One of the first things that struck me (thankfully not literally) when I first got to Shanghai was the insane amount of construction going on all around the city. One couldn’t walk a block, it seemed, without encountering a construction site, its bamboo scaffolding as ubiquitous as Haibao plush toys on the streets of Shanghai. Then I found out that was exactly it: the city’s buildings and infrastructure are getting a major facelift in preparation for the World Expo due to begin May 1, 2010. That was why, back in September, my Mom and I found the Bund–arguably Shanghai’s most famous tourist site–out of bounds, and why, back in September, practically every apartment we looked at overlooked–or was part of–a noisy, dusty construction site. (If they’re doing ‘improvement work’ but not building anything, is it still called a construction site? Pardon my lack of knowledge of the field.)
So imagine my glee when we landed a nice, cheap apartment in a quiet, relatively old low-rise compound on the grounds of the university where I was enrolled for the semester. I would spend a long day out, passing by buildings consumed by those almost parasitic bamboo rods, scurrying under scaffolding and praying that it wouldn’t suddenly decide to collapse on me, and gaze with wide-eyed wonder at construction sites that were still active in 10pm darkness. But then I’d return to the comfort of my compound and be thankful for the tranquility it offered.
I thought we would escape the insanity. I thought we were safe, hidden and protected by the mother’s arms of a respected university. When I started witnessing clean-up campaigns in my community, I thought “oh, how nice!”, never suspecting that the government had a hand in it.
How foolish! How naive! What wishful thinking! (I should’ve known that everything that happens around here is marked with the government’s handprint.)
A few weeks ago the lengths of bamboo started appearing. In rolled the trucks, the noise, the hard hats. On my way to and from class, I began to see more and more workers, and more and more long-time residents standing outside, watching their home of 20-odd years being quickly and efficiently consumed from bottom up by dry bamboo flames. I took some pictures.
I watched as the building north of ours fell prey to the same process, and then as the building south of ours encountered the same fate. Large red banners were draped over the scaffolding, apologizing in yellow writing for any inconvenience caused and asking for our patience and support (or something to that effect). Notices started appearing on the front door of my building. It would only be a matter of time before our turn.
Sure enough, we felt the first tickle of movement on Saturday. A long-lasting and immobilizing hangover allowed me only brief observation from my bedroom and kitchen windows, but it was quite clear to me what was happening. I snapped a photo or two the next day:
And waited. All the other buildings were covered head to toe in bamboo, but ours had barely reach the sixth (topmost, my) floor. I needn’t have worried, though, for today was the big day! The envelopment was complete. We locked our windows. I took some more pictures from the kitchen:
My downstairs neighbor informed me that this was to last through December into the new year. Unfortunately, due to my subpar Chinese skills, I was not able to find out—either through her or the notices—what exactly they’re planning to do here. I did gather from those notices, though, that this all is being done to welcome in next year’s Expo, and if we’ll kindly excuse the small inconvenience for the greater good of our city/nation.
As if anyone important—or just anyone, for that matter—coming to see the Expo is going to pay a visit to our compound, or would have found its prior condition unacceptable. The Expo has long become Shanghai’s excuse to do anything and everything, for better or for worse.