29 August, 2005

What a great sentiment for a garbage can.

While being bombarded with commercials, you can also find out when the next trains will be arriving on the Shanghai subway.

Sure, why not? It's the touristy thing to do after all. The Oriental Pearl Tower is the highest TV tower in Asia (number three in the world) with observatories at the 90, 263, and 350 meter levels.

Everyone feels compelled to gaze at the wondrous tower.

Another cool looking building in the area.

And a giant mall across the street.

The base of the beast.

This tower was only constructed in the 1990s.

Another look at some of the buildings surrounding the tower. From left to right: the Bocum Financial Building, the International Finance Building, and the Jin Mao Tower.

A view from the base of the tower of some of the many apartment buildings under construction.

The official tower greeting.

Not much of a line today.

The convention center.

It was a shitty day for going up on the tower. Do yourself a favor and look on the net for pictures of the Shanghai skyline because you won't find many good ones here.

A lot of world leaders have visited the tower since its opening and left written words behind them.

This is what the president of Ghana had to say.

And in Barbados they were practically gushing.

Short but somewhat poetic from New Zealand.

This is all Al Gore could come up with.

Some rather nice words from Israel.

An exact duplicate from Jamaica. Hmm.

As I went a little lower and got onto one of the outdoor decks, the city started to look a little clearer.

This one of the Huang Pu River was particularly nice.

Some of the skyscrapers on this side of the river.

In the frenetic supermarket, there are all kinds of interesting things for sale.

Like a pile of green peas you could just dive into.

Another one of those graphics you're not likely to see anywhere else.

And when would you ever see more cooking oil?

How about if you just back up a few steps?

I had no idea Playboy made sneakers. And these are selling for around $20.

I'm not sure but I think if that happens to your finger, you're in the right place. Or it could be warning you not to do that to your finger because you're in the wrong place.

On the subway back, I noticed this was happening on every screen in the car. Oddly enough, on a train across the platform it was also happening but the screens there were in a different stage of rebooting. There was some sort of a problem because the reboots never completed and on the second train they had frozen altogether.

And this is what they make the poor people who work in restaurants do in order to get customers to come inside.

29 August, 2005

Day 44. CCTV9 has really been shoveling with both hands today. I suppose they've probably been doing it for a while but I only just noticed it today because I had the TV on in the background. They're going on about the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two or, as they call it, The War of Resistance Against the Japanese Aggression. Fair enough. But they're really going overboard with "confessions" from Japanese soldiers who admit to all kinds of atrocities during the war. I guess it's better than what the government here was doing a couple of months ago when they made it seem like Japan wasn't taking responsibility for its actions which wound up getting people here predictably outraged. Only problem was it wasn't true - Japan has apologized numerous times for its actions. And while I'm sure there were many atrocities committed, this whole confession of the day thing they've got going reminds me of scenes from "1984." And what about atrocities committed by China? Not just in the war but throughout its history? What about the crimes against humanity that the beloved Mao Zedong was personally responsible for? I don't suppose CCTV is going to be devoting any time at all to that, nor to the people the current regime is torturing and oppressing. The thing is, such a discussion along with honest dialogue probably wouldn't be enough to wreck the existing government, not with the existing economic boom. I don't believe it's at all fragile. Self reflection and honesty would not only bolster confidence here but it would greatly enhance China's reputation and influence abroad. I hope the rest of the world continues to remind them of this and that the people here hold their leaders, past and present, accountable for their actions. Only then can the real forward momentum begin.

Today was hot and muggy and not exactly conducive to activity. It was a lot more conducive to doing work inside an air conditioned hotel room with propaganda pouring out of the TV set at an impressive rate. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to leave at some point in the afternoon and do some more exploring. Today was, after all, my last day in Shanghai. Tomorrow I would be leaving the city and the country via the boat to Japan.

I had heard talk of a unique form of dumpling that existed in Shanghai so I found the name and location of a place that allegedly specialized in them and headed out on the subway. I snagged a couple of extra subway cards for future analysis back home. They have one of those systems here where there's an invisible magnetic strip on the card so I bought two extra ones of different values and left one completely unused while entering the system on the second without ever exiting (I entered the system for real on a third card which got swallowed when I exited).

I've been getting pretty good at avoiding the "hello!" people. I've learned how to see them coming out of the side of my eye and I move 90 degrees away from them or sometimes even backtrack which thoroughly confuses them to the point where they just give up. I've developed a skill in New York of being able to zigzag through crowds at a fairly quick rate, something nobody here seems able to do, so I've been using that ability to my advantage. I think I'm actually starting to have fun with this.

