Shanghai

Being in the city for the first time is a singular experience. It just happens that the book I am reading, Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, includes a section on the Huangpu waterfront famously know by the Indian loan “The Bund.” Mitchell ruminates on the city’s electric glory, decadence, and history. In the voice of his character, the novelist Crispin Hershey, he describes the scene:

The Shanghai Bund is several things: a waterfront sweep of ornate Toytown set pieces along the way; a symbol of Western colonial arrogance; a symbol of the ascension of the modern Chinese state; four lanes of slow-moving, or no-moving, traffic; and a raised promenade along the Huangpu River where flows a Walt Whitman throng of tourists, families, couples, vendors, pickpockets, friendless novelists, muttering drug dealers and pimps…

 

Shanghai, last night, 2014

 

The sun disintegrates into evening and the skyscrapers over the river begin to fluoresce: there’s a titanic bottle opener; an outsize 1920’s interstellar rocket; a supra-Ozymandian obelisk, plus a supporting cast of mere forty-, fifty-, and sixty-floor buildings, clustering skywards like a doomed game of Tetris. In Mao’s time Pudong was a salt marsh, Nick Greek was telling me, but now you look for levitating jet-cars. When I was a boy the U.S.A. was synonymous with modernity; now it’s here. So I carry on walking, imagining the past: junks with lanterns swinging in the ebb and flow; the ghostly crisscross of masts and rigging, the groan of hulls laid down in Glasgow, Hamburg, and Marseille; hard, knotted stevedores unloading opium, loading tea; dotted lines of Japanese bombers, bombing the city to rubble; bullets, millions of bullets, bullets from Chicago, bullets from Fukuoka, bullets from Stalingrad, ratatat-tat-tat-tat. If cities have auras, like Zoë always insisted people do…then Shanghai’s aura is the color of money and power. Its emails can shut down factories in Detroit, denude Australia of its iron ore, strip Zimbabwe of its rhino horn, pump the Dow Jones full of either steroids or financial sewage…

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