Archive for July, 2015


Capitalist China

Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

One of the most striking features of Shanghai’s spectacular skyline is the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower.

Completed in 1994.  It is still one of the world’s tallest broadcast antennas (468 m./1,535 ft.).

 

Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.

Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.

 

The Tower stands on the east bank of the Huangpu River across from the historic city center in the Pudong (“East Bank”)District.

Pudong is home to Shanghai’s tallest skyscrapers including Jin Mao Tower (421 m./1,380 ft.), the Shanghai World Financial Center (492 m./1,614 ft.), and the nearly completed Shanghai Tower (632 m./2,073 ft.)

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

The Pearl Tower observation deck affords a spectacular bird-eye view of the city, and is a good place to get the lay of the land.

With a population of 1.4 billion, it’s no surprise that the Chinese excel at moving staggering numbers of people around with efficiency, and the crowd at the Pearl Tower is no exception.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.

 

The lines move briskly, and elevator attendants uniformed and coiffed as immaculately as pre-deregulation U.S. flight attendants keep the foot traffic flowing

 

As I look out over this sprawling city of 25 million, I can’t help but think that anyone looking down upon the Manhattan skyline in the 1920’s must have been similarly awestruck.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.

 

There’s an impression of incredible energy pulsing through the landscape below, and an inescapable sense of looking through a window into the epicenter of the global future.

Pudong is the site of the city’s Finance & Trade Zone and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, making it China’s financial hub.

 

Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.

Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.

 

The District also encompasses a high-tech park, the 2010 Shanghai Expo Center, and the Pudong International Airport.

 

Incredibly, this entire area was farmland until 1993.

 

 

Shanghai's west bank from the Pearl Tower.

Shanghai’s west bank from the Pearl Tower.

 

Such explosive growth is the product of an economy that’s been growing at almost 10% annually – about three times the global average – since Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms more than 30 years ago.

 

 

 

 

China’s shift from a managed economy to a market economy has grown its GDP from $147.3 billion in 1978 to $11.2 trillion in 2015.  The Peoples’ Republic of China is now the world’s largest economy.

It’s hardly surprising that the Chinese people have embraced a free market economy so enthusiastically, or that they excel at it.  The Chinese already were trading their goods via the Silk Road before the birth of Christ.

The success of Chinese joint ventures with foreign manufacturing and technology giants seem to reflect the enterprising nature of a nation of shopkeepers now unbridled following three decades of Mao’s managed economy.

 

High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.

High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.

 

The nation not only manufactures more cars – about 22 million – than any other country  (almost 3 times as many as the U.S.) – but is also the biggest market for new cars.  China became the world’s biggest exporter in 2009, and Shanghai recently surpassed Singapore as the world’s largest containerized freight port

 

The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

Construction of Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport began in 1997.

 

It is now the world’s third busiest cargo airport, the busiest international hub in mainland China, and one of the world’s 20 busiest passenger airports.

 

It is connected to the city by Shanghai’s Maglev Train, which uses magnets to lift and propel it.

 

 

The reduced friction allows the train to move at very high speeds, and it cuts a highway drive of nearly one hour to 8 minutes, reaching a peak speed of 430 kmp/267 mph).

 

The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.

The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.

 

A third passenger terminal and two additional runways scheduled to open later this year will raise annual capacity to 80 million passengers and 6 million tons of freight.  DHL’s Pudong cargo hub is the largest in Asia.

 

 

I’m struck by the amazing contrast between the way in which nominally Communist China has advanced even as the republics of the former Soviet Union have devolved.

 

Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.

Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.

 

The irony is also not lost upon me that Pudong’s modern skyscrapers directly face the city’s historic Bund.  It was from their Bund headquarters that the banking houses and merchant traders of the Western powers imposed their imperialism upon China, and first made Shanghai a financial and trading giant until its fortunes turned with the outbreak of World War II and the 30 years of isolation which followed.

 

The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

This time around, the China is solidly in control of its own destiny, and is turning its new prosperity into better lives for countless millions of its people.

