Some of the buildings have windows boarded up with new international fashion brand names eager to occupy the new retail space. sometimes a view into the building is visible and you see old cabinets, perhaps rooms untouched since the 1940s?

The old and new simultaneously exists. Its almost like having an angst teenager? Sophisticated yet still immature in so many ways. Almost schizo in personality. How do the people manage here?

The significant gap of wealth is really obvious and extreme. Its as if the china of yesterday simultaneously coexists side by side with the new: the old with bicycles and tuk tuk style motorbike cabs mixed in with new wealth and high end brand names, the audis, bmws, japanese brand taxis, the pradas, guccis and so on.

Most of the purchasing activity seems centered around mid-level retail brands. I noticed a lot of activity in stores like the gap or mango, but hardly anyone walked into luxury boutiques, such as Dior, E. Zegna.  That's a lot of high end retail .

There is a McDonalds in People's square that is open 24hrs. The lights are strong and bright, assumingly all the lights in the square that are on after 11pm are paid by the tenants? and all the other lights are sponsored by the government? When the lights go off at 11pm, there is a large crew of cleaners that mop the tiled floors with soap and water.

It will be interesting to see if the bund's lights also go off at 11pm . I would be very curious to know. More on the bund : My grandfather and great grandfathers worked here at the old HSBC bank in the 1920-30s. Influenced by the west, my maternal grandmother is catholic. Both maternal and paternal grandparents left with their children ( my parents ) pre- 1949 revolution and ended up in Hong Kong because it was British Territory at the time and protected from the communists. Hong Kong is an extremely capitalistic market today, even though it is SAR, because of the 50 year hand over deal with the UK. More details on HK’s history:

The big difference between Hong Kong and the mainland is that most people don’t speak english even though there are signs that are bilingual. Hong Kong has the advantage of blending both east and west cultures. The majority of people who live in Shanghai today are not orignally from Shanghai. A lot of people have migrated from the city and only 40% speak the local dialect - Shanghainese. Nationwide, everyone is mandated to speak Putonghua , also known as Mandarin. I only understand and speak shanghainese, and although some of the words in Putonghua are similar, there are plenty of people who don’t understand Shanghainese. There is also a lot of confusion as to why I don’t understand Putonghua, but this is an extreme anomaly in China.

I’m also asked by local people - “ why would my family even want to leave China, because isn’t Shanghai the best city in the world?? “ (which in my opinion is not true based solely on the amount of pollution.)  Apparently a lot of the pre 1949 history was wiped out in the educational system, and people don’t really know the details before the red revolution. Hong Kong, is entirely different - its very westernized and people have a lot more freedom. The internet now is so choked off in China, its almost like we can’t breathe, and we have a difficult time accessing a lot of wikipedia web pages . Gmail is intermittent and so is google.

The bund, even with its historic buildings only, feels almost larger than life grand. Its interesting that the modern skyline counterpart is built directly opposite the bund. The river separates the old bund architecture from the space age modern pudong side.

Pudong is mostly comprised of financial buildings and the infamous space needle. The skyscrapers rival HKs and have no worry about running out of space.

A lot of the high end architecture in pudong , people's square, and Luwan has a "larger than life" , extremely dramatic feel to it.
The problem with the weather is that it is difficult to see of the skyline from a distance. So much of the cloudy haze blocks views from afar.  

We went up to the a round space bar in one of the hotels near the people's garden, hoping to get a better view of the city and pudong from 46 floors up, however, it was impossible to see much with the haze in the way, even at night. The lights do not penetrate

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