Notebook from Shanghai, China |

Notebook from Shanghai, China

Dale Shrull
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A man writes Chinese words with water on a sidewalk, an ancient custom.

Note: Glenwood Springs Post Independent editor Dale Shrull is in China this week traveling with a group of close to 50 people on a tour offered by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. The information in this article comes from two tour guides, Chinese men named Jason and David. Many Chinese people also have an English name.

SHANGHAI, China – This is one of the four largest cities in the world including Mexico City, Tokyo and New York.

Twenty million people. Hard to even imagine that many people living in one city.

High-rise condominiums have thousands of families living in them. Traffic arteries are constantly clogged. Twelve subways, high-speed trains, thousands of buses, and millions of bicycles and scooters don’t seem to help. Oh, yeah, there are also 50,000 taxis in the city. Twenty million people trying to get from point A to point B – there’s no easy way.

It’s an ocean of skyscrapers, and air pollution hangs in the air like a fog. There are more than 3,000 high-rise buildings in the city including one that’s 101 stories high. Another one is planned to be 126 floors.

Huge smokestacks can be seen in the distance churning out the pollution from their industrial plants – steel, rubber, automobiles and more.

The city is a manufacturing mecca. Al kinds of manufacturing plants. Five automobiles are made in the city including Volkswagen, Honda and some GM models.

I really haven’t seen the sun much in the entire trip, and the closest I’ve been to blue sky is listening to an old Electric Light Orchestra song.

Shanghai is the heart of China’s financial district. Some of the world’s greatest wealth is transacted here in the city core. An area where buildings sprout from the earth thousands of feet straight up into the sky. China likes to do things bigger and grander than anyone. We saw that during the Olympics and the billions of dollars it poured into the preparations.

In the shadows of these towering financial institutions, where gigantic sums of money are being exchanged, are the street vendors and the common workers. Middle-aged men and aging, bent old men and women can be seen pushing or pulling delivery carts or pedaling cleaning bicycle carts. Carts stacked with lumber, water bottles, trash, propane gas and more.

The contrast is startling. This is so much more than the difference between blue collar and white collar workers. It’s closer to royalty and peasants.

That contrast between wealth and poverty seems to be a tidal wave of reality that’s now engulfing the country. The division of wealth is growing more and more.

A story in Monday’s newspaper said the annual income went up 8 percent to what would be $3,200 American dollars a year.

It’s hard to understand how people can live on so little. Then you see the BMW SUV cruise by and wonder how much money that person makes a year.

Capitalism has arrived, and it’s part of China’s present and future. Capitalism works very well in some areas and not so well in others. But some acquire great wealth.

In the midst of the BMWs, Mercedes, high-dollar suits and gaudy jewelry, there remains unfathomable poverty – even squalor.

Families who don’t want anything to do with the new and “improved” China live like they have for centuries. Many still live in the same tiny homes they have for countless generations. It’s a simple life they enjoy and embrace. It’s a life engraved in tradition. They love their homes, their neighborhoods and their way of life. A life that includes gathering to play cards, trade for goods and laugh at jokes and stories. A home where family is first.

There’s a powerful bond that seems to be unbreakable; however, there is one thing that is capable of snapping this grip on tradition.

Compared to some of the newly built areas of China, these neighborhoods look to be as poor as any in China. Dirt streets narrower than sidewalks, small matted dogs roam the area and most residents work manual labor jobs. Ghastly odors that have Americans picking up their pace to escape it. But it’s the traditions and their way of life that they hold tightly to, and it appears to make them rich in their happiness.

The home we visited was clean and well kept. The government wants to destroy many of these aging neighborhoods and build condominiums, but these people don’t want that. They want their lives to remain the same.

What is that one thing that will break these age-old traditions and way of life? Freedom.

Since 1986, the country has been fairly open to tourism. When the country opened to the rest of the world, the minds of the Chinese people also opened.

Communism is alive and well in the country of the red flag of five stars. But so is freedom. Not the kind that we enjoy of course, but it seems to be close. Some freedoms and the influence of the Western world have come to China.

Girls want name fashions to wear, boys have funky haircuts – modern television influences these young people much like America.

It’s obvious that the new generation and their obsession with these freedoms will have an immense impact on the future China.

Old family traditions will pass away. These youngsters love the new China and have little desire to return to the way of life their parents and grandparents lived.

Yes, Capitalism lives and prosperity has moved in to China. People now have the right to choose their own jobs and can change jobs if they wish. Workers work a 40-hour week but can get overtime if they wish. Men retire at 60, women at 55.

Seeking out better paying jobs is now the goal. Education is readily available. They even teach English in school from the third grade.

The dreams of the Chinese have changed dramatically.

Thirty years ago, Chinese people dreamed of possessing three things: a bicycle, a watch and a sewing machine. As decades passed, so did the dreams. It progressed to wanting a refrigerator and a washing machine. Then a TV, then a better job. Today, things like computers, cell phones, nice clothes and a college education are all part of the Chinese dream.

It sounds familiar.

Entrepreneur has arrived. People can own their own business, homes and materialistic things.

Communism doesn’t allow complete freedom and the choking pollution and other things are due to zero government regulations. The government eliminates competition and it will never allow capitalism to completely take money away from the government.

I’m not familiar with how everyday residents are impacted by the communist rule, but compared to the iron-fisted rule of Mao, today’s China is shockingly and surprisingly open with freedoms now available to people that were not present a short time back.

Under Mao ( the founder of the People’s republic of China) only three colors were allowed – red, black and white.

Today, it’s an oasis of neon, where a rainbow of flashing neon and huge lights basks the city night with light.

The dreams have changed for the people of China. Freedom and capitalism will never completely conquer communism, but it has given the people a much different outlook on the future.

For the Olympics, China had the slogan “One World, One Dream.” After nearly a week observing the people of China, it’s not a bad slogan, and actually it might just be less about propaganda and more about reality.

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