Just got off the phone with a reporter interested to know how the Expo (ie, World’s Fair) is changing Shanghai. No offense to this particular hack, but I’ve been having that conversation a whole lot recently, and it usually goes something like this: “Lots of new infrastructure, great new subways, but please stop demolishing all of the old neighborhoods that were among the best reasons to visit Shanghai in the first place.” In other words, so far at least (and despite the keening and hollering from long-term expats across Shanghai) it hasn’t really had much of an impact on (my) day-to-day life (my professional life, that’s another matter).
[UPDATE: A reader emails to remind me of last year’s posts about the Expo-related face-lift that my apartment building received. How quickly I forget!]
My friends in Shanghai’s visual arts community have a distinctly different perspective (more on that soon), and those in the city’s burgeoning indie rock scene, well, they have some legitimate complaints. But I’ll leave those to them, and make this about me. So, from the perspective of someone who spends most of his time indoors, hunched over a keyboard, and overlooking (for now) the demolitions, here – typed over breakfast – are the most noticeable changes that Expo has brought to my Shanghai:
- My favorite pirate DVD store is now a sporting goods retailer. To access the DVDs, I’m required to slip between a rack of warm-up jackets and then through a hidden door. The hidden door is opened only when a look-out nods – presumably to assure all involved that the coast is clear.
- Related: not seeing many new DVD releases in town. Last batch came in just before Oscar time. Tired of watching A Serious Man.
- A small uptick in the number of Caucasian foreigners in Shanghai. However, they all appear to be employed by Expo pavilions. Otherwise, no more foreigners than usual in these parts.
- Suddenly, the Shanghainese are waiting for the walk signal at crosswalks. This is incredible.
- Related: they are giving dirty looks – and berating – foreigners who don’t do the same [this, after years of training me in the fine art of zen jaywalking, ie, “just go, they’ll stop.”]
- Noticeably fewer scrap peddlers on the streets, presumably chased off by Shanghai officials concerned that small-scale recyclers will hurt the city’s image with foreigners. You know what else hurts Shanghai’s image? Trash on the streets. [Shanghai authorities, mark my words: this decision will haunt you].
- Related: noticeably more consumer-generated recyclables on the streets [Shanghai authorities: just you wait]
- Yesterday I was asked to show my passport before I could enter the subway [given, this could’ve been related to the Moscow subway bombing – but still]. Upon further reflection, I’m okay with this so long as the various stations start stamping exit-entry info into said passports [but please, no visas].
- Related: the 14-year-olds the city hired to staff the baggage x-ray machines installed at the city’s subway stations are now awake for their shifts, and supervised by 18-year-olds. Previously, they’d spent most of their time asleep or – if they were ambitious – texting their friends.
- Due to restrictions on blade sales during the Expo, I have been forced to put off adding to my fencing rapier and fruit knife collections until November.
- My landlord, when negotiating my new lease, used the Expo as an argument for raising my rent. In response, I told her that if she ever decides to rent in Minneapolis during the annual month-long Holidazzle, the price is double.
And I’ll leave it at that. Comment thread open.
[UPDATED: Based upon a couple of emails, let me be clear: the new subway lines are terrific. Thank you, Shanghai. More, please.]