2008年12月26日 星期五


沒去過Strasbourg 不過 歌詞中可能有啦

Insight | 27.12.2008 | 04:30

UNSESCO World Heritage Sites: The French City of Strasbourg

Strasbourg which lies on the strategically important upper Rhine River has been a Unesco World Heritage Site for 20 years.

It was not just one building but the entire historic-town-quarter of the French city of Strasbourg which was declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1988 – the first city to have been bestowed with such an honour. Strasbourg is a city which has been fought over throughout the centuries but has somehow managed to survive and thrive – today, it’s Europe’s political capital: the home of the European Parliament. At its heart, rising above the Alsatian plain, is Strasbourg’s magnificent pink-sandstone cathedral which dates from the middle ages. But the city’s cobble-stone streets are lined with other magnificent buildings – Renaissance mansions and centuries-old half-timbered houses

Report: Geoff Rodoreda

2008年12月25日 星期四




文化社会 | 2008.12.25


位于诺曼底和布列塔尼之间的圣米歇尔山,是法国除巴黎埃菲尔铁塔外,最吸引游人的观光景点。建于山顶上的中世纪修道院,雄伟壮观,包括城堡和教堂在内的整 座圣米歇尔山,于1979年被联合国列入世界文化遗产名录之中。今年圣米歇尔城堡因庆祝建成1300周年而吸引了更多游客。圣米歇尔山不仅仅是驰名世界的 名胜古迹,当地天主教修道院里还生活着10名修女和修道士。





吃 完早餐,弗朗西瓦神父来到花园,用他褐色的修道服擦了擦潮湿的椅子,向采访记者表示:"这座山是我信仰的见证者。对我来说,最重要的就是维持修道院的生命 力,不要让它成为一个虚有其表的美丽外壳。圣米歇尔修道院是一座有修道士生活在其中的,生气勃勃的教堂。人们可以在这里依循修道士的传统,礼拜、祈祷。 1300年来,修道士从未间断过在这里的祈祷。"



来 自世界各地的游客,走上了修道院西面的平台。在一群英国学生和一队不断拍照的日本游客之间,有一个皮肤晒成棕褐色,名叫马可的年轻人,是这里的朝圣者,他 想在这里寻找宁静和进行沉思。他表示:"旅游指南介绍说,这种人群熙攘的现象中世纪就有了。不同的只是出售的纪念品,因为那时候还没有塑料,但汹涌的人潮 一如既往。看了介绍之后我了解到,热闹原就属于生活的组成部分。"


Tina Gerhäusser

2008年12月21日 星期日

Irish Beggars Told to Mind Manners As Economy Slumps, New Law Targets Aggressive Panhandling

愛爾蘭經濟不景氣,乞丐問題日益嚴重,愛爾蘭政府打算實施新「乞丐法」,規定乞丐行乞時不能咄咄逼人,否則就犯法,最高可處一個月徒刑或罰緩700歐元(約台幣3萬1700元)。 美國華盛頓郵報報導,愛爾蘭經濟近來衰退,先前蜂擁而來的羅馬尼亞和東歐國家移民許多淪為乞丐,不少兒童也被大人逼上街頭行乞,對愛爾蘭觀光業和商業造成負面影響。愛爾蘭政府決定嚴格取締乞丐,凡是要錢時舉止令人生畏或糾纏不休者,一旦被警察發現,就可能違法吃上官司。 不少人認為愛爾蘭政府對乞丐反應過度,一名兒童福利機構發言人歐蘇利文抨擊說,法令重罰索討零錢的人,只會讓這些人為了繳罰款而再度行乞。

Jason Bissett hustles coins on the Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin. "If you hassle people, you should be arrested," he says. (By Mary Jordan -- The Washington Post)
Irish Beggars Told to Mind Manners As Economy Slumps, New Law Targets Aggressive Panhandling

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 20, 2008; Page A11

DUBLIN -- Jason Bissett, 30, sat on a busy pedestrian bridge that arches over the River Liffey, a hood pulled tight around his head and his hand out.

"Can you spare any change? Please. Can you spare any change?" he asked softly, aware that police now consider "aggressive" begging a crime.

Last month, the government announced a crackdown on hostile panhandlers, introducing the first new laws against begging since the Potato Famine in the 1840s. A conviction could lead to as much as a month in jail or a 700 euro fine, about $976, according to a Justice Ministry statement, which said the final language of the measure will be published soon.

The move comes as begging near bank machines, rail stations and landmarks grows more visible in cities across Europe, which has been badly battered by the global economic crisis.

In Ireland, where a once red-hot economy was among the first to falter, many people say an influx of immigrants from Romania and other Eastern European countries has added to the panhandling problem. Most disturbing, some say, is that adults might be exploiting children by forcing them to beg.

"It was very distressing to witness young children effectively forced onto the streets to beg by sinister adults," said Dermot Ahern, the justice minister. "Business and tourists are damaged by begging on the streets."

Caroline O'Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said that government officials felt pressured to do something but that she personally has "not come across an intimidating beggar." She criticized the law for heavily fining those asking for spare change: "They will have to go out begging again to pay the fine."

Roughan McNamara, a spokesman for Focus Ireland, a charity for the homeless, said the new measure "smacks of total overreaction."

"Isn't it easy to say no?" McNamara said.

Currently, McNamara said, there are about 5,000 homeless people in Ireland, nearly all housed in shelters or temporary housing. "All charities are seeing a rising in demand for their services," McNamara said. "Life is getting a lot more difficult."

The attempt to curb begging follows a court decision last year that found the Vagrancy Act of 1847 incompatible with the constitutional protection of freedom of speech. Ahern said that the new law would not be used, for instance, against a young person simply asking for bus fare home late at night but that people whom the police deem intimidating or harassing would be subject to the penalties.

Gary Kennedy, 50, a shopkeeper, said he "wouldn't call those who have an intimidating manner a beggar."

"I'd call them a robber," he said. "And there are already laws against that. It's strange to have a law against hostile begging."

Several Dubliners said they sometimes wonder whether someone bumming money off them is really destitute or prefers begging to working.

