Almost 19 million people living in a fast changing concrete jungle.
Indeed one is not fully aware of Shanghai’s dimension until climbing up Jinmao Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the growing modern part of the city, over the other side of the Huangpu river in the Pudong district, or “east of Pu”.
The fluidity this city evokes is fascinating. Millions of human bodies dislocating through a comparatively small underground system. Nothing, or no one comes to a stop. Only the subway carriage when it reaches a station, to then take off again in a minute or less.
Walking among lines of hundreds of people that keep metamorphosing themselves into human geometrical shapes, no one turns back to notice which person they have accidentally bumped into. No one apologizes. At first, as a Westerner used to the European formality, I felt this behavior coldly impolite. Rather soon I noticed I too was bumping into people unwillingly, but no one turned back to give me evil looks for a limb of my body had voluntarily touched a part of theirs. No one really cares.
There are almost 19 million of us. Small collisions are bound to happen at some stage in this dense human traffic. People do not react with stress or up-tightness about it. Perhaps they show indifference, but certainly no aggression. Could our Western egos then be suffering the syndrome of need for recognition? What do we really get angry at when someone does not apologize when they’ve casually run into us? Is it frankly because their arm or shoulder touched us for split seconds? Are we upset because there was real physical pain involved? Or could it be that we get annoyed because we perceive that indifference as a label for our low state of existence?
We want to be noticed. We do not wish to be just one of the 19 million. But, we are, here in Shanghai.
October 2009, Shanghai.