By Jonathan Chandler in Shanghai
Low on the Hai: Shanghai the lucky city – you’d better believe it…
The 2010 World Expo comes to Shanghai with perfect timing to avoid wipe-out inside the world-wide financial banzai pipeline. The city is splashing with huge waves of liquidity for massive infrastructure projects like tunnels under the Huang-pu, new bridges, subways, high-speed railways, freeways, renovations, parks, gardens and city-wide licks of paint.
At a cost of 50 billion yuan (about 8 billion US$) the organizers are hoping to turn a profit from the 70 million visitors expected (prayed for) to flock to the event.
The retro post-mod clock on International Media Street is already ticking down to the start of the bash next May.
Lucky too are the one million volunteers being recruited from the pool of idle and restive unemployed graduates. Happy also are the legions of nongming-gong, the migrant workers, busy with claw hammer and steel-fixer’s belt and who are still able to make the pittance to send home to their impoverished families in the far-flung provinces.
But there are plenty of glitches.
Most of the original foreign pavilions have been vastly reduced in scale and lavish detail owing to the financial head-on. Worse, the U.S. is still desperately trying to borrow money to join the fun and build its own pavilion.
Shanghai is terrified that the U.S. won’t show up for its bun-fight – what kind of World Expo would have no American pavilion? (The last few actually – U.S. law forbids the use of State funds and, understandably, given the present straitened cash circumstances, no one in the private sector seems very interested in upping the ante to get into the party.)
Meanwhile, to ensure the show goes on, Shanghai has set aside 100 million US$ to help less developed nations with their exhibits.
But there are some doubters among the nervy citizenry gearing themselves up to shrug off the Depression and save the world by throwing the biggest cash blow-out in history.
It’ll be a lrangi-ba-zao!, a big screw-up, scoffed one old China hand in a debate the other day: Shanghai’s too shabby, falling apart at the seams and anyway already littered with half-built, half-empty super-skycraping monsters.
This contention is countered by pointing out that Beijing pulled off the Olympics with immaculate precision and even perfectly blue skies when worldwide doubters clamored and all and sundry said it couldn’t be done.
Yes, comes the repost, but the Olympics lasted for just one month, the Expo goes on for half a year.
Besides, we should be reminded that Beijing and Shanghai are like different worlds, planets, even.
Beijing’s the centre of power, it decrees, things get done. Even the sky bends to the will of the Mandate of Heaven, giving the throngs three weeks of pure blue celeste.
Shanghai, on the other hand, they wag their heads with sage sorrow, is Beijing’s unruly southern cousin.
Independent, savvy, slick and street-wise. Exposure to foreigners over two hundred years of interaction has resulted in a kind of snarled loathing towards the lao-wai, foreign devils. Service attitudes range from surly to appalling, according to one 2009 survey of Chinese New Year European tourists.
Recent court cases have highlighted the problems of taxi drivers who not only smoke, but cheat unsuspecting
Japanese (and other) tourists by making them pay up to 700 times the meter price, with menaces.
Some even say the megalopolis is dirty, overcrowded and venal – whose unruly citizenry regularly spits phlegm.
Moreover, it might be enlightening to know that the third most prevalent disease in Shanghai is drug-resistant Tuberculosis. This deadly mutant TB is spread airborne through coughing and …spitting. (The first and second most common diseases in the city are gonorrhea and syphilis: nice of them to share that with us.)
But these views are isolated and mostly belong to the grumblings of old men and ex-pat bubble-dwellers.
The young, hip Wild East Sin City slickers are gearing up for the bash of bashes.
They say you make your own luck.
Well, lucky Shanghai has everything to gain and all to lose. The 2010 World Expo is going to be its Triumph of Will. Anything less is unthinkable or unprintable.