Asia #4: Shanghai

Even the Muzak caught me off guard. Eating breakfast with Laura, it dawned on me that we were being serenaded by none other than Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” I had never considered Lou Reed to be Muzak material but it sounded cool. It was unexpected, in a good way, like Shanghai itself.

Where to start? Remember what I wrote about Beijing going on and on? I take it back. Shanghai goes on and on even more, except that it’s more vertical. For me, “big” means New York. It took me a while to get my mind around the fact that Shanghai has twice the population of New York. The high skyline is spectacular with unexpected (that word again) shapes like spheres and needles seemingly suspended in the air, 50 stories up.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Chairman Mao might think. While he’d love the fact that Shanghai is on a roll, he might have trouble reconciling the Cultural Revolution with sure signs of materialistic consumerism: stores like Prada, Burberry, and Rolex…. car dealerships like Bentley, Maserati, and Porsche…. 10-story high video bill boards across the urban landscape featuring Nike-footed Kobe Bryant taking it to the hoop or a grimacing Kevin Garnet throwing it down in his Adidas and Celtics (Yeah!) garb.

And yet, in the midst of all this modernity are signs of life that Mao would surely recognize, throngs of bicyclists for one, some of them pedaling monstrous 3-wheel rigs with cargos that would overflow a small SUV. Some of these modern skyscrapers are next door to small brick dwellings, home to people who apparently just refuse to surrender. Laundry hangs from windows all over the city, sometimes 30 stories up. (It’s winter, so there were lots of bright red Long Johns fluttering in the wind.)

As we have in other cities, Laura, Sophia and I visited with counselors and families. We also toured the Shanghai Foreign Language School to get a feel for the life of a Chinese high school student. (“All work and no play” comes to mind.) On our last day we interviewed a young man from a Chinese boarding school, a big kid whose own personal research led him to Hyde on the Internet. Great kid! At one point, he asked Laura, “Do you have football? Not our kind, but your American football?” When Laura answered in the affirmative, he replied, “Good, because I’ve always wanted to give it a try.” I imagined him decked out in blue and gold in full pads. Unexpected… a good way.

Next stop: Shenzhen. Onward, Malcolm Gauld

(Note to Coaches Gregory and Saucier: Let’s allow this young man to settle in before you start fitting him for a helmet!)