Portrait of Shanghai: a local’s perspective

Shanghai’s population recently breached 20 million and there is every indication it will continue accelerated growth in the near future. The glamor of city lights and the promise of prosperity has attracted people of every type to the city.  To know the city begins by getting to know its people, and I had some amazing opportunities to sit down and talk with many people in Shanghai. I am so thankful to God for bringing me in contact with these few.  

The following posts will highlight some of the people in an effort to paint a portrait of Shanghai. Due to considerations for privacy and frankly, because I often forget to whip out my archaic 3MP camera, many of these people will not have a face associated with their names.
Max is one of the members of the house church and a local shanghai. He was David’s first contact in Shanghai back in 2005 and over the years has become one of David’s most trusted friends in Shanghai.
There is an area in Shanghai called “Xintiandi” which has become quite an upscale shopping area. I had been here back in 2004 and some of it  still looked familiar. Sprawled across one of the corners is the name “Richgate community” against a large gate. Max joked that while the corner we met up at was called “Richgate” the place we were going to was “Poorgate”. I  chuckled a bit at his humor. 
As we made our way over to Max’s place, I stood next to a small local shop I and couldn’t help but notice that a carton of cigarettes went for ~10RMB (exchange rate of USD to RMB 1:6.8). Just two blocks over, where we had started our walk, was a Jaguar dealership and a steakhouse that sold filet mignon for ~248RMB a la carte. The price of a dinner for two at the steakhouse could probably clear out half the shop in this part of town. Max didn’t actually lived in this area, he was actually taking care of his grandmother. The following few days I began noticing many more areas like this and so I am quite certain it is an accurate representation of much this city.  Perhaps Max wasn’t joking.
Max’s wife is pregnant with twin boys. It’ll be a busy year for them in 2010.
Max came to know God because his mother and his grandmother were both christian. He was baptized a few years ago around the age of 30. The economic crisis is less apparent in Shanghai but the influx of so many migrant workers means competition is fiercer than ever before. Max has not been able to secure a long term job due to various circumstances for the past few years but  by God’s provision the family gets by. His english is more than proficient for us to communicate although most of the conversation is still in mandarin.
His complete openness and hospitality is comforting. We were there with another friend (Ricky) and we were discussing what the economy and work was like in several sectors in Shanghai. David makes a request for help on behalf of Ricky. David later points out to me that in America, people may be  connected with people in high positions, there is not too much influence. Meaning, you might know a friend in HR of a company you want to work for, but that hardly means you’ll get an elevated chance of getting any further. In China, the connections may not be as glamorous or high leveled but they are definitely effective. This might stem from the value of relationships that is central to China’s cultural orientation. When a friend is in need, a friend does everything he or she can to help. 
Only now, do I realize that night that David spoke Shanghainese, Ricky spoke Mandarin, and I spoke English. Max was able to communicate to all three of us in our own languages.  Here was a man that was not in the best place financially, with two babies on the way, and still eager to help a brother in need. Having kids is extremely costly in Shanghai, in fact there is a phenomenon that occurs as megacities grow. ‘DINK’ stands for double income no kids and there’s a growing population of them in Shanghai.
Fun fact, most of us are aware of China’s “one child policy”. I was told this trip that if both parents are single childs, they are allowed to have two children. The financial burdens having more children in a cosmopolitan city usually keep most families at one child.
It does not escape me that despite us being American, and Max a local in Shanghai, this exchange that I am witnessing is only made possible because of our common Father above.

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