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Full Circle

Day 59: Shanghai

Michael Palin - Full CircleRain, which fell in torrents overnight, has cleared, skies are bright and a man in the lobby eyes me suspiciously as I step out of the hotel. Next door is the neo-Stalinist bulk of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. Already crowds are flooding in to the international Audio and Visual Exhibition, the International Textile Machinery Exhibition and the International Modern Fabrics, Apparels, Accessories and Materials Exhibition. None of these interests me as much as the 'Exhibition of Yangtze River Area in Rapid Development', which is advertised on a large board with an arrow pointing to a small side door. I try the door, but it's locked. Will come back later. Potter around the lively, walkable streets of the old French Concession, where nineteen-twenties red-tiled roofs, wooden balconies, turrets, chimney pots, back extensions and gardens survive incongruously amongst encroaching walls of skyscrapers. A helpful estate agent who speaks good English tells me that a two-bedroomed apartment in this part of Shanghai would rent for around three thousand US dollars a month.

Walk down to the Bund, the great riverfront thoroughfare. The soberly solid stone relics of colonial rule still dominate, but the brick terraces and warehouses on the other side of the Huangpu River have been swept away to create the New Economic Zone of Pudong. Proudly it is said to be the biggest commercial centre of its kind in the world. A huge, rude, pink television tower that looks like some giant internal probe dominates a sprawling building site from which sprout World Finance Towers, the new Shanghai Securities Exchange and many more capitalist sanctuaries.

Twice on my walk I am approached by Chinese wanting to practice their English. A very eager man, who says he works in a bookshop, accompanies me for almost half an hour repeating the middle names of my children slowly and reverentially until he is satisfied. To relax after the bustle of the streets I go for a massage back at the hotel. But there's no respite here either. It isn't easy, believe me, to give a sensible answer to questions like 'Manchester important textile centre. Yes... No?' when you're squashed head down on a massage table.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 59
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Shanghai
  • Book page no: 87

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