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Shanghai's historic Bund with modern skyscraper background

Shanghai’s historic Bund with modern skyscraper background

As I board the twelve hour flight from Seattle to Shanghai, my mind is churning at the prospect of seeing up close and personal what I’ve otherwise seen only from a distance and through a Western lens.

Shanghai Old Town against modern apartments.

Shanghai Old Town against modern apartments.

 

 

Except for Made In China labels on products sold worldwide, China occupies an obscure place in the American consciousness.  My only genuine connection to the place I’m about to visit is my love of Chinese food, which I plan to shamelessly indulge.

 

Businessmen pause over tea in Shanghai

Businessmen pause over tea in Shanghai

In Europe and the Americas, the stamp of Western culture upon three continents creates common and familiar frames of reference.

 

In China I will be unable to speak or read the language. Religion, social customs, laws, and the political system will be alien.

 

Peaks in the Three Gorges area as seen from the river.

Peaks in the Three Gorges area as seen from the river.

And little of what I’ve been taught about China by American media seems likely to shed much light on the subject.

 

Since China’s great “opening up” in 1978, its Communist government has been morphing it from a managed economy to a market economy.

Shibaozhai Buddhist Temple, Chonquing Province

Shibaozhai Buddhist Temple, Chonquing Province

 

 

Headlines tout China’s economic ascendancy, but China has remained for Americans a distant and little understood culture since the two nations first began trading in the 1840’s as an outcome of the Opium Wars.

 

 

 

 

Panda at the Chongquing Zoo.

Panda at the Chongquing Zoo.

 

 

 

As recently as the 1930’s, China remained to most Westerners as remote and mysterious a place as the polar ice caps or the heart of Africa.

 

Misconceptions and stereotypes about China and its people were reinforced by media portrayals like the Charlie Chan movies, the Terry & The Pirates comic strip, and  Flash Gordon’s Emperor Ming.

 

Cardboard recycling in Beijing.

Cardboard recycling in Beijing.

 

 

 

It was not until Claire Chenault led the Flying Tigers into combat support of the Chinese that American perceptions were first refocused.

 

Even today it is not well known that China suffered nearly 20 million World War II casualties, including 8 million civilian victims of Japanese war crimes.

 

 

 

The Great Wall, just north of Beijing

The Great Wall, just north of Beijing

 

By  the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, China and Japan had already been at war for four years.

 

After Mao Zedong’s Communists swept Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists from power in 1949, China was seen by most Americans through the lens of anti-Communist hysteria, punctuated first by China’s entry into the Korean War and then by the Cultural Revolution.

 

 

Drum Tower, Xi'an.

Drum Tower, Xi’an.

 

Americans first began to see China differently upon Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing, but Cold War mentality still survives in perceptions of China as threatening adversary, if not on the battlefield then in the global marketplace.

 

I’m more interested in how the growth of capitalism in China stands against the commonly held American conviction that a capitalist economy and democratic form of government are inextricably linked.

 

Parked hand carts, Mt. Jiu Hua

Parked hand carts, Mt. Jiu Hua

The idea of this trip is to see not just the mega- cities, but towns and the rural interior.  Not just to tour popular sites, but to gain some insight into what makes the Chinese people and society tick.

 

My lessons begin with arrival at Shanghai’s Pudong International airport.  It’s bright, cutting-edge modern in design, and antiseptic.  The terminal is so vast that the view down its long concourse seems to reach the vanishing point.

 

Shanghai's Pudong International airport terminal.

Shanghai’s Pudong International airport terminal.

 

 

Such scale offers a lesson that will be often repeated in the coming days:  There’s enough “Big” in China to give any Texan an inferiority complex.

 

 

 

Chairman Mao's portrait, Forbidden City, Beijing

Chairman Mao’s portrait, Forbidden City, Beijing

 

 

It’s surprised at the almost non-existent presence of police or military.  Sharply uniformed Immigration officers are hospitable, and efficient.  Passengers with nothing to declare are waved around Customs.

