Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fun and Buildings

I'm recovering from a bit of the flu over here - I felt pretty bad over the weekend. Making it even worse, this was the weekend my friend Emiko chose to visit from Tokyo. So rather than be able to hit up all of Shanghai's restaurants and bars, we ended up having to take it easy. We did manage to check out some of the sites, such as the foreigner bars along Maoming Lu (which ended up feeling only halfway removed from a strip of hostess/Korean bars), an embarassing-but-fun Chinese Hip-Hop event, outdoor Dim Sum at Bi Feng Tang, and the panda and outrageously lawyer-tempting Elephant Show at the Shanghai Zoo. I'm sure these will all come up in future blogs.

Anyway a part of the fun of having a friend visit when I'm still new to Shanghai is having another voice to second all my observations and confusions. She seemed to be most surprised by the difficulty of finding anybody who could speak English or Japanese. This was a problem when she had to go to the store solo to buy things for my ailing self. She was impressed by how big the city is, and the amount of buildings going up - it is truly startling. Maybe a third of the skyscrapers in town (and there's a whole lot of them) are in the process of being built.

This is most true in Pudong, which was a swamp until a decade ago, and lies across a large river from the historical city center. Today the skyline is pure science fiction, and will only get more so when the World Financial Center gets finished in a couple years - it'll be the world tallest building, and has a large circle distinctively "cut" out of its silhouette.

The skyscrapers are also scattered throughout town, particularly near the city center, and are often as bold as in the Pudong district. These buildings are located near People's Park and the most concentrated area of Nanjing Lu.

Even as a newcomer to the city, I can't help but feel I'm in the process of watching either the most spectacular boom or the most spectacular bust in the world's history. Of course new offices are a necessary part of a booming economy. However, even not including all the buildings coming onto the market, office occupancy is supposedly in the vicinity of 25%, and much of the market is driven by speculation - and many of the occupied offices must be occupied by construction and development companies.

It's not all skyscrapers, though. It's difficult to walk a block without coming across some building being either constructed or renovated, driving pedestrians onto the streets.

One thing to note is that rather than an American-style system of scaffolding and catwalks, the scaffolding around Shanghai buildings will be made with bamboo, with workers walking on bamboo mats that vaguely resemble tatami mats. You can walk under them if walking on the street isn't a good idea, which it generally isn't. It vaguely feels like walking through a movie set or forest. It also causes the odd site of seeing construction workers walking down the street carrying huge pieces of construction-grade bamboo.

Supposedly even very large construction projects will use bamboo scaffolding, but perhaps that's a thing of the past. With skyscrapers and most medium-size buildings, you'll see a combination of steel pipes (arranged in a bamboo-esque manner) and bamboo being used.

One final word of note: OK as much as I love China (so far!), I truly think the censorship is counter-revolutionary. For those who've been trying to access me, has apparently joined the domain and is being censored (although is a big Chinese business, so who knows). Now perhaps Skypeout is being filtered so my voice doesn't go through? So I can't call people. Hopefully it's just a Internet connection problem I'll figure out soon. In the meantime, I can still talk over Skype if you sign up, or I can e-mail, or I have a Chinese cell-phone now, mail for the #. So that's the good way to get in touch with me.

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