Shanghai is one of the key world cities of the now – by Jeremy Allen
There are several key cities in the world. Epicentres where the swirl of money and culture is at its strongest. The places were it’s happening. Old school cities like New York, Los Angeles, Paris etc are now being challenged not only by cocky punch above their weight smaller cities like Manchester but a whole host of new world cities that have either re-invented themselves into the future or are rising so fast they can no longer be ignored. Places like berlin, Istanbul, Mumbai and Shanghai
LTW! is fascinated by these places and will be look at them in the next few months.
First we have a report ÃÂ on Shanghai from Jeremy Allen.
Next in the series will be Mumbai
They remember when all of this was fields; those bemused Chinese who meander the streets of Pudong, their sense of bewilderment at the luminescent and imposing City that’s sprung up around them in such a short space of time etched on their faces. In 1990 Shanghai looked like Grantham, in 2010 it looks like Gotham. It’s transformation is Vegas-like, though Shanghai is more like New York, London and Paris. For the record its poor are much poorer than Vegas and their misfortune cannot be directly aligned with avarice. The poverty is hard to take at first, but coming from the MTV generation its easy enough to forget quickly, just as you learn to bypass beggars on the streets of Camden with unconscious alacrity. The difference is, many of the people asking for money here are maimed, disfigured, with limps and in some cases missing limbs. Apparently in a lot of these cases the gangs that control them do that to them to attempt to elicit more sympathy from Westerners, or so a few people tell me, though we harden up quickly enough. Of course, Westerners are relatively new to the place, and 25 years ago you wouldn’t have been able to enter the country unless you were Wham.
For every stand offering the delights of ”ËDelicious Gruel’ there’s another wonder of the world, and just out of the airport we embark for the City via the Maglev (derived from magnetic levitation), a train guaranteed to give any Top Gear enthusiast an insurmountable erection. When the speedometer above the carriage door hits 430kph its difficult to believe you’re actually travelling at 430kph. It’s also a strange feeling being rich suddenly. Cabs are dirt cheap with the average driver earning no more than ÃÂ£200 a month. The real Shanghai is on the street, while dwelling amongst the concrete and glass are the rich. Sat in my kingsize bed on the 34th floor watching Stevie Wonder being interviewed by Larry King on CNN (when else does one watch CNN but in a hotel?), relatively speaking I’m one of the latter.
Down on the ground people wander aimlessly as the sun shines. I never quite get used to folk bumping into me without apologising before they amble off in an entirely different direction. There are twenty million people here and most of them know not where they’re going, especially those on bicycles. The Highway Code is presumably a flimsy pamphlet with well-meaning suggestions you can choose to take on board or not.
Markets are full of counterfeit items the masses can’t afford though they work for practically nothing to make them; Prefab Prada, Puma, Pentax, Pulsar, you can’t move for salesman with armfuls of ersatz watches. You haggle and assistants feign insult and occasionally tears for the mean-hearted in well rehearsed charades, and its only after you’ve driven a hard bargain that you think about the history of what you’ve just bought. I self-flagellate like Alex James in that Panorama cocaine documentary.
We take refreshment in the tallest building in Shanghai. What Cloud 9 lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in floors. Situated alongside the almost-as-commanding Shanghai World Financial Center (which looks like God’s bottle opener) Cloud 9 is ever-so-slightly taller and purports to be the highest drinking establishment in the world, if you discount EasyJet. Three monster lifts up, and the view is staggering from the 88th floor as one might expect, which goes someway to explaining why two rounds of drinks costs in the region of ÃÂ£70. It’s definitely an experience though the atmosphere is sterile. It’s hardly febrile on the streets and in the bars, but you sense this is a city waking up.
While older people throw their coins at Buddha in the impressive City God Temple wishing upon hope for good fortune with what little change they have, there are kids in guitar shops who’ve definitely been learning their scales. The bars too are chock full of bands in what is an exciting, burgeoning music scene. Look at any local paper for musical attractions and you’ll find few. The highlight of the week is the State-sanctioned visit of Croatian pianist Maksim Mrvica, who can tinkle the ivories whilst looking like a member of McFly. Having no lyrics is an advantage if you want to come here.
The groups in the bars get interesting if you dig deep enough. While I encountered no original material to speak of, remember that Shanghai is a city still in massive flux, and much will change in the next twenty years just as it has in the last twenty. In the touristy Xin Tiandi, a Butlins-esque showband irritates my earholes in the Paulaner bar; screaming My Way will ensure we’re long gone before the final curtain, and INXS covers in Malone’s, a drinking establishment rammed with Americas, is enough to make one want to affixiate oneself from a hotel door.
But more conducive an atmosphere is to be found at the Time Passage in Xuhui, where a trio of young men run through a handful of songs that one wouldn’t normally expect, like Sunday Morning by the Velvet Underground, and the Rolling Stones’ ”ËWide (sic) Horses’, in the style of Hootie and the Blowfish. Best of all is the Mix and Match band at Judy’s on Mau Ming Lu, a kind of lo-fi female version of Milli Vanilli, running through Casio accompanied versions of Play That Funky Music and Push It. Their choreography in action is another wonder of the world, and given that one of the patrons asks us for a ”Ëfucky fucky’ as we’re leaving and given that beautiful Chinese girls in matching LBDs hang on the words and the wallets of charmless Yankees, you can surmise it is a place where private dancing happens as well. If you hang around backstage long enough (or the unisex toilets) you might just be lucky enough to get what Andrew Ridgeley used to call the ”Ëultimate autograph’.