Shanghai is a huge, vibrant, emergent city that has had the world’s gaze upon it for at least the last five years. I might argue, however, that there has not been a any cultural development coming out of the city that has really influenced the rest of the world; and ‘modern Chinese style’ doesn’t count – I think it just as likely that this fad is being spun by foreign design agencies eyeing Shanghai. No, there is not yet a Harajuku, Carnaby Street or South Compton that is setting the world’s imagination alight, and no youth culture, musical or style trends that have had any meaningful effect outside of China.
But that is not to say it won’t happen.
This trip, far more than any previous visit, I was struck by the sophistication of the young people on the trains, buses, and on the street. They were dressing more cohesively, colouring their hair, flaunting their iPods and demonstrating the embers of individuality that a large city like Shanghai should be driving. The general manner of people (ie: selfish and rude) also suggests to me a capacity for individualistic, independent thought; probably more-so than what I see in Taiwan. I could be entirely wrong about that though; who knows what a Quasi-Communist education does to you.
But no, this trip I saw people dressed in some tasteful clothes, expressively vulgar clothes, and a whole host of trying their best to piece together a ‘look’. It will be interesting to see how this evolves since the media is so restricted.
A local lad stands proudly, showing off his purple mane.
The other thing I couldn’t help noticing were the number of Sony PSPs and Nintendo DSs on display during underground train rides. It’s perfectly possible that these were fakes, and simple movie players instead of bona-fide games units, but it was interesting none the less. What I found more surprising were the sheer number of female players; clearly the macho game scene of the west is translated a bit differently here.
Indeed, on my last day, I came across a Nintendo demonstration area in the mall beneath the hotel. A hoard of girls were demonstrating the things you could do with the DS to a delighted crowd of females and children; boyfriends and fathers in tow. There were tables showing-off make-up games, cameras and games … I have heard of female purchasers being persuaded by tangible benefits rather than brutal features, and it was interesting to see this demonstrated.
Make-up apps. Isn’t it funny that I now say ‘app’.
Other stands welcoming a stream of visitors.
But this is still China, and demonstrations of wealth still rule the school. Ferraris and Porsches were everywhere, and there were as many Bentleys and Rolls Royces as you could shake a stick at. Best of all was this modified Buick (a premium brand in China, bizarrely!) … smooth.
Gin & Juice
But as I have said before, I maintain that what makes Beijing cool is the Chinese (the rock music, the art …), what drives Shanghai are the foreigners. Tony and Kelly took me to a British-style gastropub called The Waterhouse. Serving hearty, modern food in a distressed warehouse atmosphere, it offered the perfect vantage point for looking out at Pudong and the amazing developments happening there.
New York’s scene is, by definition, driven by immigrants and foreigners. And maybe Shanghai’s will be in a generation’s time, blurring the line between what ‘foreign’ and domestic Chinese trends mean.
View from The Waterhouse restaurant roof bar (avoid the cocktails, though).