Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Week in Shanghai

Shanghai Mu
I’ve just spent a week in Shanghai, an extraordinary city.  It’s currently the largest city in China, although there’s a pretender elsewhere that will overtake it when four currently separate metro areas are combined into one.  One of the remarkable things about the city is the variety.  Right in the city center where Nanjing Road runs into the People’s Square there is the Shanghai Museum.  It’s relatively small modern building, but with a variety of gorgeous jade, Ming dynasty china – no coincidence about that word, bamboo carvings – some gorgeous rich brown pieces carved from bamboo roots, calligraphy, furniture, and of course, the whimsical paintings spanning multitudes of years.
Ming Vase
Carving from Bamboo Root

Oriental Pearl Tower
Then walk east to the Huangpu River to the nineteenth century stately buildings along The Bund.  Have lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants there overlooking the water.  People speak English, and the atmosphere is that of a private club.  Cross the river and you will be at the Oriental Pearl Tower, a telecommunications extravaganza with magnificent views of the city from an observation deck and revolving restaurant.  (We ate there last night; unfortunately the weather dampened the view, but it was still spectacular.)  And you’re only eye level to some of the other buildings (including the one in the picture, which my friend rather unkindly said looked like a wine carrier).  The picture makes it look as though it’s just the three of them, but that’s because they dwarf the surrounding skyscrapers.
Fancy restaurant overlooking the river
But then take a walk down Siping Road.  Pass the little stalls selling…well, it’s to eat anyway.  Then you come to a shopping mall where the whole thing is full of food to buy or restaurants for dining.  Here no one speaks English and your best bet is to find a menu with pictures.  Most times the food looks like the pictures, but you can’t always tell what it is.  $30 buys two people more than they can eat and four beers.  (Don’t drink wine.  The prices start at exorbitant and go up from there.  The local wines don’t have much of a reputation – yet – and will start at over $30 in a restaurant.)  By the way, they don’t take tips.  It’s more than not expecting tips; if one is offered they firmly but politely refuse.  (Everything in China is polite, except the traffic.  I was nearly knocked down by a car reversing down the pavement today.)
So, you may ask, what I was doing in Shanghai.  Well, I wish I could say I was promoting Detective Kubu books, although bookstores here often consist of barrows wheeled onto the pavement (avoiding passing cars) and not too many royalties go to the authors, I’d guess.  Actually I was at a conference on a particular variant of image processing for airborne and satellite remote sensing.  I won’t bore you with the details.  But here’s an interesting statistic from a presentation at the conference:  China today has the same demand for mineral resources that the whole world had in the mid-seventies.
Any complaints other than the traffic?  The internet is, well, shall we say, variable.  The variability peaked at the start of the week when the anniversary of Tiananmen Square took place.  No email, no access to websites that might be dubious, which apparently was most of them.  Murderiseverywhere qualified, and still does.  (Thanks to Stan for posting this.)  So did Facebook.  And Youtube.  And any news site that mentioned June 4th.
Shanghai Maglev train
Tomorrow I’ll take a 250 mph train to a modern airport, and the driver of the taxi taking me to the station won’t take a tip.  Or read murderiseverywhere.  I’ve seen so little – much too little to understand anything - but I’d love to come back.  Well, there’s another conference in Beijing in April…

Xie xie, China.
Michael - Thursday


  1. Michael, your life epitomizes what it means to be a renaissance man, even if you do have to settle for a beer once in a while.

  2. How fascinating. To be immersed in a very different culture is really eye opening. the art is remarkable. thanks for this.

  3. I imagine dining your way through Shanghai is right up there with dining your way through Tuscany or Barcelona.

    And as an American I envy any country whose rail system isn't antique.

  4. Fascinating city. I visit China a couple of years ago and Shanghai was part of the deal...and the bullet train.

  5. Thank you. What beautiful art. I must virtually visit the Shanghai museum.

    What good fortune to be able to visit that historic city and its museums.