By Jonathan Chandler
Exclusive to The Wild East
The furnace season is here, along with the blessed Plum Rains, which this year have killed hundreds with unprecedented flooding and heavenly deluges. Landslides, dam bursts and ill-constructed houses topple slowly over or are just washed away.
Bad feng shui and sinister omens, say the more arcane netizens.
The last recorded heavy rains like this occurred in 1997 – the year of the handover of Hong Kong and the following stock market crash and property bubble detonation.….Could it be the World Expo isn’t going to be the perfectly choreographed six-month bash and sashay down the global fashion runway that has been touted at twenty-minute intervals on CCTV for the last six months?
Shanghai, meanwhile, steams and stirs like a mad old Magus’ cauldron as the World Expo dominates all and every manifestation of city life – to the point of idiocy.
Every stretch of road is being dug up, sidewalks replaced, trees trimmed (!) and walls painted. There’s scaffolding everywhere, air pollution, grimy dust and noise, noise, noise! All with the grill turned up to titanium melt.
The construction turmoil is part of the multi-trillion domestic stimulus package to give the Nongming gong (migrant workers) work and avoid at all costs the serious prospects (feared above all, quite justifiably, by those who wear the Mantle of Heaven) of serious unrest within the seething unemployed millions.
The other part is of course sprucing up the city for the Expo. Trouble is the Expo came at the exact wrong moment for lavish spending on pavilions of nationalistic splendor.
Pre-financial crisis, the foreign pavilions were out-doing each other for magnificence. Post-crisis, there’s a vastly more modest and diffident approach all round.
More troubling to the organizers, the U.S. may be a no-show.
By some strange quirk of constitutional law, the U.S. is forbidden from using public money for such Expos. (They didn’t attend the last two World Expos, so this is nothing new.)
Trouble this time is: the U.S. private sector is too broke to cough up much more than bits and pieces and vague promises.
But that’s not all: the Expo starts next May 1st and still most of the foreign pavilions still exist in all their glory only in animated virtual reality. It is rumored that the Shanghai government will subsidize the poorer countries so that they can attend. Darker rumors swirl that the authorities will secretly arrange financing for the U.S.
Their presence is deemed absolutely necessary. Major loss of face if the Yanks don’t show up….
Yep, looks like all might not be totally smooth over at the massive World Expo site.
Seventy million visitors are expected, but not a taxi driver speaks English, there are no toilets and the locals’ service attitude has been honed by two hundred years of foreign colonialism.
Most staff, wherever you go, are apparently graduates of the Genghis Khan Institute of Hospitality and Visitor Assistance.
You can see the glib assurances of the officials that all the Expo plans are online, and it will be the most glorious World Expo in history – showcasing the Great Motherland in all its stepping out finery.
You also see the drip of sweat rolling slowly down the same official’s powdered face.
So, better run for cover, find a cool spot, to slake the bake, beat the heat and ice the dice…
Well, to my great good luck, I am moving to the northern port city of Qingdao for a decent job and a new eyrie from which to observe the fascinating changes and developments of this mercurial society as it hammers down ever faster and faster towards its destiny.
From what I hear, Qingdao (where the Summer Olympic sailing regattas were held) is a fine old town. On the ocean breeze, a former German Concession with the great Tsingdao beer brewery, yachting marinas and what goes for a luxury seaside resort lifestyle in the People’s Republic..
I will report from there next time.
Jonathan Chandler is a British novelist currently residing in Shanghai China. This is the latest installment in his series, “Low on the Hai.” He can be reached at jonathan at jagchandler dot com