Thursday, September 08, 2005

An Unendangered Animal

China is home to many animals that are on the brink of extinction: the Siberian tiger, the giant panda, the Siberian crane and the red-crowned crane to name but a few. There is, however, one species of crane that is very common throughout China: the common construction crane (as well as two minor subspecies, the skyscraper crane and the container crane). There is not a town in China that doesn't have at least one specimen, although their breeding ground seems to be here on the east coast, especially Shanghai.

Shanghai is a fascinating city. A sleepy, backwater fishing village just 150 years ago, the Europeans turned it into China's economic powerhouse and the world's busiest port. The vestiges of European domination can still be seen in the neo-classical and art-deco buildings that dot the city, especially the riverfront Bund, the erstwhile British jewel of Shanghai. The city was also a synonym for gambling, prostitution and opium dens, and so fell out of favour during Mao's communist tenure. But seeing as vice is now the flavour of the month Shanghai's back in business. The city's new renaissance is starkly represented by the Pudong area, which mirrors the Bund across the Huangpu river. There the architecture is more modern and definitely more hit-and-miss. The most striking being the Oriental Pearl Tower, which would give Prince Charles an apoplectic fit. But aesthetics aside, Shanghai has advanced dramatically in the last couple of decades (not that I was here 20 years ago, but I've seen before and after pictures).

I suppose that's one benefit of an autocratic state: there's far less discussion and pussyfooting about; when they want something done it gets done. Plus they don't have to worry about pestering NIMBYs and BANANAs interminably holding things up. Two construction projects demonstrate this particularly well: the maglev train that connects the city to the airport and the new deep water port. The maglev train is the fastest in the world and takes only 7 minutes to take its passengers the 30km to the airport, reaching a top speed of 431 km/h as it does so. (It's a German train, but they never managed to build it at home due to constant wranglings about cost and environmental impact.) Well, seeing as I'm here I had to go, so I bought myself a one-way ticket and then took the bus back into town (I wasn't willing to fork out the extra $4 to go back on it!). The deep water port is probably more impressive, but impossible to get to. As there aren't any suitable sites for a port on the coast the government has decided to build one on a cluster of tiny islets ... 30km out to sea! And they've got a road bridge going all the way out there.

No comments: