September 23 & 24: Shanghai originally was a sleepy fishing village that sat in the shadows of Suzhou on the banks of the Huangpu and Yangtze Rivers and today just might be the most spectacular city in the world while at the same time a city of enormous contrasts. Shanghai has a population of over 17 million, 3.8 million of which are floating on the rivers. The Bund on the west bank has the appearances of a European capital with large stone buildings facing the river. Starting in the 1930’s the city grew as a major port and investment center controlled by European and American capitalists. As Shanghai grew the city attracted Chinese farmers looking for work and a better life which they found in the factories, and docks. The westerners, having built “their city”, feared this huge influx of Chinese into “their city” would jeopardize the quality of life that they had built for themselves so they created a system that divided the city into zones that would result in segregated and separate societies, these concessions continue into present Shanghai as a city of multiple architectural styles.
In 1949 the Communist, which controlled the Peoples Liberation Army under Mau Zedong, took control of the country and for the next forty years Shanghai’s commercial power vanished. The Bund fell in disrepair. Most of the foreign companies located in Shanghai moved their offices to Hong Kong. Much of China’s history in the form of antiquities left with the foreigners. Under Mau the power of China was redistributed and Shanghai took on the look of most Communist cities. Then in 1992 the government authorized the redevelopment of Shanghai by lowering taxes and encouraging investment which resulted in the Shanghai of today which grows at a rate of 9% to 15% each year. The new foreign investment resulted in the building a new district, Pudong on the east side of the river, consisting of tall glass office buildings huge hotels, shopping malls and wide streets. In the daylight Shanghai is amazing; Nanjaing Street has every kind of store that you can imagine, from high fashion to McDonalds and KFC. When you look closer you find that one block behind the high fashion stores are thousands of Chinese living just as they did one hundred years ago. Ten years from now most of that will all be gone.
The only way to really appreciate the size and scope of Shanghai and Pudong is at night, the lights on the skyscrapers and the Bund look like something created for a movie set. We had dinner with Michael and Marcia and Jerry and Jennifer on the 56th floor of the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, across the river from Shanghai. We all had Kobe steak, imagine that, and wine and celebrated a wonderful month of travel and new friends. It is fitting that our journey ended in Shanghai for as the Buddhist temples, rice patties, and mud houses are a reminder of the past Shanghai stands as a window through which you can see China’s future.
China is a lot of things; 1.5 billion people, a country on a mission, a diverse population, beautiful landscape, air pollution, sanitation problems, friendly hard working people, people working in harmony for the betterment of all, and an economic force of which the world has never seen before. I went to China believing that is was a third world country, a developing nation. I returned believing that China will see its 2008 Olympic slogan, “One World One Dream”, come to fruition.
September 15:We made it home Tuesday evening at 10:20 pm. Wednesday night we went out to dinner with Ron and Avie and Albert and Sue, we went Chinese. Nita and I showed off our newly acquired chopstick skills.