Shanghai’s elevated highways, all built in the last decade, were bumper to bumper Saturday night after 10 p.m.
Look west on Nanjing Road from the People’s Square and you see endless skyscrapers into the horizon. Huge electronic billboards like the one in Times Square, seem to dominate every major intersection.
The shimmering lights of digital ads linked by the blue lights of the highways are capped by the iridescent green of the Lupu Bridge over the Huangpu River linking the two sides of the World Expo 2010 grounds. As our bus crawled through the traffic of the brilliant new city in the dark it looked like it was designed by the art director of the 1980s futuristic classic, Bladerunner.
This city has grown at a rate of 15 percent or more for more than a decade up to 22 million people. They represent only about 1 percent of China’s population but account for 5 percent of its GDP. Its growing middle class population squeezed on to an armada of electric buses, which filled a parking lot bigger than some roadless areas in Idaho. They came to celebrate a source of national pride and joy, the World Expo Sunday.
Already the Expo has surpassed 500,000 visitors in one day last weekend. They expect more than 70 million visitors when it closes next October.
Many of the participants of Idaho’s China trade mission toured the Expo Sunday, standing in line for more than an hour to get into the Canada exhibit and eating African food at a pub next to the African Pavilion.
The China, Korea and USA Pavilions were out of the question since the wait could be as many as eight hours to get in. But street performers popped up as trees, anglers and pin-cushioned dancers to entertain the crowd unafraid to push their way to the front to get a better picture.
Pushing is what Shanghai residents all appear to do, in the subway and in the streets filled with horn-honking cars and fearless pedestrians. The hotel and restaurant staff go out of their way to please the out-of-towners who came to seek new deals with residents of a city where the art of the deal and consumerism are the dominant cultural icons.
I’ve still got a lot of China to see but Shanghai makes it clear that I’m not in Kansas nor Boise for that matter any more. It’s not even the city that University of Idaho professor C.T. Liu first saw in the 1980s.
It a very different place than it was in 1921 when Chairman Mao Zedong was among the men who founded the Communist Party of China here.
The Communist leaders and their authoritarianism are hard to find in this capitalist fantasyland that makes Wall Street seem tame. There is the occasional column of high-stepping, marching soldiers at the Expo, but nothing even slightly threatening.
I hope to learn how China has created this place and a society on the cusp of challenging American economic leadership. I will start by watching the Governor of the most Republican state in the union “sell groceries” and promote investment in Idaho with a nation my own father fought in a war and survived so I could come here.
Brock Lenon, of Meridian, a vice president with Idaho Timber Corp., said Sunday as he experienced the same sights and sounds that I did, that they are not to be ignored by Idahoans.
“It reminds me there’s a big world out there beyond our own little world and you have to take your blinders off to look,” he said.