"I have seen people coming out of a house with a sign that said 'HOMELESS,' " said Kate White, 26, an architecture student in Dublin. "It's well known you can generate a good income this way."

White said some of the beggars "do invade your personal space."

Advocates for the homeless and children said that immigrants from many nations are asking for money on Irish street corners but that those with children often are "travelers," as some itinerant Irish people are known.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has launched an awareness campaign called "Giving Money Is Not the Answer."

"If you give the children money, it encourages the parents to send the kids out again and again," O'Sullivan said, adding that it was particularly heartbreaking to see children asking for money at Christmas. She said those who want to help should give the child soup or a sandwich, not cash, and bring them to the attention of authorities who can get help for the entire family.

Bissett, the man asking for spare change on Dublin's landmark Ha'penny Bridge, said he lost his job as a chef's assistant a few years ago.

"If I am just sitting here and not hassling people, it's okay. Police will leave you alone," he said. "If you hassle people, you should be arrested."

Farther down the 19th-century bridge, which got its name for the halfpenny toll that was once charged there, a Bulgarian woman who barely spoke English asked passersby for change.

Every so often, a person hurrying by in the wet cold night dropped a coin or two into Bissett's plastic coffee cup. He said he might get $30 or twice that, depending on the day, but generally the amount was smaller.

"People are giving less," he said, pulling the collar of his thin jacket up around his neck, as the wind whipped down the river.

Special correspondent Shannon Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.

New Delhi Reclaims Public Space Via Art

New Delhi Reclaims Public Space Via Art

Festival Stirs Debate on Growth, Ecology

(Rama Lakshmi - The Washington Post)
(Photos By Rama Lakshmi -- The Washington Post)
In New Delhi's first public art festival, residents have encountered objects such as, clockwise from top, a giant steel bucket mounted on a wooden stand, an uprooted tree lifted by a crane in a busy business district and a piece of nylon cloth stretched tight to resemble the wings of a bird caught between the downtown buildings. The festival has not only raised questions about the definitions of art, but also highlighted the challenges in preserving India's ecological heritage amid rapid growth.
In New Delhi's first public art festival, residents have encountered objects such as, clockwise from top, a giant steel bucket mounted on a wooden stand, an uprooted tree lifted by a crane in a busy business district and a piece of nylon cloth stretched tight to resemble the wings of a bird caught between the downtown buildings. The festival has not only raised questions about the definitions of art, but also highlighted the challenges in preserving India's ecological heritage amid rapid growth. (Rama Lakshmi - The Washington Post)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 21, 2008; Page A23

NEW DELHI, Dec. 20 -- For the past 10 days, residents of India's bustling capital have found large and often strange-looking objects along their daily paths: a giant steel bucket mounted on a wooden stand, a tree hanging from a crane, a gasoline can made of white tiles, and stretched nylon resembling the long wing of a bird caught between buildings.

"They say this is art, but I do not see anything special in a bucket," said Virendra Singh, a stocky policeman on guard near the steel bucket, the creation of celebrated contemporary artist Subodh Gupta. "We all have one in our bathrooms to store water."

Then he turned to look at the exhibit again. "But this is indeed a very, very big bucket," he said. "Maybe there is something more to it."

A volunteer unraveled the mystery. "This is going to be the most valuable vessel of the future because our city is running out of water," he told Singh. "The artist is telling the city to conserve water."

Singh was one of the countless New Delhi residents who experienced contemporary public art for the first time, thanks to a festival that has not only raised questions about accepted definitions of art, but also highlighted the challenges in preserving India's ecological heritage amid rapid urban development.

About 25 artists spread their larger-than-life art installations across the city's 16th-century quarters, shopping arcades, parks, business districts and traffic roundabouts. The installations were along sites located on a grid created for the city's latest object of pride: the gleaming new Metro rail, which in the past five years has become a potent symbol of the choked capital's efforts to transform itself for the 21st century.

"Public space is shrinking in this city, and we are trying to reclaim and reengage with it through art," said Pooja Sood, curator of the public art extravaganza, which ends Sunday. "We broke through prevailing social, cultural and political barriers to bring contemporary art out of the elitist, white-cube galleries."

In the past decade, New Delhi has witnessed an unprecedented boom in the construction of high-rises, overpasses, malls and multiplexes at the expense of countless trees and old buildings. Conspicuous consumption and changing lifestyles are depleting the city's underground water supply and slowly edging the once-sacred Yamuna River out of people's consciousness.

"The installations ask a question, 'Where are you in this debate about environment versus progress?' And many people have looked at the installations and asked, 'Is this art?' " Sood said. "This is the beginning of a conversation between art and the city."

The art went up as the city was debating the fallout of the deadly attacks in Mumbai last month. After a series of bomb scares, security at the displays was doubled. The installations, with expensive DVDs, projectors, plasma TV and lights, were put in places crowded with henna artists, homeless beggars, shoe-polishers, map-sellers and stray dogs.

On a busy street near one site, a rickshaw driver stared at the installation of a crane lifting a whole tree.

"That is like my life in this city. I feel uprooted," he said.

His friend said: "The terrorists are making us dance like that. We are hanging in the air because of them."

Near the old Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the city, another art installation around a tree pays homage to social movements to protect land and rivers from industrialization. The day the installation opened, at least 4,000 rural postal workers marched past it demanding higher wages.

"There is a daily risk of water cannons, tear gas and violent clash with the police here. But that is what my exhibition is trying to commemorate," said artist and filmmaker Amar Kanwar.

Artist Ravi Agarwal's installation -- a tightly stretched white nylon cloth resembling a bird's wing caught between buildings -- seeks to draw attention to the near-extinction of vultures over the past two decades.

"We ask people to think about constructing a modern city and the accompanying extinction and loss," said Agarwal, 50.

But New Delhi's first tryst with public art unlocked conversations not only about ecological concerns, but also about the restless aspirations of a booming economy.

On a recent afternoon, a docent took a group of art-lovers around a public exhibit that portrayed the city's ubiquitous cultural stereotypes of corrupt politicians, land sharks and unscrupulous businessmen.

A group of young men resting in the shade of the exhibit disagreed vehemently with the docent.

