China: 5-year plan

Day Three: Shanghai is built

Kai Ryssdal Jun 1, 2011

The first time I came to Shanghai was Thanksgiving of 1996. My wife and I had been living in Beijing and we figured a couple of days down here would be a nice change of pace. We stayed at the Peace Hotel right on The Bund, the famous waterfront here, a half-mile or more of classic 1920s and 1930s buildings right on the Huangpu River. Back then you could look out over to the other side of the river — Pudong, it’s called — and there was just a single building worth a mention, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Otherwise, it was farmland… maybe with a low-rise cement factory barely breaking up the horizon. Essentially nothing, as far as the eye could see.

Fast forward 10 years to 2006 — when Marketplace was here for a week of broadcasts — and I almost didn’t recognize the place. Stand on The Bund and look out over Pudong, it could just as easily have been Hong Kong — steel and glass skyscrapers and neon as far as the eye could see. And construction cranes busy 24 hours a day building more.

Which is a long way of getting to the point of this post. All the cranes are gone. There are no new skyscrapers going up. Shanghai, as our China bureau chief Rob Schmitz said while we were having lunch today, is built. I don’t know exactly what it means, and I can’t give you the economic analysis, but it is kind of interesting that one of the centers of Chinese capitalism isn’t building anymore.

And finally, this, just because it made me smile in an only-in-China kind of way… Once again, a story lifted from the pages of the “Shanghai Daily.” We learned this morning 52-year-old ex-convict-turned-street-cleaner Shan Wanli has been nominated to receive the prestigious honor of Model Worker, no small thing here in the land of the proletariat. But it’s the backstory that really sings. I’ll just quote the paper in full:

“In 1991, when he was in his 30s and working in a local timber yard, Shao met a divorced single mother at the workshop, with whom he fell madly in love.”

“Everyone around me, colleagues, relatives and friends, all were against the relationship, but love had made me blind,” Shao recalled.

Love also made him deaf, literally, as he took to alcohol after discovering that the woman was still dating her former husband. The sorrow in his heart and the strong Chinese wine “burned” his ears deaf. The affair ended in tragedy as Shao put a knife right through his girlfriend’s heart and then stabbed himself in the chest in an attempt at suicide.”

Poetic, no? You do kind of have to hope the guy wins the Model Worker thing.

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