Catching Up

…aaaand we’re back. Having been strangely disconnected but also overly wired during the recent Global Voices Summit in Santiago de Chile, the jetlag from my 33-hour journey has passed and the waves of information I received have settled. So, while I still may be catching up with what’s shaking, …in Shanghai is no longer dormant. Below are a just a few fruits of my ‘labour’.
  • The Taixing kindergarten attacker, Xu Yuyuan, was found guilty of intentional homicide and sentenced to death after a half-day open trial on Sunday. Xu’s attack injured 29 children and three teachers, but killed no-one. He admitted to the court his motive was to vent his rage against Chinese society.
  • Reuters has also reported that six Chinese women were injured in a cleaver attack at a market in Foshan, Guangdong on Sunday. Their attacker then killed himself by jumping from a building. None of the victims died.
  • This post by Andrew Browne at the WSJ’s China Real Time Report draws parallels between Thailand and China’s social polarisation. The current turmoil in Bangkok resonates also in Beijing, Browne says, with China’s leaders fearing similar actions that could threaten social and government stability and entrench China’s societal divides.
  • The Guardian and The Telegraph have both looked into the pressures of working life and vulnerability of the young employees at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant, where seven suicides among workers aged between 18 and 24 have recently occurred. Reasons offered to understand the spate range from the extreme pressures factory workers are under to a lack the resilience amongst younger generations to cope with them.
  • Gome Electronic tycoon Huang Guangyu was today sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for insider trading and other offences. Having been detained in November 2008, he had reportedly been accused of manipulating share prices.
  • China Daily has reported that loopholes in the country’s tax system is widening the already grave income gap. Following an investigation carried out in Anhui, Liaoning and Hunan, small- and medium-sized enterprises were found to be struggling with heavy tax burdens, which larger companies have become more adept at evading.
  • Finally, the BBC World Service has begun a documentary series on soft power with an episode on China. To listen, click here.
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A foodie’s nightmare: Shanghai edition

Wujiang Lu in happier times

Food, glorious food. It’s the easiest way to my heart. I grew up in a house where eating was an institution: dinners would be loud, discursive, collective and never half-hearted. Food was to be enjoyed and savoured, not feared or dismissed.

So, unsurprisingly, one of the highlights of my last few months in Shanghai has been the divine grub the city has to offer. From the street vendors selling succulent pork buns and meat skewers to 3 kuai xiao long bao houses, the tantalising smells of the peppery frog and sweet roast duck restaurants beneath our apartment to the hairy crabs that have been delighting our icy winter, and the 6 kuai hole-in-the-wall steaming noodle places to the smoke filled restaurants filled with simple dishes and drinking games, this city has it all. Without it, I’d be a lost cause in this town.

Which is why I screamed a shrieking WTF?!! to my flatmates upon reading this on Shanghaiist earlier today. One of Shanghai’s signature food streets, Wujiang Lu, will be completely demolished and relocated into a “sanitised mall-like environment” for the Expo by Chinese New Year in February.

… (pause for roar).

Wujiang Lu is a beacon of light in central Shanghai, with its shopping malls on overdrive and barrage of Western brands at every corner. Yes, 6″ meatball subs are nice, but nothing beats a box of jiao zi for 5 kuai (although I’ve not gone through half a dumpling without the roof of my mouth being scalded) or a couple of juicy lamb skewers for 6 kuai. While there are other food streets, such as the fantastic Yunnan Lu with its steamed chicken and sesame balls aplenty, losing Wujiang Lu still cuts out a chunk of one of the city’s simplest and best offerings in a perfectly central location, both in principle and practice.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Shanghai has no shortage of malls. Given a history of abject poverty, an obsession with consumerism is hardly surprising or unjust. But it is still unsettling to see hordes of crowds hang around Wujiaochang (my local) on the weekends, and the enormous queues outside Haagen Dasz and Starbucks, whilst cultural activities cost a bombshell and bookshops are few and far between. Materialism hasn’t really had the chance to mature or pace itself among the nouveau riche, but that is perfectly understandable.

The bottom line is that it’s sad that simple pleasures, like street food, have to be wiped out to make room for ‘sanitised’ consumerism ahead of the Expo. Paul French, from China Rhyming, says

it’s symptomatic of the people-unfriendly environment being constructed – a spa for the rich, a hotel for the rich, an office building for the rich suits and not even an attempt at a park!! (…) We truly do live in an age that has lost all sense of style and taste.

I guess during times like these I can be glad I live out in the sticks, on a street with a million hole-in-the-walls, each filled with several colonies of roaches, and where I’m often the only white woman sat fumbling with chopsticks. But, Christ, the niu rou mian is a dreamboat and sets me back 70p.

That’s my kinda China.