Travelling is freedom - Basti´s global journeys

What Happens When Socialism Meets Capitalism

Hey guys

We are still in Shanghai and plan on staying here until Sunday night, when we will take the night train to Beijing. Since the last time I wrote to you Shanghai´s skyline seen at sunset from Shanghai, we have done a lot of stuff and had 4 days full of impressions.

5000 skyscrapers

On Tuesday we visited some of Shanghai’s most important sights. One of the biggest and best museums in Shanghai is the urban planning museum (what a surprise) which features the history of the metropolis along with a lot of insight on today’s development. Probably the most amazing thing is an entire floor which is dedicated to a model of the inner city.

When you look around the city you will never be able to look further than a few kilometres, which still allows you to see a lot of skyscrapers, however, only when watching this model the real dimensions of this city became visible to me. Moreover, I read that Shanghai currently has 3000 skyscrapers (by definition a building higher than 100 metres) and is planning to build 2000 more, including an 830 metre high tower. I mean apart of these statistics, it is amazing from an architectural point of view. I am not into design and architecture at all, but the variety of shapes, colours One of the many reminders throughout the city of who holds power and appearances of all these buildings really struck me. You will see it on the pictures; it just so nice to walk around the city and look at all these buildings.

The communist rule over China

After this museum we went to the founding site of the communist party of china. At the beginning of the 19th century, China started to industrialize and with it more and more people moved to the urban areas. This led to a rapidly increasing proletariat and was the grounds for the communist party. So in 1921 a group of revolutionaries (2 Russian and the rest Chinese, among them Mao) met in shanghai and founded the communist party. Even if they only managed to actually attain power in 1949 this site is very important for today’s china.

What I have realised here is that this country can only persist if the people believe in it. Today’s generation has not lived the revolution, knows Mao only from pictures and (especially in Shanghai) knows that this is not the only way of governing a country. Even with an authoritarian rule, it The first headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party is close to impossible to prevent people from spreading and circulating information and increasing modernisation and development goes hand in hand with liberal aspirations.

So how does the politburo manage to keep this country together? In my eyes they are trying to uphold a greater picture, one in which a mass murderer (the greatest in history along with Stalin) is perceived as a hero. One in which every citizen sees himself as part of a society which manages to challenge the west. All of this is only possible by educating the population in a way that is biased and to subject it to propaganda for their entire lives.

In the founding site this became obvious. I mean for me it was absolutely great to see how the ideas of a philosopher I am thoroughly studying (Karl Marx, I am reading the Capital right now) are implemented, or better manipulated, for the cause of governing a state. The phrases they use on posters, information boards and everywhere are basically copied from the communist manifesto or other Marx texts. Wherever you are here, you can see how the government is ensuring that the population not only adheres to these ideals, but actually believes them.

The most senseless jobs in the world

Shanghai has an important role in this regard. I mean why are they building the highest buildings on the planet, why do they have the fastest train The epic struggle of the working class on the planet, why did they hold the Expo for which a huge area was constructed and then just left? Because it provides the government with a visible, if only superficial, prove of China’s power.

On a smaller scale one thing that I thought was that this system can only work as long as people are happy with it, therefore they need to work. I asked myself, how would it be possible to employ over a billion people in a system that is opening up to privatisation and competitive markets. I don’t have the answer yet; however, I can provide you with my top three examples of most unnecessary jobs I have ever seen to illustrate my point. Number 3: First one: when you enter a highway in China, similar to Italy, you have to pass a checkpoint and get a ticket. When you leave the highway, depending on how far you travelled, you have to pay for it at another checkpoint. In other countries this is always done by machines. Ok, you could have someone at the checkout to ensure that the money is paid correctly. But here you even have them at the entrance. This is a common sight in Shanghai, I do not really know why This person has one job and one task only: hand out a magnetic ticket to every car passing by. That’s it. Every day. All his life.

Number 2: right here in the building we stay in, the doors at the entrance are automatic. When you exit you have to press a button 2 metres before the door and then they will open. There is one person, at least during the day, whose job it is to press that button. I mean a door opener is common (and unnecessary) in other countries. But this person is literally only pressing a button, not even opening a door. All day, every day.

And my favourite one so far: when we went to the Hyatt hotel in the skyscraper, the one which starts on the 56th floor, the hotel hired several people who have an interesting task: pointing to the next elevator that will open up. Just imagine the scene. There are 5 elevators, you are waiting for one. A red light illuminates anyway above the one which will open first. But these people will nevertheless point to that door and wait in that position until it opens up. Every day, all day.

To me this seems crazy but rational at the same time. I mean these jobs are arguably better than no job. But I wonder why companies hire such Shark in a club, standard! people? Do they get subsidies from the state for it? I doubt it. So I don’t understand the economic incentive of companies.