"Why are you talking nonsense?" asked Sunny Sharma, 25, who runs a company that owns a fleet of trucks. "Everybody has the right to earn money; every poor man dreams of becoming rich."

Siddha Mahajan, 21, the docent, responded, "But this is the artist's expression."

"I don't know about art or artists," Sharma argued back. "But stop calling all the rich, successful people 'evil vampires.' It is because of them that India is booming today."

2008年12月20日 星期六


36 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City

Justin Mott for The New York Times

Quan An Ngon, an open-air restaurant with the city’s best street chefs.

Published: December 21, 2008

HO CHI MINH CITY, or Saigon, as most locals still call it, is a relative newcomer. With only three centuries of history, compared with Hanoi’s thousand years, the city has a youthful spirit and is quick to embrace change. This is not the Saigon familiar to the West in films like “Apocalypse Now”; it’s a forward-looking city, home to glittering skyscrapers, innovative fashion and a pulsing night life. As Vietnam’s largest city, it has an energy and noise level that can be at once exhilarating and wearying. Sure, you can still catch an occasional glimpse of picture-postcard Vietnam, like an old woman in a conical hat pedaling a bicycle, but she’ll most likely be lost in a sea of motorbikes, rumbling toward the future.


4:30 p.m.

In Vietnam, coffee is brewed directly into your cup through a small, metal filter. Add ice and sweet condensed milk and you have a café sua da, an antidote to the thick heat and the perfect way to refuel. At Café Terrace (65 Le Loi Street; 84-8-3821-4958), a trendy spot in the city’s center, you can drink your coffee (30,000 dong, or $1.70 at 17,647 dong to the dollar) outside beneath an umbrella, or retreat to the stylish, air-conditioned interior, decorated with red curtains, vases of white lilies and lots of pretty people lounging in comfy chairs.

6 p.m.

Dong Khoi Street has long been home to some of the city’s finest shopping. In colonial times, it was known as Rue Catinat, and was where the narrator in “The Lover,” by Marguerite Duras, claimed she bought her infamous felt hat. Today, it’s a great place to window shop, home to more silk and handicraft stores than hat shops, not to mention tailors. In a country where custom-made clothing is an affordable luxury, tailors abound. For one with panache and a 24-hour turnaround, duck into Tricia & Verona (39 Dong Du Street; 84-8-3824-4556; www.triciaandverona.com). This boutique and workshop is run by two sisters who have Anglicized their names to reflect their more Western sense of style — namely, more daring cuts. Summer dresses start at $34, men’s suits at $160.

8 p.m.

What happens when you gather Saigon’s finest street chefs in one location? Enjoy finding out at Quan An Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia; 84-8-3825-7179), an open-air restaurant with one menu listing each chef’s specialty. The place bustles at night with locals and in-the-know foreigners waiting for Vietnamese classics like bun cha — vermicelli with minced pork balls and fresh herbs — and green papaya salad with shrimp (24,000 dong each). Fortunately, there are a lot of tables, so the line moves quickly. For dessert, don’t miss the che suong sa hot luu (10,000 dong), an oddly delicious combination of coconut milk, tapioca pearls, water chestnuts and jelly worms, served in a tall glass over crushed ice.

10 p.m.

After serving stiff cocktails and eclectic music to expats for a decade, the ever-popular Vasco’s (74/7D Hai Ba Trung Street; 84-8-3824-2888) this year moved to nicer digs. At its new location in a tiny alley, the outdoor balcony is great for chatting, while indoors it’s all about the music, which can range from visiting French D.J.’s to Vietnamese rap. If the music isn’t to your taste, duck into one of the sedate bars downstairs, where you’ll find a lot of French and other expats sipping wine.


10 a.m.

Stroll through the ancient quarter of Cholon and you’ll hear more Chinese spoken than Vietnamese. A 20-minute cab ride from District 1 (around 80,000 dong), this Viet-Chinatown is home to many fine temples, like Quan Am Pagoda (12 Lao Tu Street), built in 1818. Coils of incense hang from the ceiling, perfuming the air, along with the slender, golden sticks the faithful leave as offerings. In front of the main altar is a statue of Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy. A nearby courtyard has nooks dedicated to other deities and a small pond filled with turtles.

1 p.m.

For everything from fermented duck eggs to flip-flops, head to Binh Tay Market, a rambling market laid out like an Arab souk and far less touristy than the Ben Thanh Market downtown. Situated between Thap Muoi and Phan Van Khoe Streets, the market is divided into sections that contain everything one might need to run a household, from kitchenware, to cloth, to candied fruit. Pushy peddlers are almost nonexistent; some merchants even nap in hammocks between customers. Toward the back, you can grab lunch, like a tasty bowl of seafood noodle soup at one of the many stalls (18,000 dong) and listen to a rooster crow in the nearby butcher section (not for the squeamish).

3 p.m.

Push through the lavender doors of L’Apothiquaire Artisan Beauté (61-63 Le Thanh Ton Street; 84-8-3822-1218; www.lapothiquaire.com) and be greeted by the soothing sound of flute music and a cup of anti-stress herbal tea. This tiny day spa feels straight out of Provence, though the motorbikes buzzing by the front doors are a distinct reminder that you’re still in Saigon. The spa offers a range of body treatments, including mud wraps ($30) and 75-minute Swedish-style relaxation massages ($37). There are also house-brand aromatherapy beauty products for sale, along with the anti-stress tea, in case the soothing effects of the massage wear off.

5:30 p.m.

During the “American War,” as it is called here, the Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard; 84-8-3829-2185; www.rexhotelvietnam.com) was the home of the “Five O’Clock Follies,” the daily briefings the United States military gave the press corps. Today, the palm-lined rooftop bar provides a kitschy setting — complete with giant ceramic elephants — for a sunset pastis (65,000 dong) or fresh pineapple juice (48,000 dong).

8:30 p.m.

Follow the trail of lanterns up the dimly lit stairs to Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep Street; 84-8-3829-9244), an elegant restaurant in a former Chinese temple. The place has a colonial feel, with white tablecloths, whirling fans and antique silverware to accompany the chopsticks, but most of its menu is distinctly Vietnamese. Favorites include grilled beef on lemongrass skewers and fish wrapped in banana leaf (120,000 dong).

