For those of you who are currently living in or have experienced densely populated urban living, some of what I’m about to write may seem all too familiar.
A city has buildings, yes, of all sizes, shapes and states of completion and decay. A city has streets, of course, from alleyways to broadways to highways, an arterial system as intricate as any living body’s. Each city has a rhythm, a cadence to the rise and fall of its enterprises, a tide that rushes in, thrashes about and streams, then trickles out. Each city generates its own cacophony, its own jazzy fugue, sometimes like a stereo turned up so loud that the music distorts and assaults, sometimes like a whisper from just over your shoulder. The city always has something its trying to say. A city can stink wretchedly for 10 feet of your walk and in the next 20 feet completely wet your appetite with the waft of something enticing. A city can wrap you up safely in its numbers and then suddenly spit you out on your own like a lottery ball and you’ll have no idea if you’re a matching number for the people who are holding the ticket and now looking at you.
Any city. Each city. Every city.
And then there’s Shanghai.
I’m not with the Chamber of Commerce. I’m not promoting. I’m describing. One person’s perspective on his one visit. For every one thing I noticed, hundreds more escaped me. Thousands more. Twenty million plus more. Yet, these are some of the things that did not escape.
Like many cities, Shanghai has a river dividing its center, the Huangpu River. There is a tourist attraction called The Bund that runs along the West side. It’s a wide concrete boardwalk of sorts a couple of miles long. My wife and I took our time and walked its length back and forth. There were lots of people, mostly tourists, taking lots of pictures. We were the only Westerners and that was fascinating. For ourselves and, seemingly, for those streaming by us. We were the object of many a long look. We were asked with gestures if people could have their picture taken with us. There was nothing rude nor offensive. It was all curious and very friendly. We looked and were looked at. There were lots and lots of genuine smiles with eye contact.
The hotel we stayed in was twenty six stories. A modest size relative to the buildings around and, according to what we were told, moderate accommodations by Shanghai’s standards. Their moderate was my delightful. My sleep cycle was out of whack and I had no desire to force the issue. Everyday, somewhere between midnight and 2am, I would be wide awake and go out to the other room so as to not disturb my wife’s rest. The windows had interior ledges wide enough for comfortable sitting. I would put a pillow there, push open the window a few inches and perch. There was darkened mirrored glass towers in three directions, neon signs, cold fresh air and a single rooster calling. Every morning. At no set time really. One rooster’s voice echoes through the glass skyscrapers as if through a canyon. There’s no way of telling where the sound is coming from. There’s no way of knowing why someone hasn’t throttled that bird by now. It’s a lonely call, unanswered as it is and with none others chiming in. A call from an era gone by.
I’ll break this off for now. I’ve kept you long enough for one blog.
There’s more. Oh dear.