Shanghai - Thoughts & Photos

Well as promised some more "Alistair Cook" writings on China in the same way he wrote about America in those golden years.

My photos from Shanghai can be seen here.

As for my thoughts on China's second city - What I'm going to say is, "They have the hardware, but they haven't got the software."

The quote is one from a friend and colleague talking about Apple's Iphone vs other mobile phones. His argument was that Motorola for example has the hardware, the physical phone in your hand by numbers, but its Apple that has taken a step forward linking the hardware to the software. But the key fact is the software is the key element going forward, and that will win the day in the mobile space.

As I started to write about Shanghai I got to thinking about how this comparison applies to the city. Now, while the Apple/Hong Kong comparison may not entirely make sense, vs a Windows China I'll endeavor to explain. China has the hardware - No doubt. People, money, buildings and a desire to be a leader are all there. Shanghai is a city that is on the way up and one that may one day rival the likes of London, Hong Kong and NYC.

While Shanghai might have the hardware, it doesn't have the software, and by this I mean the brains, the touch the feeling to make a city feel like a city that works. Now, thats all good for ex-pats like me, but why this rating?

Its certainly not like Shanghai doesn't have a lot to offer. It certainly does. But the SCMP (not that they really say much of sense) constantly warns that Shanghai is to take Hong Kong's crown. Shanghai has the numbers, Beijing's ear, a lack of people that protest and of course a populous that speak Mandarin (forgetting that the international language of business is English...) So I went to Shanghai expecting a lot - And again I did see a lot and enjoyed myself immensely. But its not Hong Kong, not by a long way. Sorry, SMCP but HK doesn't have to much to fear in this decade.

Lets start with the positives. The buildings, though many under construction shows the wonder of the city. From the historical Bun to the future age TV tower, the city has everything to one day rival NYC, London and no doubt the skyline of Hong Kong. The Grand Hyatt has one of the most impressive lobby bars I have ever seen, beating even the Peninsula in Hong Kong.

But, like a fake Chinese watch, Shanghai lacks something. Sure it looks good and you can see where it has copied HK's shoreline buildings and light show, but just like that fake it doesn't quite seem as good as the original.

And then there are the taxis - Shanghai has taxis but not enough. Not by a long way. It seems a symptom of a city (London cabbies are rich but moan about politics to much, NYC taxis shout at you if they don't get a tip ect) In Shanghai (and I'm assuming that you find one) the driver may well not know the street where you want to go, let alone actually be able to find the place that you have directed them to.

Then there are the people and taxis. Manners are not something that people in Shanghai understand. There are no queues, only survival of the fittest. You can be standing by the taxi as someone gets out and someone will barge past you and get in. A colleague waited 45 minutes for a taxi and found out to her cost how you need to act in this city.

Or lets take a walking tour, only you can't. Trying to get round Shanghai by foot means not only getting lost (as no map seems to help) but most importantly not getting killed trying to cross a street, when the lights are red for cars, this seeming makes no difference at all.

But lets look at the town planing: The maglev train - A feat of engineering, taking you from the airport to the city in record time... Except for the fact that, er it doesn't. This new age train takes you from the airport to Shanghai but they forgot to run the train into the city. So its a taxi (and yes, you guessed it, they don't know where you want to go any better than the ones at the airport) to the city center or even close to where you need to be. Its a huge white elephant of epic porportions. That hardware vs software argument comes to mind.

So about that comparison - Hong Kong is by far the better city. People have manners (no spitting/pushing in) all signs are in English and Chinese and taxi drivers that know where they are going. Shanghai is Windows, lots of buildings people but no logic connecting them together that makes the city work in the slick way Hong Kong does.

So where does this short introduction leave you - Shanghai is a great city, no argument. But its one that while the buildings are there, it lacks logic and manners that a city needs to be world class, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. Is this a wider symptom of China? A lack of manners, selfish, no connection between the people and architecture of a city? NYC or London has many of those elements so perhaps this is just what a city becomes on the path to greatness. Only time will tell...

See my photos here



hey u, aren't u comparing Windows 97 with Windows XP?? i love the comparison though but serisouly if you want orderliness,clean,functional And Operational City, you don't come to Shanghai. It's a City of CHaos and you either love it or hate it!!

Keep writing the HK Diaries, i love it!

:) me who still has a Love-Hate relationship with Shanghai.