10 p.m.

At Cage (3A Ton Duc Thang Street; 84-8-3910-7053), a chic new club that opened last June, the namesake birdcages are suspended around crystal chandeliers and filled with votive candles as table decorations. Live music is offered five nights a week. On a recent visit, a Vietnamese singer belted out Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” A few hours later, a D.J. got the expats and Vietnamese on their feet with salsa music. For those craving privacy, there are little nooks off to the side, filled with plush purple couches and veiled by long lavender tassels.


11 p.m.

Retreat from humanity at the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens (2B Nguyen Binh Khiem Street; 84-8-3829-1425; www.saigonzoo.net; admission, 12,000 dong), also home to a temple and history museum. The gardens, established by a French botanist in 1864, feature 2,000 trees including Chinese incense-cedar, a bonsai “forest” and a large greenhouse full of purple orchids. Animals include bored-looking orangutans in cages close enough to touch and a small herd of Asian elephants. There is also a colony of penguin-shaped garbage cans scattered around the place, along with many benches where you can sit and ponder this surreal touch.


There are no direct flights between Ho Chi Minh City and New York, but several carriers, including Continental, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, fly between the two cities with a connection, usually in Hong Kong or Tokyo. Round-trip fares for January travel start at about $1,100, according to a recent search online. A cab ride from Tan Son Nhat Airport to the city center costs about 100,000 dong ($5.67 at 17,647 dong to the dollar). Most major attractions are accessible on foot, though taxis and moto-taxis can be hailed everywhere.

The ultra-swank Caravelle Hotel (19 Lam Son Square; 84-8-3823-4999; www.caravellehotel.com) overlooks the opera house and the Saigon River, and has 335 sleek rooms, starting at about $230.

Across the square is the historic Continental Hotel (132-134 Dong Khoi Street; 84-8-3829-9201; www.continental-saigon.com). Founded by a Frenchman in 1880, the hotel was a popular watering hole for journalists during the war. It has high ceilings and lots of carved wood. Rooms start at $125.

Easier on the budget is the modern Elios Hotel (233 Pham Ngu Lao Street; 84-8-3838-5584; www.elioshotel.vn), a new, 90-room guesthouse overlooking a leafy park in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker district. Rooms with a view start at $80, including breakfast.

Ca phe sua da or cafe sua da (Vietnamese: cà phê sữa đá) is a unique Vietnamese coffee recipe. Literally, ca phe sua da means "iced milk coffee". Ca phe sua da can be made simply by mixing brewed black coffee with about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk and then pouring it over ice.

Many Vietnamese immigrants in the Southern U.S., particularly in Louisiana, use the regional dark French roast, often with chicory; otherwise they use an imported Vietnamese-grown and medium roasted coffee without chicory. The coffee is traditionally coarsely ground, then individually brewed with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter (cà phê phin), into a cup containing the condensed milk. The condensed milk and coffee are stirred together and poured over ice.

Ca phe sua nong (Vietnamese: 'cà phê sữa nóng') — literally, "hot milk coffee", also called café filtre - is made without ice. Vietnamese coffee prepared without the sweetened-condensed milk and served hot is called (cà phê đen nong, literally, "hot black coffee").

Aachen Cathedral

Insight | 20.12.2008 | 04:30

UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Aachen Cathedral

The Cathedral in Aachen is one of the most important buildings in German history.

The Aachen Cathedral was the first German building to be registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In fact, in 1978 it was one of the first sites in the world to make the new list. The cathedral was built around the year 800 as a chapel for Charlemagne or Karl der Grosse. His vast empire united western Europe, and today he's thought of as the father of France and Germany.

Report: Zoie Jones

2008年12月16日 星期二


印象最深刻的是 1920 年代的一幅"救世軍"圖

Scania (company), Swedish truck manufacturer with origins in Scania.



Scania (Skåne in Swedish and Danish)[2] is a geographical region on the southernmost tip of the Scandinavian peninsula,[3][4][5] a traditional province (landskap) in the Kingdom of Sweden, before 1658 a province in the Kingdom of Denmark and part of the historical lands of Denmark.[6][7] To the north, it borders the provinces Halland, Småland and Blekinge, to the east and south the Baltic Sea, and to the west the Oresund strait. It is part of the transnational Oresund Region and the historical region Skåneland (Terra Scaniae or "Scania land"). Around 130 km long from north to south, Scania covers less than 3% of Sweden's total area. The population of approximately 1,200,000[8] represents 13% of Sweden's total population.

Scania's historical connection to Denmark, the vast fertile plains, the deciduous forests and the relatively mild climate make the province culturally and physically distinct from the emblematic Swedish cultural landscape of forests and small hamlets.[9]

2008年12月12日 星期五


曉風  (20081208 中時)



 我們能想像沒有楚山楚水芷岸蘭汀的屈原嗎?我們能同意沒有永州和柳州的柳宗元嗎?沒有了黃州惠州和儋州的蘇東坡多麼不精采啊!刪去湘西鳳凰一帶的青山綠 水,沈從文還剩下什麼呢?同理,魯迅一旦離了魯鎮那些可厭可憎又復可憫的鄉民,也就什麼故事都講完了。蕭紅所急於逃離的北大荒,其實正是她的胎盤啊!



 林語堂住在層巒疊障的漳州,那個美麗的山城,山從此在他心中變成了可敬仰的圖騰,象徵著昂揚、出塵,另有高志。他甚至把人分為「有山之人」和「無山之 人」,無山之人就是平原之人,平原被他解讀為平凡平庸遲滯無趣的領域,這當然不公平,大平原自有大平原之美,但文學家的這種本位主義是可以原諒的,甚至是 可以鼓勵的。






2008年12月10日 星期三

Is Shanghai Turning Pro or Just Building High? A Guest Post

December 9, 2008, 12:09 pm

Is Shanghai Turning Pro or Just Building High? A Guest Post

Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, now runs the invention company Intellectual Ventures. He is a polymath’s polymath: a physicist by training who practices many feats of technology as well as dinosaur-hunting, intensive cuisine, photography, and other, more esoteric pursuits. Earlier this year he contributed three guest posts about his visits to Greenland and Iceland. Now he is back from a trip to China. Here is his Shanghai dispatch; it is wonderful. In a few days we will post his Beijing chronicle.