Anyway, I found the place and went inside. It looked like the real thing. No tourists that I could see. So after sitting for a while and realizing that absolutely nothing was happening despite trying to get the attention of various staff people, I began to wonder if I was being "profiled" again. No, don't get paranoid, I told myself. There was probably just some sort of ritual I wasn't observing. So I watched what other people who were coming in were doing. Sure enough, they were stopping at the counter first. OK, so you had to place your order there and then presumably they would bring you the food wherever you chose to sit. I could do that. So I went up to the counter and said "English?" meaning was there an English menu. The counter person reached down and threw a menu at me. She really did throw it. OK, not a problem. I caught it and saw all kinds of things listed including the aforementioned dumplings. So I pointed to those as well as some "longevity noodles" which came in soup form. She showed me the total on the cash register and I paid. Then she tossed the change at me. I'm not kidding. But it didn't bother me. Maybe she did this with everyone.

So now that I had performed the designated task, the doors opened up for me. The people who hadn't acknowledged me before now came up to me when they saw I held the magic paper receipt. They took it and sprung into action behind closed doors. When they emerged, they gave me the soup with chopsticks and no spoon and the dumplings with a little dish for sauce which never came. I had a very nice teapot which also was never filled with tea. I couldn't help but notice that nobody else was suffering such shortages. OK, whatever. So these people had some sort of bug up their asses. At least I got to have the dumplings. But I have to say, living in New York you get kind of spoiled. I had already had these dumplings at a place on Mott Street. And *they* brought the sauce and tea.

After enjoying that experience as much as humanly possible, I decided to head over to the big tower I had seen yesterday, which turned out to be the Oriental Pearl Tower, built only in 1994. In fact, the entire pedestrian mall that was the centerpiece of the town's tourist industry had also only been built in the 1990s. This city has been growing incredibly fast. If it were a virus, it would be deadly. Maybe that would be a good slogan for the Chamber of Commerce.

So I took the subway past the river and got out right where the tower stood. And it was pretty damn immense. For 100 yuan I could visit all of the various levels of the thing. That actually was pretty pricey but I have a thing about always visiting the TV towers of cities that erect them as tourist traps. I had seen Toronto's earlier this year and that was a much bigger ripoff, despite the fact that it was a slightly bigger tower.

There were four different levels for tourists to look out over the city and I stopped at them all. There was also one of those revolving restaurants which I had absolutely no interest in. It was also rather hazy so it wasn't exactly the best of views. But I was there at dusk so it was pretty cool seeing the city transform into a lit up skyline. And it really is a fairly big skyline, although it does seem a bit disjointed. Buildings just kind of spring up in random places whereas in New York it seems like there's a certain rhythm at play as to where the buildings actually are. Of course, this could just be an illusion caused by my familiarity with them.

I noticed there was a brand new looking mall near the tower so I figured I'd have a look. It was like a palace. No expense appeared to have been spared in its construction. And it seemed to just go on forever. I had never seen a mall so spacious and yet so full of merchandise. I went up several levels and, like the mall in Beijing, there was a food court that took up an entire floor. But this one dwarfed the other one in size. And the food court also went on forever. Yeah, they had a McDonald's and a KFC in the mix but they also had some pretty fancy looking places with waiters pouring wine and people waiting to get in.

I was about to head out when I noticed that there was more stuff below ground level. So I went down the escalator and discovered an immense grocery story, as big as any I had ever seen in the States. And of course it was utter mayhem inside. I guess everyone in the world except the States has those grocery carts where all four wheels can turn. That just adds so much craziness to the experience. They had all kinds of bizarre meat and more cooking oil than I had ever seen in one place. They seemed to have all of the major American brands and products as well as a whole lot of things that I didn't recognize at all, either by name or by what the hell it was. Pretty fascinating stuff.

There was another level with household type items. It was huge so I thought I would try to find dental floss here which I had been looking for since Russia. Dental floss is good stuff and everyone should use it. Listen to your dentist. And tell people in Russia, Mongolia, and China that they should really stock the stuff.

I looked around for a bit when I discovered in a narrow section just what I was looking for. It was a miracle! A total of three in the whole place. Great. So I grabbed one but it seemed to be stuck. I pulled and realized that it was caught in some sort of a rubber band. I was about to pull really hard to liberate it when a store clerk came running. OK, what had I done this time? Right, I'm not supposed to just take the item. They have to give me a sticker which I then must bring to a cashier who then gives me a receipt which I then take back along with the sticker to someone standing near the item who will then give it to me and let me leave. Trust me, you don't know what you're missing back home not having a system like this. Pray that you never do.

Despite the madness inherent in the system, there is something alluring about Shanghai. And something very, very human. It wasn't nearly as friendly as Beijing and English speakers were much harder to find, something I don't fault them for at all. I hope the city continues with its great ambitions and that maybe it calms down just a little. It definitely will be an interesting place to keep an eye on over the next ten years.