My first impressions of Shanghai focused on the build environment. I didn’t mention another distinct impression, equally based on where I come from, but more immediate. Even walking the incredibly busy Pearl Tower area of Lujiazui, and the central shopping axis of Nanjing during a Sunday afternoon Shanghai streets felt mellow, hassle free. That can only be interpreted as a statement about Cairo. I really enjoyed walking Cairo streets, and there was plenty to see, and every time something new, but it wasn’t tension-free. It required a certain measure of non-engagement with one’s surroundings, a measure of being otherwise occupied, looking on one’s way to somewhere, a measure of avoiding eye contact. And I’m male, females experienced the above even more intensely.
I often felt a tangible aggression on the street, a sense that it matters who gives way, that one’s worth, one’s honor is affected by the extent to which one can ignore other pedestrians, walk right through them. A machismo foreign to me, and bothersome, especially if displayed by snotty boys. And the culture of the veil, so visible on the streets of Cairo, added to the general sense of oppression. In general the streets oozed a subcutaneous resentment, that translated for me into a barely sensible tension, the kind that gave me tired shoulders and a slight headache because of permanently being, ever so slightly, on my guard.
Nothing of that in Shanghai. Yet? Who knows, but I guess not, because it feels like I don’t represent anything worth resenting to those whom I share the streets with. They don’t seem occupied with a glorious past that the outside world has somehow deprived them from but look focused on the future unfolding before them.
Now, before I go overboard about the differences, the short Human Rights Watch video below on the Cairo square ‘happenings’ of August last year, based on their recently released report, draws an explicit parallel with what happened in 1989 on Tiananmen square.
But I hope for more positive parallels. Cairo streets may not have been a mellow experience but they certainly were captivating. May my new environment display similar seductiveness. I’m sure the aesthetics are going to differ but my tastes are multifarious and the beautiful street photographs of Eddie Tay give me plenty confidence in Shanghai’s potential to bewitch.
Something I’m less optimistic about – but what do I know – is music. Egypt (still) is a treasure trove of poetry on sound. China? Let’s see.