Monday, October 27, 2008

Ni Hao from China!
"Ni Hao" is how you greet people in China, and it means "are you well?". "Wa hen hao", I am very well, because I am in Shanghai, the largest city in China, with a population of 18 million people. San Francisco has only 1 million! This city is big, busy and crowded, and reminds me somewhat of New York. It's a city of charming brick houses on tiny lanes, and also of spectacular skyscrapers. New skyscrapers are going up all over China, especially in Shanghai and the capital city of Beijing, and everywhere I go in China I see older buildings being torn down and replaced by brand new high rises. As anyone who has seen the famous Water Cube and Bird's Nest on TV can guess, the architecture here is dazzling. Each new building that goes up seems to be more outrageous than the last. Some of the more unusual buildings have nicknames like the Bottle Opener, Dragon's Head, and Pair of Pants because of their interesting shapes. Some buildings even boast giant video screens.

Getting 18 million people to and from these huge buildings where they work every day is a daunting task, and cars are very expensive in Shanghai, so many people commute by bicycle and motor bike. Even the busiest streets here and in Beijing have dedicated bicycle lanes, helping bike commuters to keep safe. Traffic cops are everywhere, making sure people obey the rules. These two cities also have world-class public transit systems, cheap, clean and efficient. As I write, Shanghai is in the process of building its fifth subway line, and a high speed rail line linking Beijing and Shanghai is almost complete. I admire the Chinese for their commitment to public and alternative transit. Our country would do well to follow their example.

People in Shanghai are friendly and surprisingly laid-back for a city so large. The locals love to snack, and there is a candy store or dumpling stand on practically every corner. Roasted chestnuts and baked yams are very popular too. Of course, the national drink of China is tea, but because Shanghai has a strong European influence, coffee is popular too. American fast food chains such as Mc Donald's and KFC are visible as well, but according to one person I spoke with are not as popular as they were when they first arrived around 20 years ago.

Shanghai is a major shopping destination for foreign tourists as well as people from other parts of China. Big shopping malls, small boutiques, and outdoor bazaars are all here. For sheer excitement, Shanghai can't be beat.

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