In one sentence:
Crazy, noisy, dirty, a city focused on China’s version of capitalism.
My introduction to Shanghai began with a thirty minute wait while the border patrol questioned my reasons for coming to China, checked my departure information and rang the hotel I had listed on my immigration card – that will teach me for being honest about my job, although maybe I should’ve written “unemployed” at the front of “Video Editor”! I was eventually allowed to go but was immediately targeted for a “safe shuttle” into the city; in other words, I paid £50 to be spied upon by the Chinese government.
I don’t know why they bothered; I was so sick with a cold that the first thing I did was shower and sleep for three hours!
When I finally emerged from my room, after fruitlessly trying to check my Facebook (yes I had forgotten Google and FB don’t work there), I ate some interesting McDs and ventured out into the smog of Shanghai.
The air quality there is poor, and I can see why masks are so popular even if they aren’t particularly practical, but I made it to the tube without dissolving into a puddle, so it can’t be all bad.
My first impression of Shanghai is a city of uneasy truces between the traditional houses, temples and markets with their wide courtyards and curved roofs and the steel and neon giants that hang over them. Even The Bund, only built in the late nineteenth century, huddles opposite the eye watering light displays of the financial district, which take everyone’s interest in the evening and turn these beautiful neo-classical buildings into mere back drops. There is beauty in the city, but so much of it is overwhelmed by the commercial aspect that it’s the places preserved by the People’s Party that seem to shine as the beautiful ornaments.
Like most countries where English isn’t the main language, the locals are polite but not overly friendly, keeping their distance and not engaging too much. (In South Korea the opposite is true; there they go out of their way to practice, “hello”, “how are you?” and “I love you”, plus a few other choice ones I was occasionally assaulted with.) But here it takes on a new meaning when those same locals cross into oncoming traffic to avoid soldiers lowering the national flag at The People’s House; that’s when you remember that this isn’t a democracy and freedom is limited. On the subway I saw a man being led (very quietly) away by two men in a suit; they weren’t police, and they way he was carefully led out of the station, one can assume they weren’t BFFs going for a coffee, but no one blinked in an eye. Actually no one looked; if you can’t see it it never happened.
Everything in Shanghai is designed to make you feel like you have choice; the shops will sell you anything you like, there are action movies and pop stars, and to be honest the only difference is the type of government and those missing freedoms that come with communism.
Quirky Observation – The Ads:
In New Zealand and the UK, the ads are about being a successful individual, sexy, free and different (while at the same time buying from one of a thousand chain stores). In China, the advertisements have a very different focus; the men were often depicted as the family man carrying the baby, rather than the woman (China relaxed the one baby policy the day after I left Shanghai). The women were often in suits and depicted as having successful careers, and on the subway I rarely saw any ads where they were provocative or even motherly, and when there was a photo of a family, it was often with the man holding the child while the woman stood in a suit beside him.
It will be interesting to see if these ads evolve, as ours did after World War 2, as the government begins to actively encourage families to have more than one child to combat their falling population.