Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One in 20 million

Some wag on TV referred to the World Expo in Shanghai and how the visitor numbers were turning out to be less than expected: "Only a million through the gates, tch!" Although the actual figure is a bit over 200,000 per day, the sentiment stands - this is one huge city, the 10th biggest in the world, and that's a lot of people. They're hoping for 70 million visitors over the 6 months that it's open (to beat the 65 million record set back in 1970 in Osaka, where they also know a thing or two about crowds) - and even if most of those are Shanghai residents, on top of a population of almost 20 million, that's still a lot of bodies in the streets.

We were there briefly last year, when the city was in a frenzy getting ready for the Expo, building the exhibition halls on both sides of the river, knocking down old districts to build new hotels and roads, upgrading other areas, digging up the streets and generally tarting the place up. We were told that China uses half of the world's production of concrete, and Shanghai must have accounted for a fair chunk of that - there was certainly a strong smell of wet cement in the air. Plus dust, the hammering of pneumatic drills, roaring trucks and diggers; and visual pollution too with scaffolding, cones and barriers - yet still, with all the large-scale machinery in operation, swarms of men with wheelbarrows and bamboo-leaf besoms.

And of course, people everywhere - as in all the other parts of China that we visited (our Silversea cruise took us only to cities - if we'd got into the country, we would have come away with quite a different impression, I'm sure). It was pretty exhausting, and though it was always interesting, and I'm glad to have been there, I wouldn't rush back again.

India was horrendously crowded too, of course, but it seemed less foreign there: in China I really felt like an alien, even - or especially - when I found myself in a familiar setting, like on the beach. This is China:
This is New Zealand:
No contest.

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