Sleepless in Shanghai, #2

Anthony Townsend's picture

Two moments in this trip bring home the pace of change here. Sunday morning, 8am, I wake up in the Zhongshan Park section of west-central Shanghai. Head out into the backlanes of the superblock behind the hotel and construction on a high-rise gated apartment building is already at full tilt. Two other construction projects intitimate in my life... a dorm across from our apartment in Manhattan, and a restaurant next to the Institute in Palo Alto, are definitely not on the same aggressive shifts.

Next moment, Wednesday evening 11:18pm at our hotel in Pudong, I glance out the window before bed and see a line of cement mixers 10-12 deep waiting to unload at the construction site across the street.

The only way you build a city this large, this fast, is to do it around the clock. And while New York has its labor unions, and California its lackadasical work days, in Shanghai work is life and life is work and neither party nor history nor landscape will get in the way of doing what needed to be done yesterday.

I'm sure there's a wise old Chinese phrase to explain this ultimately modern transformation. I just hope I get to stick around long enough to learn it.

Zai jian, until tomorrow.

Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.

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