Shanghai Impressions

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I’m in Shanghai for a few weeks and first, giant, takeaway: China is not up and coming. China is here. Massive infrastructure, very modern city. Great roads. This is the Chinese equivalent of Chicago: city of broad shoulders and tall buildings. Except with well paved streets. Wide streets. Perfectly paved. Imagine if Manhattan had tall buildings from Downtown to Midtown to Uptown. And that it was as wide as it was long. There are literally thousands of buildings 35 stories or taller here. Three years ago there was 2000 of them, lord only knows how many today. When someone is building, say a 40-50 story residential building here, they build 10-20 of them at a time, so as to make efficient use of the specialized machinery and the builders. I’ve seen a half dozen such complexes around the city under construction right now, with a bamboo scaffolding infrastructure feathering their sides. And lest you think bamboo means primitive, we’re talking 15-20 stories at a time. Try doing that with steel. I wonder if this isn’t like NYC or Chicago during the real boom years, when labor was cheap and the sky was literally the limit.

In another city, Shenyang, I really noticed the old versus the new. The old were rectangular blocks outfitted with flashing lights, reminding me of a 1990’s era Japanese stereo system. But in Shanghai there are serious architectural efforts. Just like any other city, they range from the ridiculous to the sublime. And, just like any other city, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone agrees with my statement but picks different buildings to fall into the “ridiculous” and “sublime” categories. There is the Atlanta “buildings with things on top” brigade, and the “simple but elegant” contingent. The Shanghai World Financial Center at 101 stories, has the world’s tallest observation deck (Chicago natives: the Willis (Sears) tower is shorter but has 108 floors – its antenna does not count). It is a striking-but-not-ridiculous building that would hold pride of place in any city in the US. The building I’m staying in, the JW Marriott, is a d**med fine building, boasting the highest library in the world. And that describes the hotel exactly (occupying the 33-59th floors): the highest part is a wonderful, well lit library with comfortable chairs, rather than a trendy bar.

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