Spent the other weekend in Shanghai, (work related, no fun) and man is it crazy. I wrote the following about 11 years ago when I was last there.
Peace Hotel. Roof. Flag poles atop alabaster stone buildings lining the west bank of the Bund shudder in a November breeze. Not a single piece of cloth snaps. Poles themselves are rusted, paint peeling off like sun burned skin, ropes struggle to free themselves from the charade. In the past each of these building belonged to a different flag. A hidden radio still picks up news of Kuomintang victories and the boxer rebellion.
10:44 am. An eager bell sounds the toll, keen to have the job over with. The clock-tower is underscored by a thin shallow arc of laundry roped between pole and air-vent. Yellow tea-towels. Grey jocks. A pair of stiff brown socks: the unratified flag of humanity.
Up the street, the Shanghai Club is now a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's grand entrance, once filled with French perfumes, cigar-smoke rolled in Havana, Cognac and Champagne, is awash now in the heady aroma of the Colonel's eleven secret herbs and spices; the unmistakable fizz of Coca-Cola adding life.10:59 am. The clock issues a much more solemn note regarding the full hour. Sad almost in the racket that is Shanghai. A tug replies, mock mournfully, 'Is this what it's come to then?'
Other ferries chatter as they cross the dirty effluvia, towards the concrete apartment karsts rising from the re-educated swamps beyond the river. Much of Shanghai is floating, deaf beneath the torrent of air compressors and pneumatic drills: massive black pylon-drivers pounding foundation holes into the mud; taxi-drivers dead on their horns; grinders and drills and hammers slapping rusty iron rails; bone-dry brake-pads, screeching buses, trucks heavy with coal accelerating between clouds of bell wringing cyclists.
And, believe it or not, bird song, echoing up from the urban ravines.