 

The guide is waiting with a car.  The trip to the hotel on the city’s near west side takes nearly an hour on modern expressways, and on this Sunday evening traffic is brisk.

 

In the darkness outside, city buildings are lit up by light sculptures and giant-sized video screens.  The only place I’ve seen more lights is in Las Vegas.

 

 

Soviet Exhibition Hall, 1955 gift to Shanghai

Soviet Exhibition Hall, 1955 gift to Shanghai

 

 

Right outside the window is an exhibition hall built and given as a gift to the people of China from the former Soviet Union.  The Chinese seem to be having the last laugh.

Back home it’s morning and even though I’ve slept through much of the flight, I’ll be dragging by mid-day unless I get some sleep tonight.

Tomorrow it begins..

 

 

What To Expect:

China mapThis trip begins with three days in coastal Shanghai and continues overland to Nanking, embarkation point for a twelve day cruise down the Yantgze – China’s Mississippi River.

 

It wanders inland through lowland farms strung between robust cities.  It passes ancient temples, formal gardens, and artisan workshops.  And it continues through the canyons of the Three Gorges and the locks of its great dam.

 

Before boarding a plane for Xi’an in Chonquing, there’s an early morning visit to its urban park zoo and pandas.   Xi’an is an ancient capital of China.  A walk through its historic city center is a must, but it’s better known as the archeological site of the Terra Cotta Army.

 

The trip ends in Beijing, with visits to a centuries-old residential neighborhood, to Tianamen Square and The Forbidden City, and to the Great Wall.

China map

Itinerary: 21 Days in China

Thanks so much for your patience while I’ve taken a break from my  blog to complete work on my just-published books (more info on them below)!

I’ll resume posting on Sunday, July 26 with the first in a series from my recent 21-day trip to China.

The China trip begins with a long weekend in booming Shanghai, continues for 12 days along the Yangtze River and wraps up in  Xi’an (home of the ‘Terra Cotta Warriors‘), and Beijing.

21 Days In China is a chance to look beyond current headlines for firsthand insight into the culture, history, cuisine, and faces of today’s China!

 

+++++ JUST PUBLISHED ON AMAZON +++++

Two of my books previously first released only as digital editions are now available for the first time in paperback on Amazon!

 

Blue collar cover 02

LIFELINES: AN AMERICAN DREAM (2014).  My second book and first novel is the story of two families who abandon their pasts to pursue the American dream, and whose lives intersect in the melting pot of the industrial Midwest.

This is a collection of intimate snapshots that brings to life a history fast fading from collective memory. Rich in historical detail, it is set against the backdrop of America’s emergence as a world power in the twentieth century, and the rise and fall of organized labor.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

 

 

Laguna Tales digital version 5x8 cover hi-res full size

LAGUNA TALES (2011).  My first book, a collection of short stories, draws on my own experiences to capture the lifestyle of the expat community in and around a mountain village in Mexico.

Six Americans from different walks of life arrive at personal crossroads that separately lead them to begin new lives along the shores of Mexico’s Lake Chapala.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

 

 

ETF cover 06 DigitalEMBRACING THE FOG (2015).  I’ve partnered with three American writers from  the Lake Chapala area on  this new short story collection, which includes five of my previously-unpublished pieces.

These eighteen short stories are studies characters at life’s crossroads  in settings that span four continents and more than a century.  They run a gamut of styles from sobering to whimsical, and from stark realism to the fanciful.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

 

 

Mexico Sunshine And Shadows 21MEXICO: SUNLIGHT & SHADOWS (2015).  I’m honored by the invitation to  contribute one of my pieces to this just-published collection of short stories and essays by some of the most widely read English language writers in Mexico.

This anthology captures the work of twenty-two published authors who write and live in Mexico full time, and who share a view of life there as seen through their eyes.  Find it for Kindle and other e-readers ONLY here on Amazon.

 

 

THE MIRASOL REDEMPTION (coming soon).  Watch for the August, 2015 release of my second novel, in digital and paperback editions on Amazon.

Mirasol Redemption cover design

Enjoy the read!