Friday, October 12, 2007

Shanghai Blues

Back in jolly old blighty again. It was a good trip, a good set of meetings, fantabulous food, nice hotels, and I’m absolutely shattered. I was asked how I cope so well with the jetlag. Its known as pure unadulterated will power. I tend to sleep not very much, maybe getting four hours a night, and I just plough through. Sleeping in meetings is rude, so I pinch my hand or ear, take deep breaths, and make sure I ask lots of questions to keep my mind engaged and awake. If I slip up for a second, I fall asleep.

That is until I’m back at the hotel and its time to sleep, in which case my body has usually decided to stay awake. Such is life of the jet setting executive.

So, Shanghai. I walked out of the office at one point, and just started to smile. It smells like Vancouver. Funny how those things can hit you sometimes. For you poor benighted souls who have never been to Vancouver, the population is over 40% Asian. Shanghai just smells like part of home.

The city has changed hugely since I was last there. Where before there were often winding streets there are often now multi lane straight as an arrow elevated motorways. There are still estates of identical multi story apartment blocks. Yet before they were all uniform Stalinist concrete. Now some are actually quite interesting architecture.

The city has also grown a lot taller. The skyscrapers are everywhere, and there’s still a lot more being built. Thankfully the bunt has been retained, but there’s been a lot of the rest flattened. Most of the city is brand spanking new, and I mean new.

Like the new Beijing, the new Shanghai could be dropped into many other nations and you couldn’t tell the difference. Other, of course, that lots of neon or better yet digital screen hordings in Chinese.

The people are the most interesting. They are starting to understand customer service, and maybe even politeness. Much encouraged by the government. Hilariously, on the flight from Beijing, there was a cartoon to encourage politeness. I’ve never seen anything like it. The bit on not picking your nose was good, but there was this piece where a woman is waiting for the lavatory, and after much banging on the door, and a man walks out with brown smears on the wall and paper strewn about. I don’t want to think what sort of politeness they were encouraging there.

10 years ago I was lucky to have someone have an order taken, let alone get looked at when a plate was dropped in front of me. Now they even smile! English is a bit more common, and I had some great conversations. There is a real fear about international opinion of China after all the nonsense with lead paint and tainted drugs. The local papers where full of it too. That is a big change, the Chinese used to just not care about outside opinions.

Had some interesting conversations between local Chinese and Taiwanese. Both are of the opinion the two countries will eventually merge in some shape or form. The shape or form was hotly debated. Interestingly Taiwan has pretty well gutted its local industry to shift it to cheaper locations in China. Now they own and manage where before they built. Fascinating.

I can’t help but contrast with India. I’m an Indian fan, love a country that’s pulling itself up by its bootstraps, democratic and arguing with itself every step of the way. I am not a China fan in the same way. I am both enticed and scared in equal measure. The Indians want their bit, China wants to win. Its not a bad trait, I rather strongly believe in winning. Yet, not at any cost. That, perhaps, is what scares me.

I’ll be back though, Asia is knocking at the door. We ignore it at our peril. Far better to work with it, and help guide as a friend.


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