Monday, October 12, 2009

[Travelogue] Holy freakin' cow, that's fast!

We're in Shanghai, a city whose history should be required study for all those who advocate lassez-faire capitalism. In the 1920's and 30's that's pretty much what there was here, and it wasn't pretty. There's a reason that "Shanghai", like "Google", became a verb.

Today there is again Capitalism in Shanghai, but it isn't lassez-faire, and it isn't called capitalism, it's called "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Whatever you call it, it has produced dramatic change. The city is divided in half by the Huangpu river. Old Shanghai is on one side. New Shanghai, which until 20 years go or so what nothing but rice paddies, is on the other. In less than two decades a fully fledged modern city has risen like a phoenix from the marshes.

The speed of Shanghai's development is captured in concentrated microcosm in one of its tourist attractions, the maglev train, which runs from the center of the new city to the airport, a distance of some 20 miles. It puts the Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) to shame, at least in terms of raw speed. It covers that distance in exactly seven minutes and twenty seconds, reaching a top speed of 430 km/hr, about 260 mph. (It once hit 501 km/hr in a test run.) We got to ride it yesterday, and boy is it fast. I got a video, though unfortunately I won't be able to upload it until we get home because it's much to big. When you watch the video it looks like it's playing in fast-motion, but it's not. It's real time. At one point on the run the two trains traveling in opposite directions pass each other. It takes less than one second for one train to pass the full length of the other. You can feel the shock wave coming off the oncoming train as it passes. It almost feels like you've collided with something. "Don't blink or you'll miss it" is more than an aphorism on the maglev.

Today we spent the day exploring the older part of the city, and that was quite the adventure. Tomorrow we're going to see the nearby town of Zhujiajao, which is called China's Venice. More about old Shanghai later. Right now we're off to see the famous Shanghai Acrobats.

No comments: