Lucy’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ To Do:
This place needs more actual content about Shanghai, let’s begin.
After living in Japan for a year I have learned to loathe weeklong national holidays. However, the holidays in Japan seem like a walk in the park compared to what happens when the People’s Republic of China decides to give 1.3 Billion customers a simultaneous vacation. My first experience with this phenomenon was Chinese national week, the holiday surrounding Chinese national day, which is essentially the post-Mao Fourth of July. National Day happens on October 1st, but the holiday, for most people lasts for a few extra days.
It was during this very holiday that the girlfriend and I decided to stroll down to The Bund. The Bund is like the architectural cemetery of European colonialism in Shanghai. It is the waterfront area of the Huang Pu River. Straddling this river on the PuXi side is an immaculately maintained row of European style buildings. They are now banks and retail outlets and restaurants for the most part. The historic Peace Hotel also resides near here. On the other side of the river, the Pudong side, are all the neo-monoliths of Chinese capitalism and revival. The Jin Mao Tower, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and the new World Financial Center stand like a three pronged tower of babel compared to most of the other buildings in the area. They also happen to stare down directly at the former bastions of European dominance over China that has become an intense source of the country’s wounded pride. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is notably one of the most phallic structures ever built, and is lit with a rainbow montage fit for a Pink Floyd laser light show. The Jin Mao building at night is as black as any tower of Mordor, in a rather stark contrast to the other brightly lit towers. The World Financial Center, which at the time of this writing is very near completion, resembles a giant bottle opener in shape, and this includes the massive oddly shaped “hole” at the upper 15 percent of the structure. On a small side note, these buildings are not linked to anything because there is nothing to link to yet.
It is noteworthy that the World Financial Center could have been built anywhere in the city, but the place chosen for it was right next to the Jin Mao Tower, like an addition to a picket line to ward off thoughts of the past.
Alright now, usually, there are eight lanes of traffic between the European buildings and the long promenade that juts over the river, but during the national holiday the road is closed down, and filled from shoulder to shoulder with tourists, who are themselves walking shoulder to shoulder. It’s similar to Time’s Square in New York City except the ball is perpetually held aloft and the crowd flows up and down the street.
People’s Square and The Nanjing Walking Road
There is another infamous area of Shanghai called People’s Square. It is the heart of the Xuhui District of Shanghai and boasts one of the more impressive skylines…in the world. The skyline is however dominated mostly by Western Hotels such as the Radisson, Hilton, and Westin. The area is within a thirty minute walk or so from The Bund and joined by Shanghai’s biggest tourist shopping/walking street, Nanjing Xi Lu. This is called the Nanjing Walking Street by most foreigners. It is reminiscent, at least to me, of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, but you can take your pick of parallel avenues. Taking the walking street from the “beginning” near People’s Square to the “end” will bring you very near The Bund. You may reverse beginning and end to suit your fancy.
Now that you have been introduced, however briefly, to the setting I will allow the plot to unfold:
The Bund on National Day fills
with flashbulbs as taxis retreat
to the open streets of People’s
Square, where wide-eyes linger.
Pinched between water and the west
Shanghai’s colonial ghosts survive
wrapped in red walls and gold stars.
Chinese banners flow down facades
like cables across Gulliver’s chest
and we Lilliputian tourists stare
across the river where a Pearl
Tower shimmers like a sci-fi stage prop
to an off Broadway show.
In the background the Jin Mao Tower
stands like a sliver of night, cut
out of the bright wall of the city.
From its crown a beam spears down
severed by wisps of gray clouds
The city’s greatest marvels form
a Cheshire smirk with fluorescent teeth
on their black steel faces. Smiling
masses teem on the highways
closed to cars by police barricades
closed to the ironies of city planning
by pride, as the babel monoliths
form pickets above and across
from all the marble grafted onto China
by the foreign barbarians whose
designer clothes are now traded
for bright pictures of Mao Zedong
near the parks that once forbade
their rickshaw serfs entry.
As another side note, the last couplet refers to the infamous “No Dogs, No Chinese” signs that were reported to have been posted in Shanghai’s French Concession during the colonial period of the 19th century.