Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hail The Mighty Han

After all said & done, three words that most characterize Western society are fun, comfort, and convenience & I wanted to return to this world. If I were to choose three words that characterize Chinese society, they would be diligence, control and conformity. While I had not finished this trip a Sinophobe, I definitely did not want to be part of a world in which un-stinting hard work and adherence to social norms were values prized above all others. As the plane lifted off the Shanghai Pudong tarmac, I was filled with a sense of foreboding about what the 21st century, China's century, had in store, and how I was unlikely to fit into any of it even if I wanted to. In the thoughts of my China comrades, I’ve been "culturally corrupted” after being abroad for so long.

It is tempting to believe in the permanence of Western cultural dominance in the world, that history is an evolutionary process and that the western concepts of liberalism and freedom have defeated all others, and are now set in stone, immutable and victorious. But this is not the case. In historical terms, the last 200 years of Western dominance is merely a historical blip. For most of the history of civilization, it has been China who led the way. The centralized state, gunpowder and printing, among many others, are Chinese inventions. And now the controversial question that has every historian in the West shaking in their booties; China’s pre-Columbus discovery of The Americas!

The return of China to global dominance, or Asian hegemony at the very least, is just a matter of time. Napoleon was ‘right on’ when he pointed towards China & said “let the Chinese dragon sleep…for she will shake the world when she awakes”. In spike of my countrymen’s inward thinking on cultural purity & their refusal to accept me as one of their sons, I still am & will continue to be proud of that heritage where I’ve hailed from.

All hail the Mighty Han.

Shanghai Gah Gah!

Shanghai seemed like living in any other cosmopolitan city like New York or Paris, however with more added accoutrements. I could definitely see myself living here for a while. Entering hotels & restaurants, you floated quietly, surrounded by a host of service – a different person each to open your taxi door, the doors to the hotel, several foyer greetings and the direction to the elevators, the elevator doors and the elevator button even, several more greetings arriving at the lobby etc. In short, if you wanted anonymity and the ability to do anything yourself, Shanghai’s not the place to be.

Unfortunately the nightlife/club scene in Shanghai seemed strictly for the weekends, so as I was in Shanghai only 1 weeknight & disappointedly so, I didn't get to see too many places filled up with people. However, what I did see was very promising and revealed a city as close to being hip as one would think of New York and Paris: a host of modern minimalist restaurants and cafes with the latest cuisine, and all the most fashionable boutiques from Paris, Milan and New York.

One warning about Shanghai: if you’re some sort of Rice King with an Asian fetish, Shanghai could be dangerous for you. Almost everywhere you look, Shanghai has much more than her fair share of beautiful, lanky, long legged, willowy Chinese babes leaning by the Bund…with the wind ever so lightly tossing back her long black silky tresses as she smiles for no other reason than just to annoy you…So all you McDudes stay clear…I’m staking claims here for the brothers!

Impermanent Life

Shanghai, although seemingly similar in the basic underpinnings of Chinese society, was the extreme opposite of Xian. Beijing showed me China’s Modern civilization where as Xian showed me her Ancient one. Beijing felt so permanent, so controlled, and as deterministically drawn out as her rigid avenues (as an extension of a several-thousand year dynastic tradition would warrant). But to know China’s post-modern contemporary civilization, you really need to experience Shanghai. Shanghai seems to be so much more about the impermanence of life, and thus the need to live life for all it is worth before it ends suddenly – almost more close to a sense of living each day as if it were your last.

Shanghai was so much more a post-modern, contemporary, Western-styled city, and so much more capitalistic even as I was driving in from the airport. There were so many more high-rises, fewer bikes and more luxury cars, a sea of neon as well as a host of popular commercial "consumerism", and a skyline of construction cranes and a perma-haze of gritty construction dust and debris (as opposed to the outright exhaust pollution and the ultra-dry air in Beijing & Xian).