Shanghai for Olga


My dear Olga,

I am writing this email from Shanghai, in China. Sorry for writing to you
in English but I want to post this also in my blog and therefore it must
be in a language that also other people can read. Our friends from abroad
for example.
So this is Shanghai. Someone at the conference I am attending described it
as the gateway of China and maybe it is so. This large town with about
14.000.000 inhabitant (more that the whole Cambodia where you are now) is
close to the sea, at the end of long river and has a large harbor where
foreigners have used since a very long time to enter this country.
Therefore many people have got the first impression of China from this
town and its people. For me it is the same. This is the first time I am in
China and will only stay in this town for one week. Thus the impressions I
get here, though I tell myself all the time that this is only a small part
of this country, will remain in me as the ones of China. At least until
the next time I will come here, maybe with you and mum.
So they called it a gateway. I’d rather call it the window. Like the
windows of the many malls that you can find here downtown and that display
luxury goods from Europe for example. As those goods do not tell what
really Europe is, Shanghai does not tell what China is. But is there
something like China? Probably not. There are instead many Chinas that are
all united together under the red flag or the red star. There are dialects
and languages in this country. Also walking in Shanghai I can recognize
Chinese with Tibetan look like we used to see in Katmandu, Chinese from
the north with more dark skins, Chinese with lighter skin. The country
itself has desert, mountains, forests, industries, planes, huge rivers and
gorges, so it is very diverse.
But what about this town? I am not sure how to describe it. What are the
right words? Don’t forget that I came here from Kampong Thom not exactly a
large place.
Everything is big here. While coming with the bus from the airport to
downtown where the hotel is, I have been amazed by the number of high
raises houses you can see. They seem to be everywhere. More than Bangkok,
less than Manhattan probably but I did not expect to see so many here. I
thought to find also a larger crowd of people, but instead it is easy to
go around and also in the metro so far has not been particularly crowed.
I told you about the malls. There seem to be hundreds of them. One can
walk one bloc find a high raise building and find a mall. Then walk yet
another bloc, another mall in another high raise building. Now that I have
walked for several days around, I can also see that the shops also never
change. Same multinational brands: Starbuck Cafe, McDonalds, etc. Things
repeat themselves after a while and are not so interesting anymore. After
all how many mall can you visit in three days without getting bored? Not
Shanghai leaves me with mixed feelings. It is amazing to see what is going
on here and that so little is known in Europe. This country, at least from
this window, is rapidly catching up. Shops are open 7 days a week.
Restaurants and cafes are busy. You do not see many old cars in the
streets. This is happening since years and yet it is so unknown in Europe.
At the same time I looked from the window of my hotel room at the 13th
floor and I see a forest of high raises buildings, grey air and not for
one days o far blue sky. If this is the future it is not a nice one.
The nicest thing I do is in the morning. I wake up at about 7 and put my
runners on and go to walk in the small park just at the corner of the
hotel. At the time is full with elderly people doing exercises. Some dance
at the sound of traditional music from small battery powered loudspeaker,
other follow the order of a woman in charge to show exercises, women in
group of 5 or 6 perform choreographies with “ventagli’ (I miss this word
in English), other follow the guidance of old Tai Chi masters and perform
in slow movements ancient martial arts moves. Every morning these old
people reminds that within the shopping malls, the high raises buildings,
the cars and fashion boutiques there are traditions that remain strong and
that come form far back in time. The only question for me, as I see mainly
elderly people doing these exercises, is where are the young people? Will
they take the place of the elderly when they will be elder themselves or
will these arts and traditions fade in time?

Strong hug,


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