Standing at the edge of a 7 storey building, where an entire side of the wall had been ripped out, I felt like I was in the box seats of an open-space theatre, readying to watch a play, “Bright lights, big city: Shanghai in the distance”.
Edge out any more, I would have fallen head first into a hive of activity below. On the ground floor, there was a cluster of scrap collectors measuring tons of waste material, it was also the living quarters of a group of construction workers and a small but active coal production unit that was stamping out round lumps for house-to-house delivery.
But the view and the feelings it evoked seemed familiar. It was something along the lines of … riding on a ferry on the Hudson River approaching Manhattan island, crossing the Thames with the City of London beckoning you, standing in front of Peninsula Hotel across from the brilliant skyline of Hong Kong’s Central district and the panoramic view of Singapore’s harbor front as you drive along the Benjamin Sheares Bridge.
From a distance, the sweep of the buildings were like Legos lined up alongside each other, ones you could overturn with a flick of a finger.
Living in Shanghai with the hyperbole that the rest of the world attaches to China, it’s easy to imagine that you are at the center of the universe. Yet, sometimes we forget that the Pudong skyline feels like a two-dimensional view of the government’s aspirations. The pretty buildings are all in front. Behind, a concrete jungle is brimming as if waiting to explode. But not quite yet.