Monday, April 10, 2006

Welcome to the (terrifying) World of Tomorrow

We have now spent two (non-consecutive) weeks in Shanghai and its environs, and I feel ready to offer a few tentative insights into the city. I’m playing it more cautious this time, remembering in my Paris journals the many immediate assertions I later had cause to recant heartily. Not the thing about the mayonnaise, though, I was dead right about that.

Shanghai is all the more puzzling because the city itself is in constant flux, torn apart by construction crews working round the clock, throwing up shopping malls and highways today where teahouses or Party meeting houses may have stood just yesterday. Thousands of people arrive in Shanghai every year from all over China, and there is also a growing community of expatriates (though the city is still over 98% Chinese, and figures for English language penetration top at about 20%, which in my experience seems a too-generous figure).

As I already said to Lilli in an earlier message, Shanghai seems to stride the line between "sleek efficient future of flying cars, robot maids, and delicious pellet snacks" and "bleak dystopian future of mind control, shuffling crowds, and rootless malaise." And I’m pretty sure I won’t be proven wrong on this one.

Now that I’m settled in – with dogs, no less – I’m eagerly backfilling the highlights of our first weeks here. In the future, I’ll have much shorter entries, and only as needed.