FIGHTING FOR LAND IN THE LAND OF DRAGONS
When I first moved to Shanghai, I went for a walk along Nanjing Lu. Lined with the likes of Vuitton, Chanel and Prada, it’s China’s busiest shopping street. On that particularly sticky Saturday afternoon, there were so many shoppers it was hard to move, and I took the first side street.
One block north, an old man in blue cotton was wheeling a wicker cage full of pigeons. He stopped under a tree, plopped himself down on a stool, pulled out a pigeon, and started plucking it alive. No, his shoes weren’t Prada.
Part of the thrill of Shanghai, I quickly discovered, is its mess of contradictions. BMWs crash into overloaded tricycles, paper lanterns dangle beneath neon lights, McDonald’s out-woos Marx.
Most strikingly of all, skyscrapers dwarf townhouses. This is not a happy coexistence, but a raging battle between real estate developers and the residents of Old Shanghai.
Needless to say, the invaders are winning hands down. Aggressive, impatient and horribly efficient, they’ve pulled off a staggering 220 new skyscrapers since 1992, at least 20 of which are about 200 metres tall. Old Shanghai simply can’t compete.
Little by little, “progress” is eating away at the little alleyway communities of the city. One by one, they are spray-painted with the Chinese character chāi (拆), DEMOLISH.