Report from China: January 16—Shanghai

Our business visit this morning took us eastward across the Huangpu River on a 45-minute drive to Pudong’s business district. Of Shanghai’s 23 million residents, about 13 mn live west of the river (Puxi) and 10 mn on the eastern side (Pudong). Travel across the river is now facilitated by 7 tunnels and 6 bridges! Enroute, our local guide Jack noted that 25 years ago Pudong was largely vegetable gardens and pig farms. Today this highly-developed area challenges Hong Kong as the financial center of East Asia.

Our destination, International Exhibition and Trading Center of Wine and Beverages, is where we met Wanny Zhang, who was to describe in general terms the work of this state-owned business. In the most general terms, the objective of the center, established in 2008 and now comprising some 80 members worldwide, is to help foreign distilleries and breweries access the Chinese market—a market that has grown in the last few years by a remarkable 50% annually.

Our next stop was the Shanghai Joysun Group Company, a private-sector establishment featuring logistical support to local and foreign companies engaged in importing and exporting. My impression was that Joysun services of particular value to its customers include speedy processing of trade documents, efficient collection of import and export taxes and handling of foreign exchange transactions associated with international trade.

After a nice lunch in the Bund area, we moved to what Jack called “Shanghai’s China Town”—an area restored to traditional Chinese structures with upswept roof lines, wood construction painted in Chinese red, etc. Today, in anticipation of Chinese New Year just a week away, the area was richly decorated with red and yellow paper lanterns and a huge, bright yellow, inflatable dragon in a large patio area. A major feature of the area was the wide variety of Chinese fast food items ranging from tasty custard-based pastries, to beef stew with meat cut from the head of steer on view in a large kettle nearby, to a particular type of dumpling for which Shanghai seemed to be well known.

Jack led us up three flights of stairs to an ornate “tea house” where two young ladies demonstrated for us the traditonal “tea ceremony”—the ritualistic art of preparing and serving tea to a cultured clientele!

Down the street we visited a Daoist Temple. Daoism is the only religion indigenous to China. Jack informed us that Daoism is the origin of the “ying” and “yang” mindset—the perception that virtually all of reality can be classified as either ying and yang and that a peaceful existence requires a careful balancing of this two forces. He also noted that the 12 signs of the zodiac have their origins in Daoism. Today the temple courtyard had a number of devotees burning incense and prostrating themselves before the several deities at different locations throughout the temple area. Young Daoist priests, each with the traditional black tri-cornered hat, were reading scriptures or, in one case, honing his musical skills on a traditonal two-stringed instrument. One of the dominant features of the temple area was the sizeable array of figures, many of them life-size, depicting various key personalities in the panoply of the Daoist faith.

Jim from Shanghai