Shanghai Vacation

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Shanghai Vacation

Postby rjaypeters » Sat Jun 06, 2015 9:20 pm

I had the very great privilege to vacation in Shanghai China while my wife was working (1) in a nearby free-trade zone. I won't bore you with all of my doings while I was there (2), but I did see some salient happenings and form some impressions which might be useful.

One funny thing happened after we returned: we watched an episode of Anthony Bordain's "Parts Unknown" about Shanghai. It was fun to watch and say, "Been there, saw that."

On my first free day, I visited the Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology (SMST) which without exception had excellent exhibits which showed considerable polish, clarity and reasonably recent scientific interpretations. I was still jet-lagged during my visit, but my attention was first caught by a 3-4 meter diameter globe levitated about 30 cm above the floor. On first inspection, it looked like a standard, if very large globe mechanically suspended along the axis. Then I notice the axis of rotation appear to change. One hypothesis was jet-lag had affected my observations, another was that sucker doesn't have a mechanical support! My tall perspective made it possible to see across the top of the globe and observe no mechnical connection (I walked all of the way around), then I stooped and saw no mechanical connection below the globe. After my eye-brows descended, I concluded was observing magnetic levitation of the largest object I have seen (other than a mag-lev train - also in Shanghai, but we skipped it). I might be possible to levitate the globe with static charge, but I think that would be harder to arrange in an exhibit where a stray hand might discharge the globe.

Also in the SMST were several space exhibits. One thing that is notable about the SMST was the extremely helpful English translations of almost every (I assume) Mandarin text in this museum. In fact, I had just walked into the museum and a docent handed me the translated museum guide (3). Back to the space exhibits: the exhibit English translations were careful to point out China's later entry into the Space Age behind the Soviet Union and United States. I didn't use (or hadn't downloaded at the time) the picture translation app on my new smartphone to compare the Mandarin and English texts, but the comparison might be revealing.

The most eye-opening SMST exhibit for me was the additive manufacturing exhibit which had at least ten design workstations set up for a novice designer to create a design, send the design to an editorial staff for review and have the edited design printed right then on two dedicated printers which are part of the exhibit. I visited MST during a national holiday, so the place was crawling with school children, but during my walk-throught of that exhibit, I didn't see any children at the workstations, I suspect because the teachers were keeping their charges on a schedule to see the maximum amount (it's a big museum) before the it was time to go. Anyone with more time and a modicum of interest in making things would do well to spend time some at this exhibit. Because of the tiny amount of additive manufacturing design work I have done (little Polywell balls - you might remember), I wasn't terribly tempted by this exhibit, but somebody in China really wants the children to think of additive manufacturing as something approachable and doable.

While we were there, I noticed a newspaper article about how China's next manufacturing initiative is quality. If the Chinese were careful planners, I would suspect the additive manufacturing exhibit and an emphasis on quality would be related.

The other thing I noticed that day and continued to notice was how helpful almost all of the Chinese were to strangers. Even the cab driver who shooed me out of his cab was polite about it. I didn't do anything to offend him, he just didn't know my hotel's location which was printed on a card thoughtfully supplied by the concierge. I had expected to be more noticed (4) by the Chinese as I walked around because I'm pretty tall (188 cm) and don't look remotely oriental, but it was not so, even outside of the western expatriot districts. Conversely, I found less civil inattention (more eye contact) with the natives than I am used to in big cities; I don't have an explanation other than I was so noticeable. Shanghai has been an international city for a long time and the natives took me in stride, but they mostly kept their distance from me (on the subway for example) unless they wanted to practice their English or some other trade, which several of them do. Some of the approaches are commercial (tea ceremony, etc. foreigner?), but outside of the obvious tourist areas, some people just want to practice (5).

After my wife, her work partner and I figured out how to use the subway (6), I was off and running for independent exploration without recourse to taxis. I visited the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) which is a really tall building across the Huangpu river from the old downtown. SWFC is soon to no-longer be the tallest building in Shanghai, but SWFC does boast a large multi-level observation deck which I recommend any visitor to Shanghai, no matter how motion-averse, visit. The reason I can unreservedly recommend the observation deck is the mass damper the building employs. Even on the breezy day I visited, I could detect no building sway. It was like sitting on my couch while I write this account, only a few hundred meters above the ground. We were blessed with a relatively clear day also and the visibility was good enough to see the vast panorama (7) of Shanghai laid out below. Shanghai displays the hand of planners at work; large neighborhoods with similar building designs topped by identical roofs, broad avenues with separate lanes for cars and trucks surrounded by scooter lanes and then sidewalks, rank upon file of apartment buildings as far as the eye can see in every direction (despite the large coal-fired powerplant's best efforts to reduce visibility).

Speaking of subways, I found Shanghai's to be the best I've ridden (New York City is an aging and probably unfair comparison because of the age difference). I understand Moscow's subway stations are, or used to be, almost palatial in their decor, but Shanghai's stations were clean, well-organized with good, smooth service on well-maintained cars. Just like almost every place I went, there were dual-language signs and several of the trains had recorded audio announcements in Mandarin and English. I did encounter my only crime on the subway, however.