Sharks in a club

To talk about something completely different. On Tuesday we decided to go clubbing. Well in the end we did go to a bar/club to watch FC Bayern Munich’s amazing 2-0 bash against Marseille. The clubbing was not that spectacular, however, the booze we drank definitely was. I mean when I go to a foreign country I try everything, everything they have to offer. This includes spirits. I knew that in China it would have been rough and the stories I heard were not the best. Nevertheless, we decided to go Chinese style and bought Chinese beer, which has around 17 percent and tastes absolutely disgusting. And to buy rise wine, which is actually not wine but has between 45% and 55% and is the cheapest option here. A half a litre bottle costs around 70 pence. But guys, I underestimated it. I mean the Laolao we drank in Laos
was high quality premium liquor compared to this. You cannot drink this. We did still, but the next day we felt so so so horrible. From now on I think we will skip that bit, or go for better alcohol, which is very very expensive though because of the insane import taxes.

With regards to clubbing: yesterday we decided to do it properly and we went to one of the many fancy clubs in Shanghai, the Mint. Whoever has been here will tell you about these over the top clubs, but when I went there I still couldn’t believe it. Fancy has to be redefined here. Here it Shanghai at night seen from one of the clubs means a club on the 28th floor with a 15 meter long shark tank at the entrance (yes real sharks…). You had to register in advance and can only enter into the Mint this way. You don’t pay anything for entrance or wardrobe, but if you want to drink something, which we didn’t, prices start at 30-40€ per drink.

Inside, Chinese huge bouncers everywhere. The music is kind of the same as in Europe, the people just posh expats. I reckon that half of the women were hookers, mostly models. Very fancy interiors with stones and dark wood integrated everywhere. What struck me was that you are observed all the time. There are bouncers (and Chinese bouncers are slightly more frightening then Europeans) every 5 metres and they watch you. CCTV everywhere. Once Anne went on an elevated platform to dance, I obviously followed, I mean if you party you do it right. The moment I got there, 2 of the bouncers came immediately pointing with their torches on me and telling me to get the fuck down again. Apparently You can tell why they call it Chinese Venice only women are allowed to dance where everyone can see… Well it was quite fun and a good experience, but only to see the other side of the spectrum (on the opposite end I guess stands the Roxy).

Chinese Venice

Yesterday we did something very nice. Allen brought us to Zhujiajiao, which is a town full of channels and partially built on water. It’s the “Chinese Venice”. Even though it is incredibly touristy, mostly Chinese, it was still quite nice to wander around those alleys and walk along the water. There are no cars inside the protected area and Chinese “Gondollieri” ship tourists through the channels. However, it was very expensive and we didn’t see that much, but we had some nice local specialties, which tasted, well, interesting.

Big plans

Way more interesting is our upcoming plan for the next weeks. On Sunday we will take the night train to Beijing, which is the capital of China and way less westernized than Shanghai. It will be a touristy visit, as we do not have a lot of time and will mainly focus on the main sites, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, emperor’s residence and so on. To visit the great wall we decided not to go where everyone goes, as we heard that the Heavy stuff that TV tower closest spots to Beijingare insanely crowded, with cable cars, tourist stands on the wall and so on. That is why we want to go to a small village 3 hours northeast of Beijing which apparently allows you to get the image everyone has of the great wall. Well, we will see.

Then we planned on doing 7500km in 10 days with a train. To put this into context, this would be like saying in London: ok guys, let’s go to Delhi by train in the next 10 days…. We had all heard of China’s southern province, Yunnan, which is supposed to be amazing and I have a travel friend who lives in its capital, Kunming. I got in touch with him but apparently this once laidback region is now in reach of Chinese middle class tourists and has changed its face in the last years. For this reason we are currently changing and adjusting plans and now want to go to Sichuan, north of Yunnan, famous for its tea culture and spicy food. I found this one city, which does not have a railway connection or a domestic airport and is very small for Chinese standard (meaning only 500000 inhabitants). This will be a shot in the dark, but the hope is that we will see an actually real Chinese, laid back city, where white people don’t go. Well, we will see, plans are made to direct an idea, not to be followed.

That’s it for now guys. We are enjoying our last days in the mega metropolis Shanghai, a city of contrasts where you live in a 38 floor skyscraper with a spa and go eating opposite in a run down eatery for 1 dollar…

The next mail will probably be from Beijing.

Speak to you soon

Zai Tien


One Response to What Happens When Socialism Meets Capitalism

  1. […] am now in Beijing, China ’s capital. Since the last time I wrote from Shanghai we have changed our plans several times and have to keep on adjusting them thanks to all the […]

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