Shanghai Models and the Nanjing Exit

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Looking towards Pudong

Looking towards Pudong

This room is one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen.  They have spent a lot of time and money creating the ultimate urban planning dream; a complete architectural scale model of the middle of Shanghai city.  All the buildings are there placed individually along the streets and by the river.  Bridges and tunnels are carefully constructed and shown in place.  Parks and riverside walks are shown as well.  The Expo 2010 buildings are in place to show how they will become a part of the city and the frame of the Shanghai Tower currently under construction in the Pudong area is shown finished as well.  This will become the tallest building in China in 2014 and the second tallest in the world; beaten only by the crazy Burj Dubai.  The only thing missing from this amazing model is a dinosaur crushing buildings beneath its feet whilst breathing fire and emitting strange noises.  Perhaps that would be just too Japanese for the locals.

Pudong - Including the Shanghai Tower on the left that is still under construction

Pudong - Including the Shanghai Tower on the left that is still under construction

Many Chinese people still hate the Japanese for their world war two atrocities; the rape of Nanjing is kind of hard to forget – even seventy years later.  Now this makes it even stranger to me that Shanghai’s World Financial Centre seems to be modelled on a Japanese sword rammed into the heart of Shanghai’s financial district.  The building company and major organizers were Japanese, so is this a deliberate action?  Probably.  Apparently when it was being built there were protests over the shape of the distinctive hole in near the top of the building.  It was to be round, which resembles a moon gate, a distinctive part of Chinese architecture.  However, that design also looked an awful lot like the Japanese flag flying on top of the sword.  It got changed to the rectangular shape we see now, which made some people happier, but most people saw something entirely new.  The Shanghai Bottleopener.  I still haven’t found one in a souvenir shop, though.

I wander around this amazing model, drinking it in and thinking what a useful thing this would be for urban planners and developers everywhere.  When you want to know how a new building would really impact the surrounding landscape, you can slot it in and have a look at it from any angle.  Check for annoying shadows and reflections, notice that it’s too big for the land you own and realise that it’s just perfect for looking at the bikini clad women in the hotel’s pool next door.  It takes a while to see everything, but you can walk around the entire model, then go upstairs and look down on it from the next floor too.  As a final trick, you can go into a special round room that has projectors rigged up to provide a computer generated 360 degree view of the city as seen from a boat the river.  It shows in some detail how the Expo site in particular will look when it’s finished, but there’s a little detail that leaves me chuckling as I wander out of the building.

Bad software is everywhere...

Bad software is everywhere...

Right in the middle of one of the projector screens, hanging there motionless while the scene moves around is a windows error message waiting for someone to click on it.  Not even the Chinese government can change this small part of modern life.

I’ve decided that I will begin my journey into China’s interior today.  Nanjing will be the first stop and I’ve already acquired a ticket on one of the new fast trains.  You can find agencies all over the city with English speaking staff to make this easy.  So I launch myself into the madness that is a Chinese inter-city train station for the first time.  I can’t believe the sheer number of people who are gathered around the front of the train station, apparently ready to travel; but going nowhere.  It’s an often repeated scene and I spend far too much time considering why they’re always there in droves.  Maybe they plan to meet hours before the train leaves to make sure they all manage to arrive.  Maybe they just think it’s cool to hang out at train stations with your baggage to make it feel like you’re going somewhere.
“You think you’ll go today?”
“Nah, just enjoying the dream.  Don’t have any money anyway.”
“You want to play cards?”
“Nah, I’ve got a mahjong set here, you want to start a table?”
“Mahjong? Hell yes, let’s do it”
There are people gathered together with the cluster of their bags playing all kinds of games to pass the time.  I suddenly wonder if they’re gambling the contents of the bags as a kind of lucky prize draw.  Maybe it’s empty, maybe it’s filled with electrical appliances.  Who can tell what will happen with the crazy wheel of train station roulette!!

Hot Fast Train Action

Hot Fast Train Action

I’m brought back to reality by an announcement in English that another train is ready to board.  I’m relieved I will hear the right warning, then search for my ticket and join the crowd passing through security at the door.  The level of concern shown varies greatly at different bus and train stations.  In Shanghai you have to have a ticket to pass through and absolutely everyone has all their baggage x-rayed.  In Xiangfan bus station a disinterested guard sitting next to an x-ray machine watches the hordes passing by without a care in the world.  In most bus stations there is also a metal detector frame you walk through without ever being stopped.  Maybe they just count the loud beeps it makes as each person passes through.  Back in Shanghai I’m staring at a huge electronic board looking for my train number.  It tells me where I need to go to wait for the gate to open; signalling a thousand screaming Chinese warriors who will storm through the station to commandeer the first train they find.  Okay, so that’s just what it feels like when you’re getting onto the train within a Chinese mob.  They push, surge and try to generally outdo each other in getting to the train and then their seat before you.  I think the video cameras in any train station would make quite fascinating viewing with the right soundtrack.  Something loud, heavy and utterly overwhelming.  Carmina Burana.  The opening song, O Fortuna.  They should play it through the loudspeakers to make everyone seem more normal.

The train itself is a lot better than I was expecting from the Chinese train system.  My friends who have been here before warn me of filthy toilets, crowded carriages and the stink of cigarette smoke permeating your existence.  Smoking is utterly banned on the fast trains, the carriages are spacious with comfortable new seats and the toilets are spotlessly clean – and you can even get a western style seat toilet.  I lock up my bags and head for the dining car to see what they might have for me.  I see other people getting a microwave dinner style tray with rice, meat and vegetables separated out; so I jump on the bandwagon and grab one for myself.  I notice beer siting in a fridge and add a can of Tsingtao to the order before returning to my seat to feed my face.  It’s exactly what you expect from a microwave dinner, just with genuine Chinese food in it.  The trip with take just two and a half hours to cover the five hundred odd kilometres to Nanjing, so I settle down to sort through some pictures I took in Shanghai as the countryside rolls by the window.

The Fast Train Workstation

The Fast Train Workstation

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