A diamond with a flaw is worth more than a pebble without imperfections.
– CHINESE PROVERB
Shanghai is a city of 18 million people, and they all seem to be going wherever you’re going. Vast and bursting with non-stop activity, its energy feels as if it could power the world. Just thinking about the infrastructure required to support this place is mind-boggling, yet the rapid pace of development shows no signs of stopping. From the “starchitect”-designed skyscrapers of Pudong to the awesomely ambitious World Expo, the city is making a statement that is big and brassy, and they want you to see it.
Fueling all of this abundance are probably some of the hardest working people on the planet. The Chinese have become ardent consumers, with real estate and all of its trappings at the forefront of the buying frenzy. A relentless focus on “high end” and “custom” is driving huge gains in the home furnishings market, but it will still take some time before the quality and style of products approaches Western standards.
Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is an ancient city dubbed “the most beautiful in all of China” by none other than Marco Polo himself. Although a major metropolis, its heart – both geographically and spiritually – is a large, gorgeously landscaped body of water, known as West Lake, which is a phenomenally peaceful refuge from the city’s din. Casually strolling past watery fields of lotus flowers, outdoor ballroom dancers, kite flyers, and paddle boaters proved to be the perfect yin to the city’s yang.
Putuoshan is a Buddhist sanctuary on an island approximately five hours from Shanghai. With a population of about 10,000 people, 5,000 of whom are Buddhist monks, the island literally radiates good karma. Its marigold colored temples, ever-present whiffs of burning incense, verdant hillsides and sandy beaches contribute to a zen-like environment that is truly otherworldly.
Magical as many aspects of Shanghai are, the city also sports a gritty underside that can pose challenges and frustrations. Communication difficulties, infringements on personal space, and the apparent view of driving as a bloodsport can all contribute to an assault on the senses. Without such drawbacks, however, the victories wouldn’t be as sweet. Much like the introductory proverb, China can rest assured in its status as a slightly flawed diamond, certain to bedazzle the world for centuries to come.
Frank Webb is an interior designer and founding partner of White Webb, a New York City based interior design firm. http://www.whitewebb.com