If China and France were to have a child, but at an early age France walked out on the family and left China to raise it on its own, you’d be talking about modern Shanghai. Of course, China had a large impact on the little one as it grew up, but you can still still see some of France in it. In fact, one might even say that Shanghai takes inspiration from its half-sibling, Paris. But Shanghai will always be Chinese, and that’s what makes it Shanghai. (Please don’t take this so literally—it’s the only way I can sufficiently describe the bizarre European influence in this very Chinese place. The combination of the video and audio in the attached file will help you understand my confusion).
I thought Shenzhen was hot, but that was nothing compared to the unbearable torch that is Shanghai in July. Luckily it isn’t as humid, but it still makes being outdoors difficult, if not dangerous. Jordenn and I have basically ditched wandering for meticulously planned ventures to avoid exhaustion. Given the conditions, however, I would say we’ve seen quite a lot.
We’re staying in a non-touristy residential area where we find comfort in people’s lack of interest in our general presence. There are far more international residents and visitors in the city of Shanghai, but it still is nowhere near the classification of ‘diverse.’
In the beginning of our stay, we couldn’t help but celebrate Shanghai’s wonderful overall improvement in condition compared to much of Shenzhen: streets are cleaner, sanitation and personal hygiene seem more developed, and its just got an overall better vibe—at least to the two of us.
Just as we were settling into our new temporary city and coming to the conclusion that Shenzhen might just be the ‘enfant terrible’ of China, we witnessed something both bewildering and disturbing. While waiting for the Metro, a young mother and her little boy—likely around 5 or 6—were seen at the end of the staircase performing an act like no other. Facing a corner, but nowhere near the wall, this little boy was allowed to do what he seemingly couldn’t wait to do while the mother waited, entirely unbothered. He urinated at the bottom of a public staircase, in the early evening with people all around. My jaw dropped.
What I can’t seem to settle is whether or not its more concerning that the boy did it, the mother allowed it, or that everyone stood by as if nothing was happening. No one batted an eye. Is it taboo to acknowledge such behavior? Is ignoring it a form of disapproval? I really don’t know what I’m dealing with here.
So, as much as we hoped and found that Shanghai was drastically different, we started to see how it really wasn’t. In the states we say ‘boys will be boys,’ (which is problematic, but besides the point), but I guess here it’s just that China will be China.
While exploring the former residential neighborhood turned SoHo-esque shopping area of Xintiandi, we found another striking similarity to Shenzhen here in Shanghai. Beyond the fact that its been developed for purposes of consumption, which SZN has seen a lot of, Xintiandi also presents an interesting case study for urban living. Hidden behind the street-front shops are small “villages” jam-packed with two, maybe three, story dwellings and vibrant signs of daily life.
Though these areas are much cleaner and not quite as dense as SZN’s “urban villages,” these residential nooks set amongst Shanghai’s finest shopping centers just go to show how the two cities and their ways of growth may not be all that different.