Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Live from Suzhou

I'm writing this from the back of a taxi, I'll post it later today. It's Wednesday morning and I'm en route to another interview at one of Shanghai's universities.

I had a chance to see some of the areas around Shanghai yesterday. My contact for one of the stories picked me up yesterday in the morning in a Buick minivan and we hit the road, visiting some of his company's operations. You can get around pretty fast here, compared to India where you're always dodging cows. The posted speed limit on the superhighways is 120 km.

In the afternoon we ended up in a city called Suzhou in Jiangsu province, which borders on Shanghai municipality. The place had a heavy Singaporean influence (there's a chunk of land cordoned off that is actually considered Singapore territory, so products can be moved through and qualify as exports and imports for tax purposes).

The Chinese have built a sprawling grid network of four and six lane roadways, perfectly manicured with lush grasses and trees down either side. They still look brand new because they're hardly used. You could stand at one of the intersections, look each way and not see any cars. The idea seems to be: if we build it, they will come.

In fact there are dozens upon dozens of tall apartment buildings erected or under construction in that area. Yet from what I could tell hardly any of them were lived in. Developers put them up either in anticipation of the swelling middle-class, which could show great foresight, or to feed the frenzied real estate speculators. It's probably a bit of both.

We went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and stuffed ourselves with Fajitas. Nice change of pace. The owner is apparently a former Boeing executive who didn't want to leave China when he was ordered to transfer back to the US.

I also got a chance to visit a Pagoda in downtown Suzhou. I was snapping shots of what I thought was a roaring lion statue honouring a fat Buddha figure nearby, until our driver told me it was actually a garbage can.

We ended up back at the Mexican place for flan and margaritas and to continue our chat. A three-piece band was on stage. We were the only ones there so they invited us up to sing. I belted out Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, with Chilean back up singers and a Filipino guitarist.

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