Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Another Quick Tour of Nanjing Road

Shanghai. I was here once before, about a year ago. I've been trying to get back ever since. Alas, on this visit I had only a short afternoon to poke around. Last time I walked the length of Nanjing Road to the river and back, and this time I felt I needed to see Nanjing Road again before wandering a bit (not least because of the fabulous 580 copy market, though no great deals were found by moi).

Nanjing Road strikes me very like Broadway in New York. Packed with people and shops and neon and traffic, it's clearly one of the city's main commercial thoroughfares. And along its length are several distinctive areas. The most commercial Eastern end of the road--which is apparently called the Huangpu district--seems to me very like Times Square. There are so many people it can be hard to move and traffic seems to be constantly at a standstill. Whether this is a 24-hour phenomenon as it is with Times Square I cannot say.

Again today I walked most of its length, but then wandered a couple blocks off the road for my return. And again like Broadway the city seems more real the further afield you get from its commercial center. The one difference with my Times Square analogy is that Times Square seems entirely packed with tourists. The Huangpu district seems to be wall-to-wall Asians. (which is not to say they're all Shanghai natives, I guess; indeed, Shanghai is a long way from the West, and most visitors to the city will be Asian. Also, a Shanghai native may easily identify which Asians are tourists and which are natives in a way my eye cannot differentiate.)

I could be engrossed here for weeks, years. Here's hoping for a four-day layover HERE next time.

(Architecture along Nanjing Road.)

(Lots of these curved buildings around. I suspect they originally contoured to street car lines, but it's just a guess.)

(Quite a bit of planting along Nanjing Road. I suspect this is not a city-wide phenomenon.)

(I love the juxtaposition of new and old architecture. So much new stuff in Shanghai. All over China, really.)

(The tail end of a multi-car tourist train. A bunch of these run up and down Huangpu carrying the weary-of-foot, weaving in and among the pedestrian traffic and gently blowing their horns.)

(The beginning of the commercial district. Almost impossible to walk here.)

(Things are a bit quieter a block or two off the main drag.)

(The city is an architectural feast. This apartment house looks like something from the Blade Runner set.)

(A little sidewalk workshop where a man was making bird cages. He sits at a little table with a flame and a vise. Birds in cages are all around him.)

(Like Taipei, lots of scooters here. This one has led a full life.)

(The Shanghai World Expo is on between 5/1 and 10/1. This friendly little fella is greeting people with a smile all over the city. This one is at the entrance to our hotel.)

Lastly, I apologize for my transportation / utility / infrastructure fetish, but I'm very taken by the use of bicycles as trucks in China. Scooter and car traffic is undoubtedly on the rise, but there are still a lot of bicycles used here as primary personal transportation. (As Seth Stevenson points out in his book Grounded, the Chinese ride their bikes very differently than we do, tho. They ride in street clothes and without special gear and without breaking a sweat. It's not a workout; it's just an easy way to triple your rate of speed for the same energy expenditure.)

I saw all sorts of men riding these three-wheeled pedal-trucks, piled with all manner of stuff from garbage to water bottles to recycling to plumbing parts. One wonders how these are utilitarian here and have not caught in other parts of the world--though again I can't imagine any American delivering bottled water in a city by bicycle. As Adam Savage would say, "Well there's your problem!"

One last thing. I've noticed both here in Shanghai and also in Hong Kong and Guangzhou that the Chinese have an obsession with the elevated freeway. If America is the land of the automobile, China is the land of the elevated freeway. Flying into Guangzhou some months back, we flew over the top of Hong Kong and Shenzhen during the day, and the entire 100 mile stretch looked like one huge elevated freeway project. What an unfathomable expense, especially when so few people as yet have cars. I suppose it has to do with the existence of innumerable communities of long standing that would have to be flattened to put in a ground-level road (there seems to be no open land in this part of China), but I'm still surprised they didn't take that route. Our trip from the Shanghai airport into town was at least 35 miles, and we were not on solid ground for a foot of it. Sometimes we were 6 or 7 stories off the ground, with numerous freeway levels criss-crossing underneath us. The costs on the government must be unbelievable.

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