Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I devoted yesterday to buildings in Shanghai. Buildings make up its unique skyline and drive its economy, and China's economy as a whole. Construction is part of the reason why the Chinese economy grew at a rate of 8% last quarter. The city is in the middle of an overwhelming upheaval. Where I'm staying, to the south of the city centre, the road is churned into a giant pile of rocks in parts, piles of massive pipes block the sidewalk, and shiny new buildings stand next to massive holes in the earth. In Pudong, home to two of the world's seven tallest buildings, plus the 420-metre Oriental Pearl Tower, the construction is even more insane. There is half a street in front of the 490-metre World Financial Centre, the second or third-tallest building in the world. The other half is under construction for the Expo 2010 taking place here next year.

As such, navigating Shanghai's ultramodern Pudong district is a nightmare. There is no sidewalk, few directions and really no reason for anyone other than a mudcaked construction worker to be there. To get from the Pearl Tower to the World Financial Centre, I walked through a park, got lost in a construction site, and then walked down a road bound by construction on both sides, risking my life against massive buses. Once I got there, I was informed that the visibility was too poor to get to the observation deck, the highest in the world.

This doesn't even compare to The Bund, on the west side of the river. The Bund is a collection of European-style art deco buildings dating to the early 20th century. In preparation for the Expo, the road is completely torn up. Coupled with the architecture, it looks like Europe circa 1945. The riverside promenade is also gone. You're left with a muddy, hideous street and hundreds of touts for a variety of tours and whatnot.

All that said, I'm baffled by why I see so many foreigners here. Every where I look, there are European backpackers or well-to-do tourists from Italy, America, Germany or elsewhere. This might be the third-biggest city in the world and certainly the most dynamic city I've ever been to, but I can't understand what the soft-looking tourists with thick Lonely Planet guides and upside down maps find appealing about this place. I can't even tell what I find appealing about this place. Shanghai is certainly more developed than Beijing, but I'd rather visit all the places I didn't see in Beijing than have mud caked on my face as I walk next to the billionth "EXPO 2010! BETTER CITY, BETTER LIFE" construction scaffolding.

If this computer permits, I'll post some pictures from Shanghai. If you're reading this on Facebook, click here.

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