In one of the classic scenes in American cinema, young Benjamin Braddock is attending a cocktail party celebrating his graduation from college and entry into adult life. His internal reverie on his future is interrupted by Mr. McGuire, who says he has one word of advice for him. After a pregnant pause McGuire says, “Plastics!” Then he beams at the self-evident brilliance of this remark. Benjamin does not know what to say in reply.

A few years ago, I found myself at a cocktail party of business leaders when the C.E.O. of a major company came up to me, beside himself with excitement, and said, “I have the seen the future.” After a long and dramatic pause he delivered his answer: “China!” Like Benjamin, I was at a loss for words.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe Pearl Orient tower in Shanghai.

For the last decade, the same sort of scene has played out in many business conversations. The explosive emergence of China is remarkable by any measure. Most folks find it hard to internalize numbers and third-hand reports. So they dutifully make the trip and are shocked to see the reality of it. Once immersed in the reality of it, they are struck with as much awe as Mr. McGuire had for the U.S. plastics industry circa 1967. Indeed, many of the recently converted China fanatics seemed a bit like the folks who report meeting space aliens, or a personal visit with the Virgin Mary.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONA Pepsi ad in Shanghai.

Numbers are my friends, so the economic figures were something I could internalize. I believed in the Chinese economic miracle, even from afar. In the late 1990’s, I was responsible for putting a major Microsoft research center in Beijing (which has grown to be a smashing success). Yet I did this without ever setting foot in China itself. Several times I had trips planned, but some other urgent priority would come up and I would be vectored off in another direction.

This year, my company opened an office in China, so I finally had an opportunity to visit. I normally leave my camera behind on business trips, but this time I decided to bring it along and document my trip.

My first stop in China was Shanghai, and I arrived directly from New Delhi; the contrast couldn’t have been greater. Both China and India are developing countries. You can’t escape that in New Delhi; a five-minute drive on any road will remind you where you are, for example, when water buffalo walk by. Shanghai, on the other hand, looks like a 1950’s artist’s rendition of the city of the future. There are millions of people living in China on less than $2 a day, but they aren’t much in evidence in greater Shanghai.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe Bund area of Shanghai at night.

The infrastructure is all new, from the airport to the expressway leading into the city (or you can take an ultra-high-speed maglev train and be there in 12 minutes). The downtown section of Shanghai is called Pudong, and it is full of gleaming new skyscrapers. The other side of the river has the Bund, the center of Shanghai’s 19th-century economic boom. It too is replete with interesting architecture, albeit smaller and older. Amusingly, none of this architecture is Chinese. The closest thing I found to ancient Chinese culture was a fast food-chain called Kung Fu. Maybe that is the point of the place; Shanghai has long prospered by embracing and adopting the foreign.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONKung Fu fast-food restaurant.

Pudong is clearly a work in progress — cranes hover over building sites everywhere. Most places that have tall buildings do so because they first had shorter buildings. The only reason to build high is that you’ve already exhausted the possibilities for building low. The economic value of density forces buildings up, because out is not an option.

The only places in the world that violate this rule are “instant” downtown areas that connive to jump the queue and go straight to the super-tall stage, for some artificial reason, rather than follow land-density economics. The Century City section of Los Angeles is one example, but the real classic example for this sort of instant development is the Las Vegas Strip. Vegas builds high, not because of economic pressure for building density, but for its own sake.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe Jin Mao tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.

Shanghai has no casinos, but Pudong is the office-tower equivalent of the Strip. Giant skyscrapers erupt from the river bank in myriad forms, one more architecturally extravagant than the next. Like Vegas, they sport outsized gimmicks: the Aurora building transforms into a giant video billboard at night, the Pearl Orient tower is a science-fiction fantasy, and the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) — the second-tallest building in the world — has a 105th-floor observation lounge with a glass floor looking down onto a giant hole in the building. It is spectacular.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe SWFC observation deck.

I was curious what all of this splendor and view cost, so looked up the rent: the SWFC is charging $76 per square foot per year. By comparison, my company pays $25 for a second- or third-tier building in Bellevue, Wash. The good buildings in Bellevue are $40; downtown Seattle commands $45 to $50 (although I understand there may be some space coming available in the Washington Mutual building rather soon). At the other extreme, the warehouse space we rent in Kent, an outlying industrial suburb of Seattle, is a whopping $3.60, which is fortunate for me because rocket engines and dinosaurs take up space.

Our Singapore office costs us $73: about the same as SWFC, but for a much less impressive building. Our Tokyo office is the worst at $96, and it is definitely second-tier. I don’t have an office in midtown Manhattan, but my broker tells me that those average about $88 per square foot per year. So the coolest, newest office space in Shanghai at the SWFC is about the same price as mid-range Singapore, and a bit cheaper than midtown.

We have no plans to open a office in Shanghai. Plus we’re cheap, so we’d never pick that building (our office in Palo Alto is upstairs from a nail salon). However, I find it interesting that despite our frugal approach, we already pay 26 percent higher than SWFC in at least one place. Of course, all this proves is a rediscovery of the old real estate maxim: location, location, location.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe blue elevator in the Shanghai World Financial Center.

The frenetic commercial exuberance of Shanghai is palpable to even a casual observer. In the case of Vegas, it is clear why the architects are driven to excess; they’re playing to the same types of human weaknesses that underlie its main industry. The dubious thrill of gambling with the odds against you is itself an act of irrationality, overcompensating for some deep-felt need or emptiness. The architecture of gambling naturally follows suit, shamelessly pandering to the same instincts: the swagger and bravado of a high roller translated into glass and steel.

It is less clear why Shanghai feels the need to be quite so architecturally assertive. I could spin a theory about the inevitable anxiousness of the nouveau riche, or the unease with the prosaic nature of cheap labor and low-cost manufacturing that is the source of its wealth. It could be the foreign influence or the feeling of modernity to escape the past. Maybe it’s some of all of these, but I am not convinced.

