Friday, April 24, 2015

the wheels on the bus

They are not the only things that go round and round.  So does my cursor icon when I try to breach the Great Chinese Firewall.

I am reading a new biography of George Washington by Robert Middlekauff.  It reminded me of how the American Revolution was a close run thing.  In fact, at the start, it looked like a lost cause.

My little venture in the cause of liberty here in China is turning out to be a mixed bag.  At times, I can pierce the wall -- as you can see from my recent comments.  But, just as often, the government forces win the battle, and I cannot get through to either to my email or these pages.

If this gets posted, rack up one point for Bunker Hill.

Today was a bus day.  It turns out that Shanghai has a hop-on, hop-off bus -- as do a bushel of other cities.  They are a great innovation. 

The driver chauffeurs you all over the city while an English commentary fills in the knowledge gaps.  And you can get off where you like, and resume the trip whenever you choose.

It is a great way to get a broad overview of a city.

That is what Roy and I did today -- for the full day.  We were both here two years ago.  It was great to get re-acquainted with what is turning out to be one of my favorite cities in the world.

My friend Lou Moodie has connections with China.  When he drove me to the airport, he asked me what my impression was of China based on my last visit. 

The answer was easy.  I was surprised how modern and wealthy the place was.  I didn't really expect to run into the Inn of the Sixth Happiness, but I was completely unprepared for how sleek both Beijing and Shanghai were.

Shanghai, of course, is the largest city in the world.  It has been a big place since the 1800s.  But its development into a world financial center in the 1990s created the city we see today.

Its wealth gives it a way to deal with its growing population.  Like a number of large cities, it has decided to grow upwards.  Its office towers are some of the tallest in the world -- and there are more to come.  Within a decade, Shanghai intends to double its office space.

And because people need places to live, the city is building an almost numbing number of apartment buildings.  Some of them quite luxurious for what the local commentators, in perfect Marxist-tongue-in-cheek style, refer to as "workers in the financial sector."

For the rest of the people, the digs are not quite as stunning.  But there are lots of them.

The down side of all this growth, as you would expect, is world class air pollution.  Shanghai's skyline is already exotic, but when the translucent air is added for effect, the place could easily be a set for Blade Runner.  (That is why today's batch of photographs look as if they had been processed through a bowl of split pea soup.  It is air that you sensually experience, not just see.)

We are staying in the old town section of Shanghai.  But there is not much old town left.  The area around the hotel has been leveled.  Looking as if World War Two had taken another pass through the city.

But some of the old feel is still there.  For instance, there are plenty of street vendors selling breakfast and lunch.

Old men still bring their caged birds to the park each morning -- a Huamei (a spectacled thrush), in this case.  And the birds can sing -- and do.  Their owners look on in pride as their birds perform.

And there are parks.  Lots of them.  The largest was created from Shanghai's infamous racetrack.  A smaller park near the hotel appears to be a hangout for Andrew Lloyd Webber hopefuls.

The hotel is near a tourist market -- Yu Park.  Most of it looks like a strip mall tarted up for an Indiana Jones film.  (The second in the series was partially shot in Shanghai.)  But there are also a handful of traditional merchants selling their wares.  And those wares are not too different from the snazzier shops.

And, of course, there are beautiful women. 

It seems as if all Chinese women in Shanghai take great pride in their appearance.  But this young women went even further.  You cannot see it, but she is wearing a white dress with hand-stiched embroidery.  Everything about her was a class act.

So, there you have it.  Steve and Roy's excellent adventure.  Day one.

If possible, more will follow.

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