16 March 2006

An Astounding Place - The Planet's a Goner


Another day of wonder and delight in Shanghai. Eva couldn't get through to Bank of America in the U.S. to report her stolen ATM card so we decided to go to their office in Pudong - the new part of the city across the river - to see what we could do. An espresso was required to kick start the day so we went to a gleaming new huge Starbucks. It tasted just like it does in the U.S., which is, I guess, the point. We found our way to the Shanghai Stock Exchange building - a vertical hollow square - and the BofA people there could not have been more friendly and helpful.

Mission accomplished, we went to lunch. We went to the Grand Hyatt - the world's tallest hotel. It occupies floors 54 to 87 of the Jin Mao Tower - a beautiful building that looks like sort of a modern update on the Chrysler Building in New York. First we admired the 30-story indoor atrium. (I've got great photos of a lot of this stuff but unfortunately it seems that they are going to have to wait for my return to the U.S. to make it onto the website.) Then we went to the hotel's Shanghai restaurant on the 86th floor for lunch. The haze outside prevented us from seeing much. The wild vegetables with tofu were fantastic, everything else was sort of typical hotel food - perfectly cooked but kind of dull. A relatively light lunch cost us about as much as we'd spent on all our meals put together up until that point.

After lunch we descended and looked across the street at the beginning stages of construction of what will be the world's tallest building - 150 or 170 or 210 floors or something like that. The pictures look like it will be a slender, graceful, angled tower with a huge hole in the top to let the wind through so that it doesn't sway too much. I'm looking forward to going up into it one of these days - after it's been successully in place for at least a few years first.

Off to the Pearl Orient TV Tower - the monster spire with red bubbles built into it at various stages. It's something else that can only be described in superlatives - although variations on the word "ugly" are certainly among them. In the basement is a Shanghai history museum that is very well done. It has some of the best dioramas and small scale complete shops, buildings and neighborhoods that we've ever seen. A number of the dioramas come complete with moving, talking holograms of people at work, play or simply hanging around the house and arguing with each other. It does a good job of portraying the history and daily life of Shanghai from around the mid-1800s to just before the revolution in 1949. I want to see how they portray their history since 1949, but we're not sure which museum to go to for that.

We had a much better dinner than lunch, for about a quarter the price - Yang's Kitchen, if you should ever be in Shanghai. Then we strolled around a neighborhood that had a small Chinese-Moslem night market and was also a red light district. There were a whole lot of small barber shops, complete with revolving red and white poles, staffed by a number of young women wearing a lot of makeup. They weren't there to cut hair. We stopped in front of a restaurant that was selling baked goods. Among other things they were selling bagels. That's not what they called them, but that's exactly what they were. Really good and fresh ones too.

Another fascinating, fun day in a city that I am increasingly enamored of. We're even toying with the idea of living here for at least a year or two.

So, what's the problem?

The planet is sunk. Literally. Goodbye Seychelles and Mauritius. Hurry up and build that sea wall Manhattan. There's no stopping this kind of development in time. It won't happen. No one can reasonably ask them to stop it, or even cut back. Maybe if the U.S. got serious itself and said: okay, we're going to cut back on our waste and pollution and lifestyle; we're willing to accept a lower standard of living; maybe then we could convince China and India and other developing countries to slow down. Although I doubt even then they'd listen to us. But we are not going to do that and we have no solid ground to stand on to ask anyone else to do that and global warming is the real deal.

Much of what is making Shanghai one of, if not the most exciting places in the world today is causing long term problems for the planet. That's true in every single big city. And it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse. And it's going to get a lot worse - fast. You think last year's hurricanes were bad? Just wait. The tsunami's got nothing on a rising ocean.

The only hope is for some sort of sci-fi technological miracle and there is at best a very slim chance of that. We are not at all likely to invent our way out of this one, or to be able to finance the invention in time on a world wide level if we do.

So, I'm learning to love this place and to fear what it means. Then again, I live in Los Angeles, a place with much the same longterm implications.

Ah well, it's time to shower and hit the streets again. To enjoy this place while I can.


aajkt said...

Some wonderful descriptions of two of the most dynamic cities on this planet. I agree with you about the future of the planet if China actually starts to use as much energy as the rest of the western world on a per capita basis. One of the things that struck me about Shanghai as compared to Hong Kong and other Asian cities is how dark it was at night.

Looking forward to your meanderings through Beijing completing the Sino Trifecta. Hope that Beijing is everything that you imagine it to be.

Regards from Jakarta

Leila said...

God this is a wonderful blog. Thanks, Eric. And send my love to Eva.