Seems like I chose one crazy week leave the States — Giants winning the 2012 World Series in a stunning sweep, Superstorm Sandy touching down on Manhattan and ravaging the island city into a surreal and unfathomable darkness. Especially as the months and years go on, ‘timing’ seems to be an ever-present factor in determining the course of actions.
This time, I find myself in Shanghai at the heart of fall, filled with a crispness and beat in the air that signals at the bone-chilling winter that’s just around the corner. “This year’s cold is coming particularly early. You’ll have to wear socks soon,” says my deskmate as we look out at part of Shanghai’s sprawling skyline (I’m not a particular fan of socks).
It’s hard to believe how much this city has transformed and changed. The once sleepy fishing town and port continues to lay down high-rises, and the sound of construction has become the rhythm of the city’s growth. As I walked down the streets of Shanghai this morning to work, it felt even much less like the city I remembered from childhood than any other time — on this particular walk, gone were the streets filled with bicycles, replaced instead by the motors of taxi cabs.
My home for the next month is in the Former French Concession, a quiet oasis popular amongst expats in an otherwise bustling city. Ironically, it is here that I have felt most in Shanghai (granted I’ve only been here for a few days), in a flat rented from a Taiwanese-Australian teacher and practitioner of 茶道 cha dao (the way of tea). The old building creaks under the weight of feet above, and the wooden floors remind me of the apartment my family had lived in once upon a time in a Shanghai that feels eons away. Like older Shanghai dwellings, the kitchen is outside the room and shared amongst four families (two who live downstairs, and two upstairs). The bathroom is also outside, and while it’s since been renovated with modern conveniences like a shower head, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bathroom of that size in any of Shanghai’s newer establishments these days (I’ll try to include some pictures soon!).
As I start on my search to understand how Chinese consumers make decisions around luxury purchases, and how they then share those purchases amongst their friends, families, and social networks, I’m most looking forward to discovering a new Shanghai, and that ever-delicate dichotomy behind a city’s economic and infrastructure growth and the mindsets of its residents.