Yesterday the Japanese retailer Uniqlo opened its flagship store (39,000 sq. ft.) on West Nanjing Road in Shanghai which will be its largest store in the world – the tagline thus appropriately; From Shanghai to the world. The opening was to coincide with the world expo that kicked off in Shanghai this month.
Shanghai has been undergoing a facelift in the last few months – for the green expo. From new metro lines (which have now made the Shanghai Metro the longest in the world) to a new airport terminal to trees replete with lights that have sprouted overnight to viewing galleries in shanghai’s business district to the newly done up bund on the pudong side to new expo taxis with English speaking drivers; shanghai has had more than a lift and a tuck to look like a glittering diamond. Imagine driving to work on a Monday morning to find the road you take everyday suddenly looking completely different with trees on both sides (literally overnight) or taking a taxi one day and not having to explain the address/ give directions in Chinese! It’s almost surreal – but if anyone can do it; it’s the Chinese! In fact; even in normal taxis (the expo taxis are bigger and better); a sticker has been put with a number to call on in case of problems communicating with the driver – Shanghai has gone all out to make it convenient for the visitor; though how many will visit only because of the expo remains to be seen. But one has to see it to believe it! Most Indians who visit Shanghai for the first time are completely in awe of what the city has to offer in terms of infrastructure and then admit rather sheepishly that they never thought China would be like this!
Let’s take a look at some of the statistics:
- Size of expo site – 5.28 sq. km. (20 times bigger than the last world expo in Spain)
- No of visitors expected over 6 months of expo – 70 million (most of them Chinese)
- Participating countries and organizations – >240
- Expense to host the event – USD 4.2 billion
- Amount spent on infrastructure overhaul – USD 45 billion
- Number of new taxis – 4,000 (in addition to 50,000 existing ones)
The government has spent more on the shanghai expo than they did on Beijing Olympics. A look at the fantastic pavilions put up by various countries today and one is convinced that no country wants to say no to China today! In fact; they want to go all out to use this opportunity to strengthen their ties with China. World leaders were present for the opening ceremony. This is China’s way of asserting its place in the world today by showcasing how no one can do it bigger and better than them. This is also a way for China to tell its own people about its position in the world today. Most importantly, this is the first time the world expo is being hosted by a developing country! If the Beijing Olympics made the world sit up and notice China, then there is no doubt that the Shanghai expo will go all out to make a big statement about China’s position in the world today!
Of course, all this has not been without its share of controversies; people have been relocated to make space for the expo site and the new metro lines; there have been protests which have been curtailed. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has been brought in to beef up security.
Everyone who has been living in Shanghai for last 6 months; has been given a free ticket to the expo; 33 million tickets have already been sold and along with the free tickets 40 million visitors are confirmed – and the expo has just begun. Keeping aside the issue of relocating the locals or causing inconvenience to some of them; one has to agree that what Shanghai has been able to do is spectacular – I have not seen so much infrastructure development in last 15 years in Bombay as I have seen in Shanghai in last 2 years. In that sense; it does live up to the “better city, better life” theme. All this infrastructure development is very futuristic and will benefit Shanghai for a long time to come. The critics say that there will be the problem of overcapacity but with the kind of growth China is seeing; most don’t see that as a big issue. Convenience and ease is top priority as Shanghai has managed to now link both the airports by metro (old airport in Hongqiao and the new one at Pudong). They have also connected Shanghai to cities like Nanjing by high speed trains and plan to do the same for Shanghai and Beijing. In addition; a 165 metre expo thermometer has been put up in the expo park in Puxi along the Huang Pu river to give real time weather information – this is the highest meteorological signal tower in the world! From low carbon consumption to odorless toilets, the expo has it all.
Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh – you said in 2005 that you want to make Mumbai like Shanghai; its 2010 and Shanghai seems to have gone ahead by light years whereas Mumbai is nowhere close to where Shanghai was in 2005 – in fact the only infrastructure development that Mumbai is proud of; the Bandra-Worli sea link (which took ten years to complete; the same time it took Shanghai to turn whole of Pudong from grasslands to a world class business district complete with a new airport and metro lines) also needed Chinese help (one of the contractors for the sea link was a Chinese infrastructure company)! So while we Indians pride ourselves on our software; when it comes to hardware we really need to keep our egos aside and take some serious help from China as they really know their stuff as showcased by the expo! Being a realist; though I am a proud Indian I would say that Mumbai cannot dream of hosting such an event at a similar scale for the next 100 years! Sigh!