Another day of the new Chinese century begins. I blink awake in darkness and with scrambled time zones and dulled senses, I hit the streets. In the hours before dawn, kites dangle blinking and flashing UFO lights in the dark sky. That most Chinese of sounds, the deep throat clearing haaaaawk fills the air. It is accompanied by bellows of conversations, blaring tinny music, taxi horns and the rumble of coal barges heading up the Huangpu River’s murky waters.
Across the river, the old tallest building in China (c. 1998) stands dwarfed by the recent tallest building in China (c. 2008), but both look positively quaint beside the rising new tallest building in China. I’ve come in part to update my image files of the city skyline, but like a lot of things, I can’t tell if I’m early to the party or late.
A crescent moon rises and the skies begins to lighten, and soon traffic springs to swerving, honking, chaotic life. It quickly achieves its default setting: Gridlock.
Along the river’s cement promenade, a pensioner unfolds hand-crafted and beautifully painted kites in the form of eagles. He heaves one skyward in the morning light, slinging it in tight circles in the hopes of gaining altitude. It crashes. He picks it up, tweaks a wing, tries again. Crashes again. Smiles as I take his photo. Tries again, utterly serene.
Nearby, a martial arts group mixes tai chi poses with flying leaps. A ballroom dance club competes with an aerobics group for sonic dominance.
All told, it feels like a lot is getting accomplished before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee. Pondering my place in this busy new world order, I stumble off the sidewalk and through the clotted traffic, greeting an uncertain new dawn.
Shanghai, China - October 28, 2013