The Bund and the glittering heart of New Shanghai
Celebrated the arrival of 2008 in Shanghai last night with dinner at Laris, a very western restaurant overlooking the Bund, with a great view of New Shanghai.
This is a city of enormous contrasts, great wealth cheek by jowel with great poverty, the highest tech a few meters away from people tearing the heads off of chickens in the street.
A quick trip to the ‘digital market’ takes you to a world that makes B&H look like the corner mom and pop shop. The digital market is a 12 story building filled with endless booths selling the very latest in digital technology. It just goes on and on and on, connected by central escalators. It was more like attending NAB than going shopping. And they had everything, including iPhones (which you still can’t get in the UK). The one drawback is that proficiency in English is still pretty limited, so upon finding the iPhones, I asked if they were unlocked. The always anxious to please Chinese said Yes! I have already been here for a few days, so I then asked if the phones came with contracts and were locked. “Yes”! Still smiling and nodding. “Do you know what I mean by ‘locked’, I asked”
“Can I use these with another carrier in America?”
“Sorry, no understand”.
Outside, a neighborhood that only a few years ago was filled with small houses and twisting lanes now bears a distinct resemblance to Orchard Road in Singapore – the very cutting edge of pure commercialism. Brand new glistening glass and marble palaces many floors high offer Armani, Gucci, Prada, Versace – just about anything and everything. Then, walk a few blocks away, and you are smack in the middle of the Hutangs, the local neighborhoods – small houses, dark alleys, people twising the heads off chickens and cleaning them in the streets. This is a country caught in an incredibly rapid transition.
Hutongs – the alleyways of the old China
The scope of the transformation was caught in yesterday’s Shanghai Daily, the english language local paper that they give out free at the hotel. The government had decided to eliminate income taxes from anyone making $250 a month or less. The paper, which seems to be extremely controlled, noted that this meant that now 70 percent of the population would pay no taxes. The other 30 percent seem to be doing great.
My friend Jeff Jarvis writes to ask about the Internet censorship, so I decided to try a few URLs of blogs to see what I could get and what I could not. Jeff’s Buzzmachine is readable here as is Steve Safran’s Lost Remote. Mel Taylor, on the other hand, is blocked. The blocking seems a bit haphazard but it is very real.
The day before yesterday, Google News announced the untimely death of the CFO of Baidu.com, the Chinese Google. Yet when I clicked to any of the links to that story, the follow ups were all blocked.
No mention of the Baidu story in the Shanghai Daily either.
More to come.