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City with a past moves into the future
by Glenda Winders
In many places, the city's rich history bumps up against modern industry and technology. Austere Stalinist architecture reminiscent of China's close ties with Russia during the Communist Revolution is rivaled by such ultra-modern edifices as the Shanghai Science and Technology Exhibition, where 18 different areas teach visitors about the natural sciences and technology.
Because of the vast and ever-growing population, a magnetic levitation rail system is under construction that will alleviate the gridlock expected in 2010. Home of NBA star Yao Ming, the city boasts 500 basketball courts and 280 soccer fields. Life expectancy has reached that of fully developed countries, and drinkable tap water - today unavailable anywhere in China - will become a reality by 2008. This is truly a city on the move.
The museum isn't the only building in Shanghai to employ the principles of Chinese geomancy in its architecture. The Hongkou Soccer Stadium is built to resemble a Chinese money-saving box with an opening in the roof to allow good health to come in from heaven. The sword-shaped Jin Mao Tower is surrounded by round buildings to mitigate its sharp edges. When I asked a local if architects were influenced by feng shui, she explained that the communist government frowns on superstition and religion. Then, her voice lowered, she said, "Having said that, we ARE Chinese."
As Beijing is known for its cloisonne and Xi'an for its pottery, Shanghai is famous for its silk, so any attempt to know the city must include a visit to a silk factory. My tour included a stop at the Tian Hou Silk Co. and a real education about how silk is made. We began by watching how silk is extracted from the cocoons of silkworms and spun into threads. Then we progressed to a room where groups of four workers stretched wads of silk into large filmy squares that would eventually become clothing, comforters and other household items. Naturally there was a showroom filled with silk items for visitors to purchase and take home.
In another area of the factory, workers wove the silk threads into rugs by hand. Our guide explained that small fingers and good eyesight are qualifications for the job, with most workers being women between the ages of 18 and 45. An intricate design can take up to 18 months to complete, and the rugs are said to last at least 75 years.
Shanghai is also the largest center for Chinese acrobats. At the Shanghai Center Theater, we saw a show that would rival any Western production. Teenagers and young adults performed backbends and contortionist maneuvers that seemed physically impossible. In one display a young woman balanced a crystal chandelier on her midriff while doing her act. In another several acrobats stood on their hands atop a precariously balanced stack of chairs.
Cultural training begins early in Shanghai.
"Chinese want children to develop morally, intellectually and physically," Zheng said.
On our last day in Shanghai, we took a walk through the Jing An Park near our hotel. Even this serene, manicured green space was alive with activity. Large groups of men and women practiced tai chi and qi gong. Others walked, jogged and bicycled.
"They're open-minded and well-educated," he said. "They do it. They achieve."
IF YOU GO
We traveled with Pacific Delight Tours ( www.pacificdelighttours.com or 800-221-7179). They were one of the first groups to provide tours of China, and their guides are among the most knowledgeable.
Glenda Winders is the editorial director for Copley News Service.
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