Back In Shanghai

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-By Caleb Jones


Back in the 1990’s, there was a chunk of worthless swampland across the main river in Shanghai called Pudong. It looked like this:


I’m visiting there now, and just a few days ago, I took a picture of it. It now looks like this:


Not bad for a bunch of backwater communists who only discovered capitalism 38 years ago.

Now here’s the weird thing. My country, the good ‘ol USA, discovered capitalism 241 years ago. Does this mean the Chinese are 203 years behind us? Nope. Technologically and economically, the coastal Chinese are literally right behind us, and in some ways have already surpassed us. While my fellow Americans are getting fat, stupid, and delusional, worrying about transgender bathrooms, universal basic income, and worshipping saviors with funny names like Obama and Trump, the Chinese are hard at work, quietly taking over the world.

As I type these words, I’m sitting here with my laptop, right in the middle of those buildings, looking out through 10 foot tall, panoramic glass walls, looking at, literally, the tallest and highest-technology skyscrapers in the world.

To the right of me are three buildings located in a triangle next to each other; the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower. Those would be, respectively, the 10th tallest, 5th tallest, and tallest (if you measure where humans can actually go) buildings in the world. (The picture at the very top of this article is the pic I took of all three of them.)

To the left of me is the building where James Bond swam in that pool in Skyfall.

Over there is the building Tom Cruise swung across in Mission Impossible 3.

And over there is the Oriental Pearl Tower, a weird-ass thing that looks like a spaceship that changes colors constantly; it’s the fifth tallest tower in the world; far taller than literally any building on the entire American West Coast where I'm from (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, you name it, we've got nothing that comes even close).

Right in front of me is a small park ringed by 16 skyscrapers that are taller than most anything in most major American cities, New York included. The buildings here and the outdoor areas around them have escalators that have weight sensors, so they stop moving if no one is standing on them. Like in Hong Kong, often there are no buttons on the elevators; they already know what floor you’re going to based on your RFID keycard.

This part of Pudong, called Lujiazui, is my favorite single spot in the world...

...all where there was nothing but trees and mud back in the 90’s.

Do we, in the US, have anything that compares to this unprecedented technological and economic growth?

Does Europe?

Does anywhere in the West?


That’s just in the last 20 years. Can you imagine what they’ll do in the next 20, as compared to what we will do in the next 20?

It won’t even be close, folks.

Last Friday I was working late into the evening in one of those skyscrapers. I had a direct view of a skyscraper right across the street, and could see into hundreds of offices through the clear glass windows. At 5:00pm, I expected most everyone to get up and leave, like they would where I come from.

No one left. I could see all the Chinese office workers still hard at work at all of their hundreds of desks.

At 5:30pm, same thing. At 6:00pm, same thing. I didn’t see one worker leave. I finally left at 6:30pm. Most of the Chinese employees were still there, still working.

This was a Friday evening! In the US on a Friday evening, that building would have been an abandoned ghost town by 5:20pm at the latest, leaving only a tiny few workaholics. (And don’t even get me started about what it would look like in Europe.) Yet in China, everyone stays and works, late into the evening, even on a Friday.

The complacent, slowly collapsing West doesn’t stand a chance against this level of motivation.

I’m not saying the Chinese are prefect. They’re pushy, crass, and impatient. They smoke and spit. They’re way too loud, yelling, and I mean yelling at each other and into their phones even when they’re not upset or excited. I spend several weeks at a time in Chinese countries and I admit this can get a little annoying after a while.

But, think about what the average American acted like 38 years after discovering capitalism. Do you think the typical American in 1814 was a class act? Heh. Anything but.

“But China has a real estate bubble and rich people are leaving and their environment sucks and...”

Oh yes, China has its problems, big ones, and many will get worse. But don’t forget, on America’s journey to number one, we had bloody civil wars, extreme depressions, world wars, assassinations, bubbles, civil unrest, and all kinds of horrible shit... and today, we rule the world.

For now.

China will have its problems too. And it will rule the world soon anyways, just like we did.

That’s why I’m here and not in my slowly dying country. I prefer to be where a civilization is growing, not dying.

But that’s me.

Call me crazy.

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