It’s 2 in the afternoon and the wan and anemic light seeping into Shanghai through the thin clouds and the pollution is more suited to dawn or dusk. I wouldn’t know; I’m in that timeless space of arrival for the international traveler, before the clock has spun into local time. Regardless of the hour, the taxi is stuck in a traffic jam, but I was too muddled to negotiate the metro with three changes involved in getting to my hotel. Buicks, VWs, Honda, Ford, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Nissan, even a Skoda or two surround me – only the occasional Chinese brand of car – BYD and some other unpronounceable name.
Apartment blocks and factories are intermixed helter-skelter – no planning, no green anywhere. If there is an old Shanghai, it is dwarfed by the new. Now, descending off the freeway to street level, some trees are more apparent among the architectural oddities of the downtown area – cones, turrets, balls, and curved surfaces – much more like Hong Kong than Beijing. The occasional colonial looking building surviving among the modern shops – Dolce & Gabbana, Raffles City, Where r u…, Michael Kors, Spao – the exotic aura exemplified by the word ‘Shanghai’ has been shanghai-ed by western capitalism for sure.
Jesse Cook and Loreena McKinnett and Layla on my headphones – Middle East sounds somehow soothing, Western music feels inappropriate and the tinny nasal Chinese pop music on the taxi driver’s radio does not fall gentle upon mine ear.
favorite of mine, generally, having been a protestor from the Vietnam era, but this guy bombs us through the Shanghai traffic, blue lights blazing – just as a favor or to have fun, as far as I can see. Not that people get out of the way much. Government officials are objects of fear here (imagine dread at you local county officials or state senators at home), but the police are not. This is not a ‘police state’, at least not as much as America. Security is likewise more lax here – in the airports and in Tiananmen Square, which you might think might be really tight security-wise.