Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ni hao, Shanghai

Modern city
Archeological evidence suggests that human settlements were first established on the site of what is now Shanghai some 7000 years ago. For thousands of years, the as-yet-unnamed settlement existed as an agricultural village of little import.

Hustle, bustle
All that changed in the 1400s when the Ming Dynasty dredged the Huanpu River and built a wall around the town to establish a bastion against Japanese pirates.

What could possibly go wrong?
From there, it was nowhere but up. Today, Shanghai is home to 23 million people, the largest city in the world and the economic gateway to its most populous country.

Residential alleyway
One wonders what those ancient farmers and fishermen would think, were they to see what has come from such humble beginnings.

Laundry day on Zizhong Street
Having arrived here in the early evening on Thursday (the wee, wee hours Thursday morning, Portland time) I set out with Brother Calee to see the sights on Friday.

Friendly construction worker
Shanghai possesses an odd duality of clean streets and dirty air.

The clean streets are a consequence of China's "socialist paradise." Everyone here has a job. If no jobs are available, the government will provide one for you. Thus, every street has a uniformed street-sweep equipped with a primitive broom who patrols the sidewalk, sweeping up litter, dog feces, and food scraps.

The air, on the other hand, is exceedingly dirty. Americans, conditioned to breathing clean air, will notice the difference. The air pollution index here runs between 150 and 200 most days, which is "unhealthy" according to the US Consulate. Walking the surface streets, breathing car exhaust, coal smoke, and dust, one's throat and sinuses become irritated. Calee and I both had fits of sneezing at different times. When we arrived home for the evening I felt as if I'd spent the day working in a fiberglass factory.

Pedal power
Unlike other major cities I've visited (Delhi, India is foremost in my mind) there is no sense of menace in Shanghai. Apart from "loose women" and pickpockets, there is no worry about crime. (Say what you will about authoritarian governments, they do keep the streets safe).

Ironic, when you consider how I spent my college days
In the Sinan Mansion district, Calee and I visited the Memorial House of the Shanghai Office of the Delegation of the Communist Party of China. (Ain't that a mouthful?) This traditional upper-end house was the place where Zhou Enlai, Chairman Mao's right-hand man, set up shop in the tense days following the surrender and expulsion of the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. The civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists had paused for the duration of the Japanese invasion, but now that they were gone, tensions rose again. Comrade Zhou and his coterie used this house in Shanghai as their headquarters, while Chang Kai Shek's Khoumintang occupied the house across the street.

Comrade Zhou
The truce didn't last, of course. Comrade Zhou was expelled from Shanghai and open hostilities broke out again. We all know where it went from there.

Made-to-order Chinese crepe
There is more to tell, but I'll save that for future posts. In the meantime, enjoy these photos that hopefully offer a passable glimpse into the vast, undefinable organism that is Shanghai today.

Modern architecture

Tyranny of petty authority

New face, ancient city

Sidewalk gamers

Eggs for sale

Today's special: Live turtles and bullfrogs

Eel spaghetti, anyone?

1 comment:

Joanie Lafferty said...

A another great adventure for you, Dad! Tell Calee & Sarah 'hello'.