Sunday, July 30, 2006

Returning to Shanghai

I feel like Pudong is right behind me, a feeling I am used to; however, Pudong really is, which is not something I am used to. I actually did realize how excited I was to get to Shanghai until this morning when I finally admitted to myself Shanghai is not just another Chinese city for me.
For those new to Matt related information, I put my heart and soul into my honors thesis about the Pudong area of Shanghai. It was a huge factor in my life for a year, and I think in some ways a factor in who I am today. I had never worked that hard in undergraduate, but now frequently tirelessly over casual pursuits, like Chinese was originally. I had to start from scratch with Chinese economic history in order to write my thesis, and I think I did far more background work than the average thesis student (having picked a topic that's most basic fundamentals I had to start with).
First thing to be said about Shanghai is the first thing I noticed - man there are a lot of white people. Damn near Hong Kong levels of white people, which is just crazy to me. In fact, at the sushi bar (revolving sushi!!!!!) I am writing this in, Chinese people only make up about half of the customers.
My first impression was pretty negative, as I tend not to like white people. This is not to say that I tend to like Chinese people more than white people (that boat ride really disproved that notion), rather, based on the conditions we are under, I have something inherently in common with every white person I meet here. As such, if I meet a jerk that is white, I know he is representing the prejudice that I will convey to people here. The more white people - the more likely I will meet a jerk.
It also means there is an economy for hassling foreigners, so along Nanjing road I got "hey mista"ed, "DVD"edm and "you buy shoes"ed from one end to the other. However, the hassle did not stop me from walking to the end of Nanjing road and hitting the Bund. More to the point, hitting the image of the Pudong skyline. I actually had to stop for a second.
It was the second time the skyline brought me in my tracks. The first time was that I was not expecting it. The first time I had spent so much time reading about Shanghai history I had no idea that it had a present that was so intensely visually interesting. When I was expecting classy old and got hit by crazy new I was brought to a stop. That was the start of my thesis.
The second time I was forced to stop was again the shock of hitting the Pudong. This time however it was like running into an old friend after a two year absence. I knew what Pudong looked like. I knew so much about it. But I guess I was not really prepared to have it hit me all at once. Hundreds of photos, countless articles, a number of books and some 117 pages all rushed up to me at once.
Shanghai is really just a city, but its a city I know more about than all other cities combined. Yet I still don't know so much. I have little interest in the West side. I don't know much about the plight of the poor. However the things I do know about, I really do know. The problem is that this is a human city and the more I am here the more the gold paint will chip.
All of that said, I am here now, enjoying one of my favorite foods in the world, revolving sushi (if you revolve it, sushi gets better), and I hope to get a room to stay in one of Old Shanghai's main hang outs. I have a lot of goals tomorrow, but today, I am just going to stroll the rest of the Bund until I fully "get" that I am "here."

PTI: Even going to the bathroom is like going to the bathroom on history. I am staying in the Astor hotel. Back in the day this used to be one of the main swinging sections of the Bund. Giving Pudong so much love, I forgot my love for the Bund. The Bund is the old section of Shanghai, its composed of beautiful foreign architecture, and it really plays with your senses of being "in China."
Whereas Hong Kong also has an imperialistic history of enforced poverty, genocide proportioned slave labor, and foreign riches constructed from the spines of broken Chinese backs, the symbols of this glamorous and elegant era are largely built over by "B-" architecture projects. However in Shanghai, the symbols of foreign imperialism are dashed gently along the Yangzi river. Thus, I am pretty excited to be staying in such a place.
It really is nice, and the bathrooms all have western toilets, a feature that goes pretty far into my heart. The place has clearly been reconstructed, but it retains its old charm of a time in which the elegance inside of these buildings truly contrasted with the stark poverty outside and Nanjing road was not sponsored by Pepsi. However, without further ado, its time for me to jaunt to Pudong and maybe find a café to waste away my day as the leisurely foreign gentleman I really am.

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