TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Now that the Olympics are over, the next big happening on the global events calendar is the 2010 World Expo. It’ll be held in Shanghai in a couple of months. So the city has restored its famous waterfront, the Bund, as it’s known. The Bund’s been at the center of Shanghai’s economy for 80 years. And city officials are banking on it being a centerpiece for the future, too. Marketplace’s Scott Tong’s on the line with us now. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT TONG: Hey, Kai.
Ryssdal: This is a very visual story that we’re going to do on the radio here. So paint me a picture. What does the Bund look like right now?
TONG: Well, as one historian calls it it’s an architectural spectacle on the riverfront of Shanghai. So the next time you come back to Shanghai, Kai, I want you to save up 14 cents, so you can take the river ferry that takes you across the river. Because as you come by, you see some large apartment buildings and office buildings and suddenly you come across one mile of neo-classical, European buildings and that’s the Bund, pagodas in this part of China. I mean to explain it to you, one of the buildings has this giant dome, almost like the Capitol Building. And then next to that you have Asia’s tallest clock tower, which looks a little like Big Ben, and then the other buildings have these great pillars in the front of it. What it screams to a visitor is this is China’s original international city. And when you go into the buildings, you’ve got the most expensive restaurants in some of them: bars, there’s the Armani store. So I mean this is glitzy Shanghai, and what they’re trying to do is fix it up to bring as many people over during the expo, Kai.
Ryssdal: Well, tell us more about that. What are they doing to jazz this place up. I mean the buildings are gorgeous as you described, but last time I was there, they were kind of rundown.
TONG: You’ve got five-star hotels putting in a ton of money. The Fairmont Hotel group is opening a historic hotel called the Peace Hotel in Shanghai. The Peninsula Hotel is old Shanghai money, and they’re going to open up a hotel. The Waldorf Astoria is going to come. So you’ve got a lot of private companies putting a whole lot of money into this as well as the government of Shanghai.
Ryssdal: So you know what I never understood was why in 1949 when the communists took over, and then through the cultural revolution, and all the turmoil that China went through, why didn’t they tear down these monuments really to Western capitalism and imperialism?
TONG: Well, I’ve talked to historians about it, and the best answer I can get is you know, they’re really nice, and we didn’t want to knock them down. Shanghai people will tell you that they’re proud of this. I mean this reminds them of the Golden Age in the 1930s of Shanghai, the most international city, and it still aspires to be today.
Ryssdal: Yeah, and it’s interesting because now you stand on the boat and you put your back to those buildings, you look across the river and you see this area called Pudong, which when I was in Shanghai 10 or 12 years ago was basically a cement factory and some cows. And now it is the most unbelievable collection of glass and steel skyscrapers you’re ever going to see.
TONG: Pudong across the river has really sprung up. The mean joke back then when you were in Shanghai, this is going to be mean, is that it was “Pu Jersey” because nobody wanted to go there. And now, just like on the Jersey side of the financial district all these new glassy buildings have gone up on the Pudong side, next to this big needle spire sticking out called the Pearl Tower. Citigroup has a building there and Standard Chartered from Britain. There’s a HSBC Bank there. But the tallest one now is called the World Financial Center, so that’s what Shanghai wants to be. It’s actually on paper. There’s a plan for Shanghai in 2020 to become an international shipping and financial center. So they want to kind of return to the glory days of the 1930s, when all the foreign bankers were selling stocks and bonds and currencies on the Bund, and they’re importing opium into China.
Ryssdal: Yeah, you’ve got the old, and the really, really new in Shanghai. Scott Tong is in Shanghai for us. Thank you, Scott.
TONG: OK, you’re welcome, Kai.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.