Competition plays a role in accelerating the trend; once one wild building is successful, it puts a premium on the next developer and says “top that!” Ego is another factor — both real estate developers and their tenants are out to stamp their mark on the Shanghai skyline. So maybe it is wrong to look for a cause, but rather it is like the runaway sexual selection that makes a peacock’s tail out of a small chance event that is amplified by competition.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONShanghai at night.

New York City has all of these factors in spades, but its skyscrapers remain relentlessly practical by comparison. There are architectural flourishes here and there, but some profound fiscal gravity seems to pull everything back to earth. There is intense competition and no small amount of ego for its developers; the New York real estate industry produced Donald Trump, after all. Even so, the wildest and showiest parts of NYC are strangely pragmatic compared to Shanghai.

Times Square is now a riot of enormous video displays, but all toward a practical end. What seems like wretched excess is actually hard at work: those screens are all rented out for advertising. It recalls a Hunter S. Thompson maxim: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

INSERT DESCRIPTIONThe walk-through shark tank at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium.

Dubai is probably a good point of comparison for Shanghai. I was last in Dubai 25 years ago, which is tantamount to saying I have never been to the current Dubai. In the last couple of years, I have had several Benjamin moments with awestruck people who have just returned. “Oh my God! Dubai!” is a typical cocktail party response. Or, as one friend puts it, Dubai “makes Vegas seem like Paris” in terms of taste and culture, but boy does it get your attention.

O.K., so I haven’t been there, but (perhaps foolishly) I think it is easy to understand from afar. Like Las Vegas, Dubai is in the business of making a spectacle of itself — it has to turn pro. It’s not like there is some other reason to go to that particular patch of desert. So while Dubai may be extravagant, there is a rationale to it. The maxim “if you build it, they will come” surely cannot apply if you are building something humdrum, ordinary, or commonplace; you need to be weird to turn pro.

Yet this cannot be the reason for Shanghai’s architectural indulgence. Unlike Las Vegas or Dubai, it does not rely on tourism to make a living. There is a really nice aquarium with a walk-through shark tank, but that isn’t what powers the local economy. Shanghai would be a center of commerce for much of China no matter what. It doesn’t need to attract gawkers and revelers.

Regardless of the underlying motivation, the fact is that Shanghai is a great place to see futuristic architecture. The upbeat feeling it radiates is impossible to ignore.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONArchitecture in the Bund.

Mostly that is good, but the insane scale of the place does make you wonder: how real is this? At night, it is obvious that only a few floors of SWFC are rented, and much the same is true for the other new buildings. During the day I kept asking, “Where are all the people?”

In Manhattan at lunchtime, you find that tall office buildings disgorge their inhabitants and fill the streets with a mass of people. Shanghai looked more like Manhattan on a Sunday. Maybe this means that Shanghai city planners did a better job. Maybe it means that they have built it, but they haven’t managed to come yet. It made me worry.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONA Shanghai escalator lit up in blue.

People have argued for years that Shanghai real estate is a classic speculative bubble, and for years they have been wrong. That is one of the problems with identifying bubbles.

If somebody says “this can’t last!” and predicts that the bubble will burst, they may be wrong for a while before they are right. What if they are wrong every year for nine years, and then it comes true in the tenth? How do you count that? Is that 100 percent success in predicting that it was a bubble or 90 percent failure because they missed it so many years?

It is a difficult question, because both answers have some merit. On one hand, pessimism and cynicism are almost too easy. The prediction “this won’t end well” has very little predictive value without a time scale attached, because eventually there are bound to be both good and bad events. It’s a bit like the line from the Bible that says, “There will be wars, and rumors of wars.” Well O.K., but don’t expect me to be all that impressed when the prediction comes true. It’s just too easy.

On the other hand, it takes great courage to stand up to a groundswell of public opinion and call bullshit on something that the world has fallen in love with. Maybe you should get an extra star for saying “this can’t last” and being wrong every year, since it is so easy to give in.


I have been caught in this trap myself. In the mid 1990’s profiles of me in the press argued that I had “missed” the internet. A principal reason was because my zeal for the internet, while real, was tempered with caution. I wrote a memo at Microsoft in that era with the title “How long can it last?” where I pointed out that many aspects of internet economics were unsustainable in the short-term (long-term I was very bullish). During that time period I was pilloried in other articles for saying, among other things, that the Java programming language was “just another programming language,” not some miracle that would transform programming or replace Microsoft Word with a mere thousand lines of Java code. In the eyes of the press, and many up-and-coming internet folks, I was clearly a has-been old-timer that just didn’t “get” the newest technology. Then the internet bubble burst, and Java retreated to be (surprise!) just another programming language.

I am not informed enough to know whether Shanghai’s frenetic real estate market has the attributes of a bubble or not. So far it has not been, and people who bet that way would have lost their shirts. It may continue that way forever.

It is a complicated issue because even if Shanghai is sound today with respect to local economics, the current world financial crisis may come crashing in as an exogenous factor to screw things up. Should that count or not? Were the dinosaurs to blame for the asteroid that wiped them out? It hardly seems fair to blame them, but absolution won’t make them any less extinct.

From 1 to 25 of 80 Comments

  1. 1. December 9, 2008 12:55 pm Link

    “It is a complicated issue because even if Shanghai is sound today with respect to local economics, the current world financial crisis may come crashing in as an exogenous factor to screw things up. Should that count or not? Were the dinosaurs to blame for the asteroid that wiped them out? It hardly seems fair to blame them, but absolution won’t make them any less extinct.”

    Um, I don’t think this is a good analogy. China’s cities are a direct result of its political environment and economic policies. I’d hardly consider how a global credit crisis is exogenous to these activities.

    Also, my understanding is that free, “Microsoft Word”-like applications running off Java are available.

    Anyway, hope I don’t sound overly negative. Despite these criticisms I really enjoyed the article.

