Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It's surprising how quickly you can become accustomed to a new city. The first few days are bewildering, but then you settle into some sort of routine. In each place, you start to appropriate things as your own as you become more comfortable. This is my metro stop; that is my chair in the lobby; the shower stall in the corner, mine; that is my street; my barber. It almost makes moving onto the next city hard, as you can easily imagine spending another week further exploring the current city.

At this point, I am right in the middle of that transition between Shanghai and Seoul. Shanghai had a tough break coming after Hong Kong, but as I mentioned, after three days, I was settled and approaching the city on its terms, with Hong Kong left behind. And I was glad for it, as Shanghai provided some uniquely Chinese experiences I think would be harder to find in Hong Kong.

Part of these experiences revolve around the rapid urban transformations taking place all over China and in which Shanghai acts as one small example. Most spectacular were the juxtapositions between the older village-like developments amidst the towering high rises just across the street (many still under construction). Many parts of Shanghai are currently a hybrid of the older Chinese planning and the more recent building boom where larger and taller buildings reign supreme. The dark and narrow alleys are now giving way to wider multilane avenues with soaring towers. This is very obvious just by visiting opposite sides of the river; Puxi (the older) and Pudong (the newer).

Puxi was the more exciting because it is the densely populated and established part of the city. Visiting the various markets and traversing many a dark alley, Puxi is where Shanghai is at its most exciting. One of the most interesting markets was the Bird, Insect, and Flower market, where I saw an awesome variety of crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, fish, birds, and kittens for sale. The whole place was abuzz with crickets as we wove our ways through bird cages and fish tanks, while the sellers huddled inside their shops under air conditioners. A few blocks away we found the antique market, where I saw more Mao statues than Buddhas. Across the street from the antiques market, I ate grilled squid, chicken hearts, and gigantic jalapenos, all on a stick (I was hoping to find scorpions, also on a stick, but didnt come across any).

Pudong is almost a different world. Just 20 years ago, it was farmland and warehouses. Today, it is the financial center of China in many ways, and home to the worlds third tallest building, the
Shanghai World Financial Center. Walking outward from the main hub of Pudong led me to the more recent developments, which were the emptiest (and some of the largest) streets I have seen in China thus far. Its certainly a different Shanghai than you would find in Puxi: brand new and desolate. Not for long though.

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