May 11, 2008

Shanghai: Pictures of Dynamism

So here, finally, are some pictures of Shanghai (see below). The smog was fairly incredible on our first day, as you can see. The bamboo is from a park we found in downtown Shanghai, and the traditional architecture is from a touristy shopping area in old Shanghai. There are a few pictures of the quite agreeable French Concession, and some night pictures of Shanghai's lit up downtown.

The reality of China's development didn't really hit me until I was walking about at night. Seeing the giant Gucci ads lit up in moneyed splendor, the neon of consumption glowing in the dark while red flags hung from every other lamppost was fairly incredible. It could have been Tokyo's Ginza or Chicago's Magnificent Mile. It could have been anywhere in the world where bills disappear into registers and luxuries are fitted into shopping bags. I don't mean that as a bag thing, at all. I'm all for the preservation of culture and whatnot, but the fact that those red flags were no longer a barrier to Pizza Hut and Dolce and Gabana gave me a weird sense of hope.

Let's face be honest here- We all, on a certain level, like consumer culture. We benefit from it, enjoy it, and pour money into it. As much as liberals like myself complain about it, I don't think that consumption is a bad thing. I think an excess of it is, and in America we see that all to often. But then, an excess of anything is a bad thing.

The point is, though, why shouldn't the Chinese enjoy what we enjoy? Westerners are all too happy to drink up Starbucks, and why shouldn't the Chinese have the same privileges? Who are we to deny them that or claim that the trade with or development of China is a form of destruction? There is far more to China than its government, and if the people there can't vote, then at least they should be able to get a latte and go to Hooters.

China does need to democratize. Unquestionably. The fact that over a billion people live in a totalitarian society is a travesty, but at least its a totalitarian society that has changed for the better. It's not like North Korea, a place defined by static. China, and particularly Shanghai, seems defined by dynamism. If the society, government, and nation can accept malls and McDonald's, then I'm hopeful for other changes.

Anyway, a few pictures. Right now, Kori (who gets more vacation days than me) is still in China in the south. But, if you want to see some really excellent pictures check out her blog, as she got herself a big, sexy camera before our trip.

I can't decide whether I take pictures because I think of them as worthwhile in and of themselves, or as illustration for what I write. Oh, the aesthetic ponderings.

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2 comments:

Sydney said...

It's crazy how non-foreign Shanghai looks! The shopping scenes could be Moscow or Lyon or even Paris. And I love the smiling Colonel in contrast with the smiling Buddahs of your earlier post. What crazy crap does the McDonald's have? I know they have McCurry in India. They didn't have anything special in Moscow, except they called the Fish'o'Filet "King Fish," spelled phonetically (we sounded the Cyrillic out like "keeng feesh"). Did the Colonel serve up anything interesting? Were there like Szechuan Wings? Deep fried bok choi? Sadness dumplings? (Dumplings stuffed with popcorn chicken, instant potatoes, crummy gravy and corn niblets.)

SonicLlama said...

We didn't go into any fast food places, so I couldn't tell you what they had. I haven't even been to a Japanese McDonald's, though I'm sort of curious about the teriyaki burger. It's supposedly very non-awful.

We were outside a mall in Shanghai and Kori and I had a conversation that pretty much mirrored what you said here- that it could be Tokyo, L.A., or London. As soulless as something like a shopping mall is, I tried to glean something positive out of it. Namely, that China is not implacable or unchanging. It's not a closed monolith- it's engaged with the world. China has changed and will change more, and hopefully the world will benefit from as much.