One of the things I've been meaning to get around to while in Shanghai has been visiting some of their museums. In Dubai, museums are pretty much relegated to second-class citizen status, and the last time I went to a museum in Dubai I was still in school and I was taken there under the assumption that it would somehow enhance my learning experience and help me grow.
But, if anything, that has left me with an insatiable intellectual thirst for such places. I still remember when a few years ago I got lost at the British Museum in London. I've never been so happy to be lost before nor since.
But, before I embarked on my mission to broaden my cerebral horizons, I was pleasantly informed on Tuesday that I had (surprisingly) made it onto the Dean's List for the previous module, and was therefore invited to have dinner with the new Dean that night. First time it's ever happened, and the last time it will ever happen to me since the year is almost over now. But, turns out, according to previous dean's list awardees, that usual protocol is an email and a handshake. So I guess I got lucky, timing my academic performance in such a way that I was able to maximise a free meal out of the whole thing.
It was a rather odd cultural experience for me, something that I feel I'm in constant contact with every day here. Once again, I was the only Indian there, amongst a group of around 25 people. On top of which, I was situated between a Dutch and a Slovak friend, along with a few Frenchmen, and despite this rather United Colours of Benetton group, we all realised that for some strange reason all our parents behave in a similar way. Maybe as you grow older differences tend to strip away.
On top of this, I was also very aware of the fact that this was a French restaurant in China, and I was, of course, Indian. So many cultural bridges being crossed in a single night.
On my way to this restaurant, I was made aware, for the first time, that the taxis here have a little slideshow that goes on on their centre panel in the front. It shows the taxis in Shanghai from the 1920's till now (I'm guessing that's when the taxi company commenced operations). What I gathered from this short presentation, conveniently translated in English for us Mandarin-lacking folk, was that the taxis in Shanghai up till the 40's were fantastic. Lovely large cars with sweeping lines and sensuous curves. And then WWII took a toll on the whole system, reducing them to nothing more than a chassis with seats. And of course, from the 90's onward, the taxis look like those in any other large city.
The next day I decided to finally venture into one of Shanghai's museums, and made my way to the Urban Planning Exhibition. It's worth a look, if for nothing else but their 3rd floor model of the entire city of Shanghai. Unbelievably detailed and accurate, at least to my limited knowledge of the city, and it's the best indicator of just how big this city is. In fact, the entire exhibition is a great window into the history and future of this city, and it is surprisingly honest about how it explains that the city underwent stagnant development prior to the 90's, before opening up and pushing forward.
Now I come from Dubai, so I am familiar with landscape changing terraforming to a certain extent, and in many ways Dubai's story has been rapid and amazing. But Shanghai is on a completely different scale. What Dubai has done for 5 million people, Shanghai has done for 25 million. It's a fantastic story, and a story worth telling.
By the time I finally located the Shanghai Museum, it had already closed for the day, so my journey still requires me to make a second visit there, but yesterday I was lucky enough to have dinner with an old acquaintance of my extended family who happened to be in Shanghai. And while the challenging aspect of the whole night was me trying to find the restaurant I was supposed to be in when I only had the Chinese name with me, it did offer me a chance to travel the metro in a suit. Yes, last night, I was the most well dressed person on the metro.
It is a bit strange, but I haven't really seen anybody in a suit riding the metro here. I don't know if it's a difference in business attire (though I doubt it) or is it that people who wear suits are expected to have their own cars or take taxis, but for me, it was rather intriguing to see confused faces, wondering why a person who looks like he has money was riding the metro like all the common folk. If nothing else, I was somehow given a little more space on the metro than I usually get. Of course, they had no idea that I'm voluntarily unemployed.
The next few weeks will be rather intense, as I get through two electives, but that means that my countdown to the end of my MBA is gathering speed. It's been a great privilege to have it wrap up in Shanghai, but as with all things, there's still a lot of work left to be done.