Is Shanghai the New York of Today or Tomorrow?

Xiang Yang marketIf you want to see the crossroads of commerce and communism, stand in the middle of Xingye Road and you’ll be in the fast-beating heart of China’s largest city. There’s shopping, high-end restaurants, glittering lights, and the Chinese Communist Party museum if that’s your idea of a good time.

If you visit the mega shopping center known as Xintiandi, you’ll think you never left South Street Seaport or Quincy Market. And sure enough, you can buy the same things here that you’d buy at home: Starbucks coffee, French pastries, scented candles, hip threads, and trendy looking housewares. The whole complex has retained the flavor of the original crowded tenement-like neighborhood, so it’s a somewhat reverse process from the States, where we build new and then make it look old. The locals really don’t get it, as they prefer the newer, glitzy construction.

Perhaps the strangest phenomenon in Shanghai is that tourists are Xintiandi alleyapproached by street vendors who offer them Prada or Gucci, and the thing is you’re not sure if it’s counterfeit or stolen from the Chinese factories that make many of the real products for some of the world’s top designers.

The other startling sight in Shanghai is the number of truly wealthy citizens who are buying luxury merchandise that is more expensive here than it would be in New York, Paris or London. Not wanting to be left behind in the scramble for these Chinese consumers, the biggest names are here in force --- Cartier, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Zegna, and Armani. Most of the upscale retail is centered in the Bund, a riverfront district that used to house banks and trading companies from the colonial era. Just across the river from the PuyongBund is the amazing new construction of the financial district known as Pudong.

Some visitors have the most fun shopping for fakes in Xiang Yang street market. Wander through the tightly packed stalls and find your $50 Rolex, North Face jackets, Hermés scarves, more luggage than you’ve ever see in one place, and any DVD you can imagine for only $1.

There is also a  bustling trade in antiques, but as with just about everything else in China, it’s hard to tell the real antiques from the newly made antiques. There’s enough old wood in China to replicate antiques for another century.

Thirteen million people spread out over 2,500 square miles is still as crowded as any part of New York ever was. And if New York was once THE place to shop til you drop, Shanghai may soon be taking a big bite out of the Big Apple.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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