    — chappy
  2. 2. December 9, 2008 1:31 pm Link

    This is a classic “I’ve been in Shanghai for 4 days and I’m going to write about my insights!” article. There are islands of world-class infrastructure in Shanghai — offices, shopping, apartments — that have maybe a 4-block radius. For example, Nanjing Xi Lu is pretty nice, it’s got the Portman hotel, which is world-class, and great shopping and restaurants.

    I lived five block from there and besides my apartment complex no one on my street had internal plumbing. Every morning as I’d walk to the bus you’d see people on the street in their underwear washing up, brushing their teeth, ect.

    — Mark
  3. 3. December 9, 2008 1:32 pm Link

    Of course Shanhai real estate is a bubble. The question is whether the Chinese government (and the various government related entities which own pieces of this and that, like the PLA) will allow market forces to work. The next question is whether they can prevent market forces from working.

    Dubai is the same issue: massive buildings, huge retail, very little demand outside of the building / investment / speculation community. Dubai actually has more tourism.

    — jonathan
  4. 4. December 9, 2008 1:40 pm Link

    If you’re wondering where the people went, they’re on the other side of the river (Puxi). Pudong is completely sterile and grossly over-engineered compared to the “real” city center.

    — Felix
  5. 5. December 9, 2008 3:32 pm Link

    Great photos! Whether you agree with all the points, literally a different perspective on Shanghi.

    — Hal
  6. 6. December 9, 2008 3:55 pm Link

    I’ve spent a great deal of time in both Shanghai and Beijing and poster #2 is correct. Both cities are have islands of moderization populated mostly by foreigners and the newly wealthy, but still have many, many areas that are no better than they were 10-15 years ago.

    The biggest issue that China is going to have to deal with going forward is trying to figure out how to transport people and goods more efficiently. Air pollution is only going to get worse as more and more people acquire cars, and traffic in Shanghai and Beijing already makes LA look like a breeze. Shanghai’s subway system is tiny, as was Beijing’s prior to the Olympics this year, and even now, after a huge building spree, the Beijing subway serves less than 50% of the city.

    Simply put, the size of both Beijing and Shanghai threatens to overwhlem the ability of the government to improve the infrastructure. My wife is a Beijing native, and although we’ve talked serveral times about moving back for a few years, the air pollution and traffic has kept us from ever actually doing so.

    — mfw13
  7. 7. December 9, 2008 4:19 pm Link

    I agree with Mark. It is easy in the large Chinese cities to only look up at the shiny new skyscrapers, but go for a long walk and let yourself get lost in the shadows of those skyscrapers to see a very different version of China.

    I have heard similar comments from others who stop for short visits to China. When you do the whirlwind tour you are bound to see the ‘high points’ for tourists but miss the authentic city. I think this is true for anywhere, not just China.

    As for the expectation of the collapsing real estate bubble, China’s market is heavily ‘managed’ by the government and they have the resources to ensure that, at least to the appearance of outsiders, things continue to forge ahead at the manic pace they have for at least the last decade or two.

    — Dennis
  8. 8. December 9, 2008 4:37 pm Link

    It was a family friend not Mr Robinson who said “Plastics”

    — Sean
  9. 9. December 9, 2008 4:48 pm Link

    You have figured it out. The reason why the Chinese will continue to subsidize us for the near and intermediate term is that they have been in more of a speculative frenzy than us. We are both doomed without each other, but China is in the worse position, hence their continued subisdy of our borrowing costs, and the ludicrously low return on equity in China.

    Our borrowing costs will remain low, and China will always be teetering on the edge of economic disaster, as long as China follows a mercantilist trade policy. Mercantilist policies don’t work in a fiat monetary system. They are beginning to realize that we can just inflate our way out of our obligations. They sent us a bunch of products, we send them green pieces of paper that become more worthless each year they don’t spend them. They are beginning to realize the trap they willingly put themselves into in order to gain production capacity, but they will not be able to extricate themselves in the near future if ever. They may look all new and shiny and impressive, but they are tied to the dollar system and actually subsidize us. Few people other than economists are aware of that.

    — Billybob
  10. 10. December 9, 2008 4:54 pm Link

    Like this article so clearly demostrates China is a growing country, that other power nations should be on the look out for. One of the major reasons of China’s economic growth is because of the government’s investment in infrastructure. Such investments faciliate as well as decrease transaction costs. Hence, thisprovides greater incentives for people to start up new companies since the costs are lower, indicating less risk. Moreover such an increase in opening businesses means that competition is fierce and thus only the best survive. This is key to China’s economic growth and thus should be exemplar for other struggling nations.

    — maxicms
  11. 11. December 9, 2008 5:28 pm Link

    New York’s architecture may seem very humdrum today, however when the Empire State Building went up, there was nobody to fill it up and the place almost went bankrupt. At the time, the building was an excess, or should have seemed one. Shanghai’s architecture will probably become plain and normal after a while. (Btw, New york City isn’t plain and normal at all if you’re from like Dominican Republic, personally I was incredibly impressed.)

    — Gustavo
  12. 12. December 9, 2008 5:40 pm Link

    people are often suprised and amazed by pace of China’s expansion. However, any student of Chinese history will tell you it is not unprecedent, as matter of fact, it’s have been repeated through out history so many times, that I could be said to be the rule rather than exception.

    — jesterJames
  13. 13. December 9, 2008 6:25 pm Link

    China has been the dream of foreign businessmen since Marco Polo. Then the Portuguese seamen came and settled in Macau. Captain Cook’s crew discovered that the Chinese would trade silk for furs from the Pacific NW, starting a trade that made Massachusetts a maritime power. Then the foreign imperialists traded opium for Chinese goods. Then we had the Texas oilmen who wanted to help China develop its oil industry in the 1980s. Then aerospace manufacturers found cheap labor in China.

    The thing is everybody thought China with their population would be a huge market for their products. But it turns out they’re smart tough negotiators so they always ended up with the best end of the deal, they got the technology for themselves and the jobs.

    — Johnny E
  14. 14. December 9, 2008 6:46 pm Link

    Pudong is the extreme product of Shanghai’s planned economy. Not a penny of private capital went into the construction of those skyscrapers — it is all government, and government-owned companies, funded by government-owned banks, not aiming at economic return but simply at impressing their own people and the rest of the world. How long will it work? Who knows? I am inclined to think that market forces are a better guide to investment decisions like this, but we’ll see!

