I went to Shanghai two weekends ago for an alumni event and also to see a friend who lives there (who is also an alumnus). I was there for only a weekend, which isn’t nearly enough time to see the whole city, but I do have a few items to share.
I begin with a map of the financial district, which is where the alumni event was held and is also where I stayed:
Notice the red path that terminates in a ring near the center of the picture. This is an elevated walkway. Below is a photo of the walkway’s ring from the side:
The area around the walkway is apparently something of a tourist attraction, as evidenced by the hundreds of tourists strolling around. I myself walked along the walkway and took photos from it. Below are two such photos taken on a sunny Saturday and a hazy Sunday:
Some distinct features of the above photos are the orange umbrellas situated on the elevated walkway. These umbrellas mark stands that sell photos:
Careful observers may notice that some of the photos I took have a sci-fi rocket ship in the background. I’ll discuss the rocket ship in a later post.
The alumni event itself was fine. The speakers were interesting, there were lots of chances to chat, and the food was good. Aside from meeting a bunch of people and seeing my friend there, I also ran into one of the members of my company’s board of directors. We had a nice conversation and went to a breakout session together. (From this I could perhaps tell a story about social capital, but I won’t do that here.)
I didn’t take very many photos at the alumni event, but I did take this one photo of a loquat:
For those unfamiliar, loquat is a Chinese fruit that isn’t common in the US. Loquat has similar taste and texture to peach. Compared to peaches, loquats are generally a little less sweet, are smaller, and have a higher pit-to-flesh ratio. A loquat pit, by the way, consists of several seeds:
The above photo shows the remains of the first loquat I’d eaten in about 15 years.
My parents’ old house had a loquat tree that I remember eating fruit from. The fruit from my parents’ tree was a little different from the loquats that I ate at the alumni event, though. Just as peaches come in fuzzy and non-fuzzy varieties (non-fuzzy peaches being called nectarines), loquats can be fuzzy or non-fuzzy as well. My parents’ tree gave fuzzy fruit, while the loquats at the alumni event were non-fuzzy (loquat nectarines, I guess).
As an aside, when I first started eating loquats at the event, I ate the skins, but then some other folks at the event told me that you’re not supposed to eat the skin, so I stopped. I don’t remember if I ate the skin of the loquats from my parents’ tree.
I went with my friend to a hip area of the city and visited a speakeasy-style bar whose schtick was that it had a barbershop store front. I asked for a hair cut, but the guy said that they only cut hair during the day. I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
There was a hidden lever in the back that opened up a door to the bar part. (Notice the English in the photo. Hip areas of Chinese cities tend to have a lot of English.)
The bar itself was much the same as the speakeasy-style bars I’d been to in the US. The idea of a US-style speakeasy in Shanghai is a little funny because Shanghai wasn’t really involved in Prohibition. Al Capone was thousands of miles away, and China’s temperance movement died out thousands of years ago. My friend suggested that this bar might instead be hearkening back to sketchy bars in the Warlord Era, but I have my doubts.
I participated in a mixer the day after the main alumni event. I won’t go into the (not super-interesting) details, but I will summarize a some of my main impressions in listicle form. These impressions refer both to the main alumni event and also to the mixer. You won’t believe what weird things happened at this cocktail party in Shanghai!
- Shanghai is a financial city. The great majority of the people I met worked in finance or related areas. Private equity and consulting were very popular career choices. It was a little weird to be, in most conversations, the person with by far the most technical background, since I was on the squishier end of things in my department in grad school.
- I interacted with a very different demographic of ethnic Chinese people than I’m used to interacting with.
- Most of the people that I met had not studied science or engineering. This is perhaps consistent with the first bullet point.
- Most attendees, even considering only middle-aged and older people, didn’t have a PhD. Most of the ones who did have a PhD actually lived in the US and were visiting Shanghai for business.
- I’ve seen people joke that America is run by lawyers and financiers, while China is run by engineers. That may have been the case in the recent past, but going by what I saw at the alumni event, this is not likely to continue into the future. Assuming that China’s future leaders will be drawn from young people like the ones I met at the alumni event and mixer, China’s elite will look quite similar to America’s in 20 years’ time.
- My years-long campaign to improve my schmoozing abilities appears to have had some effect, but I still need more practice to be able to really work a room.
- I had a very interesting conversation with a Freudian (!) psychotherapist. She said that psychotherapy is growing in popularity in China, which is consistent with an Evan Osnos article that I read some time ago. She said that Rogerian/Postmodern/Humanist approaches were most popular, but was a little dismissive of them, saying that these approaches were popular mostly because of low cost (she described them as cookie-cutter and very easy/cheap to do), not because of effectiveness. She also said that cognitive-behavioral therapy (in her view, moderately effective and moderately costly) was second in popularity after R/P/H, and that Freudian therapy (in her view, the most effective but most resource-intensive of the three main psychotherapeutic approaches) was gaining traction among patients who could afford it.
I also visited the Bund, which is a waterfront district that was built under foreign influence and has history going back to the pre-republican period. The Bund is a major Shanghai tourist attraction, and in this way it is perhaps analogous to San Francisco’s Pier 39 or New York’s Battery Park. Among other things, it provides nice views of the city skyline:
Taken in total, the visit was worthwhile. Because two days wasn’t enough time to explore, I’ll probably go again at some point.