“So take me down to the cities of the future
Everybody’s happy and I feel at home.”
– Infected Mushroom
Whoom, whoosh, whoom, whoosh. Buildings, mountains and cities pass my window like spokes on a wheel. The bullet train to Shanghai is a great first taste of things to come in the capital city of the world. Three hundred and some kilometers per hour through an immense expanse of smogged up China. Upon arrival, the first impressions of Shanghai may deceive you to think of the city as a continuation of what’s on display in Beijing. Yes, there are projected video commercials playing on the walls of metro tunnels, just like Beijing. Yes, there are layer-cake constructions of pedestrian walkways, elevated roads and maglev tracks stacked upon one another, just like Beijing.
However, arriving on the shore of the last stretch of the Yangtze River, it all becomes very clear indeed. On the western side of the river, the Bund – a remnant of times gone by when the West held a ruling grasp on the world. And on the east side of the river, past the ships going in and out of the busiest seaport in the world, Pudong – an increasingly expanding district of skyscrapers reaching ever closer to the stars. The new China. The new Asia. The new world order.
After visiting New York a decade or so ago, I fell in love with the energy, youth and constant movement of that city. Once, I wanted to live there more than any place on earth. But the century of America has gone by and Shanghai is our new nexus. It is what the speed-freak side of my brain craves. If I were to describe Shanghai in one word, it’d be confidence. The city is the spearhead of a nation, of a continent, which is moving forward at two decades an hour without looking back.
Like any truly great city, Shanghai is not just a place to ogle and run through its attractions in a never-ending zombie train of tourists. On every street and alley you get blasted in the face, like birdshot from an American vice-presidents’ shotgun, with smells both savory and sweet emanating from various restaurants and stands serving the needs of clients from all income brackets. The latest technology from the 2030’s. Ruthless capitalists ready to sell you everything and anything from 15 thousand dollar cakes to five dollar “Adidas shoes”. And unlike elsewhere in China, people have the rhythm of the city in them. That somewhat courteous cognition of other people, mixed with a no fucks given and none taken attitude.
There are, of course, thousands of places to get your drink on. On our last night in Shanghai, our party of three decided to introduce ourselves to the gamut of options available. First, fifteen dollar beers on top of the third highest tower in the city. A place where small talk involves discussion on portfolio management, asset transition and “how can we screw every dime and penny out of these proletariat swine down there in the city”. Proletariat swine we are, so the only logical destination to finish our liquid night was a dive bar somewhere on the outskirts of the 350-something station metro network. Three gallons of human vomit in the sink, enough cigarette smoke to give lung cancer to Aki Kaurismäki and a very loud and sweaty Greek man wobbling on the dance floor to the beats of the Spice Girls.
As long as you have the means, Shanghai can be anything and everything you want it to be. It’s a city showcasing what capitalism can achieve at its most ruthless gear. The city has a shining allure I simply cannot ignore. I’m hooked. A retreat inland is the only hope to save my soul and wallet. Towards and the old China and its old capital.