Thursday, August 2, 2007

ramblin' bout thursday

Baghdad won an amazing, lopsided upset victory over Shanghai yesterday. I made the classic mistake of confusing a forecast with reality. We were in a small, hole-in-the-wall eatery yesterday at lunch when a huge thunderstorm hit. Very hard rain for an extended period and then light rain for almost an hour. The rain lasted long even to cool down the pavement and remove the sauna effect. (This is where the rain hits the sidewalks and then steams back up.) According to her, Shanghai may have lost to NNY as well.

We went our separate ways after lunch and I was going to head back to the hotel to catch up with some work, when I realized how really pleasant it was. The air temp was down and the pavement was cool -- the nicest weather since being in China. So I walked along Nanjing East Road. A very long section of this street near People's Square has been turned into a pedestrian mall with very high end, high fashion, mostly western stores. (A bit a irony there: People's Square anchors the most excessive of Western elite consumerism around.) Anyway, I love walking in cities and continued until I felt the temperature raise to more normal levels.

That morning we visited Bao Steel north of the city. Actually it is its own city or at least surrounded by a city serving the mill and its workers. We rented a seven-passenger SUV, which in China is a GM minivan. A very nicely appointed Buick, so we toured in the lap of luxury. Our guide, hired from the Bao Steel's travel agency was a woman who had worked in the mill for thirty years before retiring to the tour guide business. She talked a mile a minute in Chinese. Our Chinese speakers had trouble keeping up with her. YM was very sweet and tried to help me out by translating, but she was overwhelmed by the task. I got well less than 1% of what was said. I guess our ladies can fill me in later.

Bao Steel's works are vast, covering an area larger than Macao (a former Portuguese colony near Hong Kong) and they have 15,000 well-paid workers and four blast furnaces. They even have their own port for ocean-going ships. We went into a mill where we saw a rolling eight-inch thick slab of golden yellow steel become a roll of thin gray metal used to make stoves or washing machines. They cooled it down using the same process as later cooled down the streets of Shanghai.

Steel mills are pretty much the same everywhere: big, ugly, hot, polluting. However, only the Chinese could make a steel mill aesthetically pleasing. The main roads were more like four-lane boulevards. Everything was beautifully landscaped, even the smallest or most isolated access roads. Flowering tress, palms, shrubbery. The buildings were ugly, there is not much you can do about a steel mill, but they were often obscured by the landscaping. This was way over the top.

In the evening I took a break and was able to explore the neighborhood around the hotel for the first time. The weather was the most pleasant of any evening so far. To explore I head out in one direction for several blocks then turn around, then head out in another direction. It is easy to get lost since the streets are not laid out in a typical metropolitan grid. However, the down side risk of getting lost is a $1.50 taxi ride back to the hotel. (I carry business cards from the hotel with its address in Chinese.) I discovered the hotel is surrounded by apartment towers, many 40 stories high, with more being built. In my wanderings I also found a food bazaar, an area the size of a modest US grocery store with dozens of sellers of vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. The chickens are quite fresh: you buy them alive.

I later bought fruit from a regular store. This morning I noticed from their little labels that the kiwi is from New Zealand and the orange is a Sunkist. Only the plums appear to be Chinese. That is alright. We're here to study the effects of globalization.

Be blessed,
RB

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