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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
China diary: Arriving in Shanghai
Former BBC Beijing correspondent Tim Luard is back in China, 25 years after his first visit, to write a series of articles for BBC News Online on how much the country has changed. He will also be writing a diary during his trip, and this is his first instalment:

You might think you would be hard put to fly from Hong Kong to a city with more energy, excitement, tall buildings, flyovers, ships, nightclubs, gleaming marble-walled malls with the latest chic Italian fashions - and sheer dazzle.

Well, you'd probably be right.

But Shanghai is certainly coming up fast.

Coming up literally. When I came here a decade or so ago it was already brimming with pile-drivers and cranes. Since then they must have been very, very busy.

For 40 years, Shanghai had lain in gloomy neglect. Its tallest buildings were still the old foreign banks and consulates along the waterfront, turned into offices for communist party bureaucrats.

But then China's former leader Deng Xiaoping decided to forgive this former "Paris of the East" its capitalist and other sins and turn it back into Asia's leading financial centre.

Pudong financial district, Shanghai (archive picture)
Shanghai has re-emerged as one of China's most dynamic cities
I've just been out along the Bund to find those old buildings still unchanged on the outside. But many interiors are now being turned into the swankiest of shops and restaurants.

Everywhere else, whole blocks of old Chinese houses have simply been removed, along with their occupants, and replaced by skyscrapers.

And just across the river there's a whole new city - the financial centre of Pudong. Here each new building outdoes the next in terms of height and sheer, often grotesque, futuristic design. Some have mere spires on top, others have giant pineapples or even basketball hoops.

Capitalism rules

There were certainly plenty of businessmen looking eager to get to this new Mecca tucking into breakfast with me on the plane from Hong Kong.

I was happy to note that China's airlines have come a long way since the days when they gave you a cardboard box containing a dry bun as your only meal. The scrambled egg was seriously good.

A scavenger walks past a big luggage-like advertisement for a new Louis Vuitton  shop in Shanghai, 9/09/04
Despite the glamour, the city faces huge social problems
As we came in to land, over flashes of green rice paddies and a grey Yangtze River that I thought at first was the sea, the Taiwanese man sitting beside me said there were now a quarter of a million of his compatriots living and doing brisk business here in supposedly hostile Shanghai.

There were almost that many people - many possibly Taiwanese - waiting at the passport channel for foreigners.

So I had plenty of time to read the large notice: "The frontier inspection station shall enforce the law strictly and serve the passengers warmly during inspection". Perhaps in case one was overcome by too much warmth, it added : "We shall refuse all kinds of presents".

Tipping of all kinds used to be banned in China, but no longer it seems.

I arrived at my hotel after a hair-raising ride in what I later found to be a fake taxi. The driver demanded various additions to the fare for "special highway charges". So no tips there. But when I asked at the check-in desk whether I should tip staff such as bellboys these days, I was told "always".

I must have misheard. Or perhaps Shanghai really has caught up already.




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