    — freethinker99
  15. 15. December 9, 2008 6:52 pm Link

    SInce it’s the Freak-O-Nom, I was expecting some slightly wacky political-economic insights from this post. Was disappointed to find it’s just a superficial travelogue. If you want to know what’s up with Shanghai you need to go talk to the heads of the State Owned Enterprises who dominate most of the city’s economy.

    — Pavlov
  16. 16. December 9, 2008 6:59 pm Link

    I live in Shanghai, as I have for 8 years now. This town, like all others here in China, presents a glittering and centimeter thick fascade, which masks an environment with its ethnic inhabitants that is largely incompetent and dysfunctional. Just like bling-the illusion of diamonds.
    Its personality is like an adolescent girl who looks into a mirror and says, “you’re so beautiful, you’re so beautiful!”

    — Troyce Key
  17. 17. December 9, 2008 7:00 pm Link

    Personal opinions on China aside, I was surprised and a little shocked to see the word “bullshit” used in this article.
    Is this the first time that has ever happened in the history of The Times?
    As an English teacher; I bemoan the usage of contractions in written articles, but accept it as the evolution of the language.
    Profanity in America’s most respected newspaper though?
    Not so much.
    Spoleto, Italy

    — John
  18. 18. December 9, 2008 7:57 pm Link

    Hey Kelly,

    So the first paragraph is a direct quote that Ted Crooks used last night.

    I thought that was hilarious.

    I haven’t even read the whole article. I just wanted to laugh at the first paragraph.



    — Kelly
  19. 19. December 9, 2008 7:58 pm Link

    I continually enjoy the Freakonomics column, but this article sure seems a few years to late and a bit too optimistic.

    For instance, I work in the Shanghai World Financial Center. The big building that everyone has been so impressed with because it is quite tall and has a hole in the top. Our firm estimates that the occupancy rate is between 10-15 percent, and you guessed it, rumor has it that rates are starting to fall dramatically for space. Also, three new huge buildings are being built around it. At these prices, the supply is way in excess of the demand, but government financing plows through economic uncertainty.

    Also, not to be the bearer of bad news, residential rents are down 15% in the last four months. If it’s not burst, the bubble sure has a leak.

    — WM
  20. 20. December 9, 2008 8:02 pm Link

    From the Freakonomics column which missed the biggest economics story of the last 70 years we have a slide show from the polymath^2 who let Microsoft miss the Internet soooo completely. I mean does anyone actually Microsoft Search aka live.com aka kumo aka yahoo search? What Mr Polymath is struggling to say is that blue is the new black. LA knew this yars ago.

    — LAConfidential
  21. 21. December 9, 2008 8:27 pm Link

    Price per square foot is insufficient. A key point mentioned about the SWFC tower is that at night, only a few floors are occupied. In other words, the occupancy rate for property is a key indicator of market bubble or bust. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about commercial office space, industrial or factory space, warehouses, hotels, condominiums, apartments or single family houses. A low occupancy rate is a huge red flag, unless the landlord has bottomless pockets.

    — Tom L
  22. 22. December 9, 2008 8:28 pm Link

    “Wow! Gee! Cool! ” China’s most radical success is making a very very small percentage of the country wealthy, continuing to be about the most repressive dictatorship on earth, and still being able to put on the kind of show that keeps people saying, “Wow! Gee! Cool!”. Open your eyes. There is a police station a few blocks from these buildings that was torturing people while the photos were taken. Electric cattle prods were being applied to sensitive areas of human skin. They won’t let you see it, but numerous human rights groups have meticulously documented and corroborated it. I do not think anyone should ignore that, EVER, not even for a moment, just because of impressive buildings and cool elevator lights. I do not think that this should be ignored ever, even if it means our T-shirts or our big screens will cost 2% more if we don’t. This kind of booster article is totally unacceptable, and shouldn’t be published. Isn’t it interesting that this guy spends the rest of his time in places like Dubai and Singapore, where there is no democracy, poor respect for human rights, but plenty of money?

    Shame on you NYTimes for printing such blind tripe. What are you, stockholders in Baidu?

    — thepirate captain
  23. 23. December 9, 2008 8:35 pm Link

    Yes to posts 2 and 4. I laughed in surprise when I read that the downtown area is called Pudong. Where are all the people? Over here in Puxi, the “other side” of the river! Here we have a rich mix of the old and the new. Although the adjectives one could use to describe Puxi are myriad, I doubt that “sterile” will ever be one of them. Did you venture beyond the Bund on our side of the river, Mr. Myhrvold? In some ways, I think you’d find the differences between Puxi (”west of the river”) and Pudong (”east of the river”) not unlike the (obviously tamer) differences between Seattle and Bellevue (and the rest of the East Side).

    — Sarah
  24. 24. December 9, 2008 9:00 pm Link

    Purely exogenous factors are very rare. The dinosaurs didn’t just go extinct because the meteor hit them, they went extinct because they were ready to go extinct. They were so ecologically specialized, that they couldn’t handle a little shake up.

    Unfortunately, that reminds me more of the globalized world as a whole than just of Shanghai.


    — Boldizar
  25. 25. December 9, 2008 9:15 pm Link

    Those who say China and its real estate and industrial growth, are just bubbles have not seen much of the Chinese middle class. It is immense, growing quickly, and has a ingrained desire for conspicuous consumption dating from premodern times. They will power growth and building for the long term, even if China has its share of aches during the recession. While 60% of China’s GDP is based on exports, the share that goes to the U.S. is shrinking, and being replaced by the rest of the developing world, especially Asia. We need them more than they need us. Shanghai is sustainable. Wait 10 years and see how much more it impresses us.

    I wonder what Mr. Myhrvold will say about Beijing. I personally find it much classier. Shanghai is all flash. They might have a leg up in having a Dunkin’ Donuts, but Beijing has all the real culture. Approximately 20 times as many punk rock bands and art galleries.

    — Matt L