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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old vs. New

When you stand on the river walk on the bank of the Huang Pu River in Shanghai, you have a great view of both sides of the waterway. On the west side, you see an impressive row of European style architecture built in the early 1900s. On the east side of the river, you see a crowd of stunning skyscrapers, which have all been built within the last 20 years. The contrast is stark - a visual representation of Shanghai's past & future.

Puxi - West Bank
Pudong - East Bank
When my parents were here in September, our tour guide Lynn took us to the river side to take photos & gawk at the other tourists. While we were there, Lynn commented that when she takes foreigners to see the river, they almost always turn to look at the old buildings & marvel at the intricate art deco designs. When she takes Chinese tourists to see the same river, they invariably look towards the modern high rises, impressed by how they gleam.

Indeed, Lynn's observation could be broadened to apply to cultural attitudes in general. In the West, everyone loves old things. People are always buying antiques, restoring old buildings, & getting in touch with their roots.

Whereas in the East, the past couldn't be sloughed off quick enough. If it's more than 20 years old, no one wants it. Countless old buildings are demolished every day in favor of 20-storey apartment buildings. Traditional music & clothing is scoffed at as out-dated & useless. The old ways are being replaced by the latest in design, technology & comfort, & no one is looking back - China has torn off its rearview mirror & tossed it out the window.

Some might say it's unfortunate that Ming Dynasty pagodas are being replaced with McDonalds & Starbucks on every corner. However, those that would lament have the luxury to do so. The West has already developed industry & commerce to such an extent that people can comfortably sit back, take a deep breath & sigh about days gone by.

China, on the other hand, is on the verge of something huge - they're charging into the future at a break-neck pace, & they don't have time for the extravegance of looking to the past. Right now, the past is just in the way of progress.


Maria said...


I recently compiled a list of the Top 50 Blogs for those interested in teaching abroad, and I just
wanted to let you know that you made the list! We are promoting the list to college students looking to
learn more about teaching or living in a foreign culture. The list is published online at

Thanks so much, and if you think your audience would find useful
information in the list or on the site, please feel free to share the
link. You can also use the button we've created for the
list, which I can e-mail you. We always appreciate a link
back as we're trying to increase readership.

Thanks again, and have a great day!


Nancy Lewis said...

Thanks for including me on the list, Maria. That's pretty exciting! I would love to include a button for the list on my homepage.