It was late, we were tired and Shanhai's peacefulness had convinced me to let my guard down. The subway train drivers try very hard to hit their marks to align the car doors with the platform door openings, but their technique requires a little getting used to. The driver smoothly reduces speed coming into the station and then slowly glides to the final mark below slamming on the brakes. The final jerk is substantial, but easily manageable. One night, the train was a little crowded and two young women got on the train and stepped behind me. When I'm traveling, I keep all of my valuables in my front pockets with decoy targets (handkerchiefs) in my rear pockets. I also carry my baseball cap (never go outside without a hat, I say) with the bill tucked in the back of my waist band. After the final jerk, I felt a slap in my back which I assumed was from one of the young ladies over-compensating for the deceleration and then I heard someone laugh. I smiled and thought nothing of it until the next day when I was looking for my baseball cap... which could not be found...and then the dime dropped and I smiled again at the well-executed theft. It is barely possible I left my cap in the cab back from the subway station, but I think my wife (or our hotel's very attentive door man) would have noticed it. Anyway, it wasn't my favorite cap and even if I had immediately turned around, the thief would have passed the hat to her accomplice and a foreigner shouting "Give it back!" doesn't get very far anywhere in the world, well almost...

This cap theft was a marked contrast to the other time I had a hat stolen when I was a cadet at Virginia Tech. Back in the day, and probably still, civilian students count considerable coup for stealing a cadet's hat. I was walking in the crowd after my first home football game when my head was wrenched around be someone forcibly removing my formal (white) cover. Fortunately, the thief was not accomplished and looked at me. That time, walking up and shouting "Give it back!" worked.

BTW, I was told not to use the subway during rush hour because the pushers do push to fill the cars to capacity.

Speaking of planning, inside of People's Square is an exhibit hall set aside for Shanghai's planners to show the history and concepts which guided the planning of modern Shanghai. There is a very large scale lluminated model of Shanghai and its buildings and floors of exhibits with lots of old maps and displays. One of the surprising things about Shanghai was the relatively small number of bridges across the Huangpu river which flows between the old and new downtown sections. The two major bridges I saw are quite something, but I expected to see more of them. An unsurprising thing about the Huangpu river was the traffic going up it day and night. I always saw that river busy, even at night when we walked down to the Bund, with, it seemed, one quarter of the population of Shanghai out for a pleasant evening's stroll. Even waiting at the airport for the flight home, I could see larger ships continuously moving on the river. We may read about the relatively slow growth of the Chinese economy in the recent past, but they sure manage to look busy even if they are not.

One last impression: For such a large, modern city, I didn't find Shanghai a relatively well-lit at night (8). What lighting they do have is lavished on the taller modern buildings, especially in the new downtown. Those buildings sport pretty light shows that shut down around 2200L, I'm told.

All for now, there's some more (9) if any are interested, but not a lot of technical or social significance.

1. I was self-describing as "arm-candy"; my real role: "Chief Shlepper."
2. I hope not to bore you at all. If I am, please stop reading!
3. That same docent later handed a great map of all the cultural attractiions of Shanghai. I was disappointed to find only the map's title had been translated.
4. Our visit to Ethiopia several years ago brought about more staring, but similar politeness and helpfulness.
5. Sometimes when a Shanghai-native started speaking to me in English, I was tempted to reply in Francais or Deutsch. I managed to resist.
6. On the ticket-selling terminals, there is a very handy button labeled "English."
7. Since this was the tallest building I have been in, I was reminded of a New Testament passage where Jesus is taken to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem and shown all the kingdoms of the world.
8. Do watch out for the nearly silent and nearly universal electric scooters, especially at night before you step off the sidewalk. The scooters don't seem to be well-lit either.
9. I'll include pictures later, including a panorama from the SWFC!
"Aqaba! By Land!" T. E. Lawrence

R. Peters

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Re: Shanghai Vacation

Postby ladajo » Tue Jun 09, 2015 12:19 pm

Haven't been, but sounds a lot like Hong Kong, but cleaner and less crime. Thanks for sharing.
The development of atomic power, though it could confer unimaginable blessings on mankind, is something that is dreaded by the owners of coal mines and oil wells. (Hazlitt)
What I want to do is to look up C. . . . I call him the Forgotten Man. (Sumner)

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Re: Shanghai Vacation

Postby rjaypeters » Tue Jun 09, 2015 12:57 pm

You're welcome. When I was writing about the additive manufacturing exhibit I thought about your scientist son. He will have some competition.

As soon as I remember/figure out how to post the pictures natively here, I will correct my previous post. It's been a while since I posted a picture.
"Aqaba! By Land!" T. E. Lawrence

R. Peters

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Re: Shanghai Vacation

Postby MSimon » Wed Jun 10, 2015 7:40 am

I'm working on some controllers for additive designs and regular CNC.


I'm very interested in your Polywell Files. Can we work something out?
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

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