When I visited for the first time in 1989, Shanghai was looking ragged. The city had largely been built by European colonists during the nineteenth century, but it had not been well maintained through a century of political upheaval. Depending on the district, you could easily imagine yourself in one of the seedier neighborhoods of Paris or London, Berlin or Brooklyn. The east bank of the Huangpu River was still undeveloped.
Each time I went back to Shanghai, the city looked different. Here and there, skyscrapers began rising above the expanse of two-storied tile-roofed houses. An army of workers, equipped with little more than pickaxes and wheelbarrows, dug up Huaihai Road and built the city's first subway line. One by one, the old buildings of the colonial concessions were restored to their original grandeur. And the wasteland of Pudong gave birth to the twenty-first-century skyline that has come to symbolize the economic miracle of China.
During my five-month sabbatical, I will be observing everyday life in this dynamic city. I will also be interacting with its people, trying to understand life in this rapidly changing country and how the Chinese view their relationship with the rest of the world. Although I will consider cultural differences, I will mostly be searching for the commonalities of human existence that bind us all together. Shortly after my February 20 arrival, I will begin posting twice a week. I hope you will join me as I experience the China perspective.