I spent nearly two weeks recently in Asia, most of it in Shanghai.
I've heard the saying "If you haven't been to Shanghai in the past six months you haven't been to Shanghai..." which is intended to underscore the speed with which the city continues to morph into a grander, larger, more skyscraper-filled version of itself. I had not been to Shanghai for three years, but I still recognized much of what I saw. However, the Pudong area of the city, which has become the financial center of the city, is new. And it is all impressive.
What I love most about Shanghai, though, is the French Concession, which has changed a great deal since I first saw it a couple of decades ago. Now it is difficult to find several blocks in a row that still exude the charm of the days when the French ran the place and lived there in colonial splendor. It still has many blocks where the French Plane trees hang in lovely arches over the street. But many of the spots I treasured when I was there last are now part of the totally hip, seriously urban chic enclave that had taken over. Every clothing brand worth anything at all is there. And coffee house (yes, Hello Starbucks). And Tshirt stores.
Shanghai is on the make and it is evident in the breathtaking architecture (height appears to be revered) and the sense of transactional commerce that pervades the place. It's great fun in that you are aware of people who are newly (as in the last generation or so) ambitious and are serious about making their mark in a global world where they see possibility and opportunity all around them. They want to succeed and they want to flaunt their success, which means the designer brands do well here. And so do the copycats of those designer brands.
People light up when I say I am from New York City. But not in a way that displays envy; more in a way that displays a sense of knowing sophistication, a sense that New York, like Shanghai, is a wondrous place. No inferiority complex here. The people of Shanghai treat their City as the center of the universe and, in some ways, they are right. It represents China's appetite for growth, for commercial success, for wealth. And they are ambitious to have all of that for their own. Not so much a Westernized version of wealth. A chinese version of wealth, whatever that means.