Monday, November 02, 2009

Work In Progress Shanghai

Don't go to Shanghai … at least for another six months.

The city is the biggest construction site in the world, preparing itself for the 2010 World Expo, from May 1 to Oct 31 to be precise. The "Better City, Better Life" slogan used for the expo has twisted itself into "Better Building, Better Lift". Every single block has some sort of 24/7 construction going on. The city is simply a larger-than-life muddy, watery and sandy huge construction site.

French Concession Photo-shoot

Now if you decide anyway to visit Shanghai (better put your construction hat and your security boots on!) you would contemplate before your eyes one of the most dynamic city in Asia. On par with most of the cosmopolitan cities, the place is at least as modern as, and at most more contemporary, than any top city in the world. The place is so different from any Chinese city but so vividly identical than any global cosmopolitan capital that you could easily imagine being somewhere else. Still at a tip of a corner turn, you could face a street back alley that will transport you back to pictorial Shanghai 30's. Shanghai is not China and China is not Shanghai. Never has been, and never will be.

Old Lady Playing Card in an Shikumen

With a GDP per capita of U$10,529 in 2008, Shanghai is above the World average (U$10,433), and is the number one city in mainland china when it comes to total GDP with U$ 233bn. Shanghai weight economically more than Madrid or Singapore. Some, including myself, will argues that like smelly seafood at the end of the market, numbers in Asia are easy to get but difficult to trust, these indicators try to illustrate the degree to which China (with Shanghai at the forefront and its giant lab), is transforming itself into a fast growing centralized yet capitalist economic engine in a not so distant future, some sort of "red-capitalist"

[[Bar Rouge at Night]]

The 16 millions registered people (add an extra 4 for the migrant) city proposes many different playgrounds to have fun. One might prefer the vibrant and Shinny Shanghai, with the Bund as a great place to be seen and eat. Over looking the Huangpu river, two art-déco buildings, the Nissin Building (No. 5), and the Union Building (No. 3) are housing today one of the finest culinary experience in Asia. Where can you find a staircase away from each others, gourmet experiences like Jean-George, Laris, or M on the Bund? Few yards away, Bar Rouge offers a splendid view from the Bund, of the world famous Oriental Pearl Tower and the new Pudong financial district, concurrent only to the VUE Bar atop the Hyatt on the Bund.

Financial District in Pudong

One might prefer instead the Wealthy Shanghai, with the enthusiastic new renovated Shikumen (traditional Shanghainese house) lanes in Xintiandi, now an aggregate of high-end restaurants, closing the shopping district with luxury shops only seen in Dubai (not for long anymore?) and other wealthy places in the world (Plaza 66).

Shanghai World Trade Center

One might prefer the Cozy Shanghai of the French Concession with its small housing and long alley of French Plane giving a refreshing human dimension in an ever growing city. The European-like district is turning into a trendy place to shop, eat, drink and party all night long. No need to plan where to go, follow the crowd and jump to the next party train.

View from the The Bund at Night

And in one year from now, one might prefer the Modern Shanghai with its World Expo heritage. The five square kilometers is of course the biggest Universal Exposition ever, and the expo expecting over 70 millions visitor in the 6 months period. The U$4.5bn. investment has already involved 20,000 migrant workers and transformed the south side of the city into an urban lab for the future [smell stinky seafood again!]. But whatever you do during your stay in Shanghai, you have to stumble into the World Expo, it's unfortunately everywhere.

Kathleen's' 5 at Night

Since Beijing had its Olympic, Shanghai had to have its World Expo. Few months apart from each other, the world is discovering China, again, but this time a very much different version of it, with a growing life and hope to a prosperous future. The contrast of the two cities is stunning yet fascinating. If Beijing is contemplating the past, Shanghai is looking to the future. If Beijing was a circle then Shanghai would be an arrow. The two cities are the two sides of the same Yen: Beijing ruling and Shanghai growing.

60 Years Anniversary

China has had a very unique story over the past 60 years. The first 30 years (1949-1979) of the Red Revolution were a great leap backward, and the following 30 years (1979-2009) were a giant internal economical growth. I am sure that the next 30 years will be even more interesting for China.