Friday, June 09, 2006

Shanghai Surprise! *

Mustapha, a fellow blogger, added yet another interesting insight on his blog today:

Chinese Traders have somehow concluded that the best place to establish a regional trade center to promote their products is the Rachid Karami International Fair in Tripoli. Their decision is about to transform the entire Tripolitan economy”

It is said that Oscar Niemeyer is the last of the “Modernists”. And it’s truly the case in Tripoli. In the midst of a field of traditional architecture and history, modernist buildings are dispersed throughout the city. They are often sharing walls, or adjacent to one another.

Together with the old, the souks, and the history this city carries, they form and interesting and somehow “grayish” comfortable blend. Niemeyer’s Rashid Karami International fair, is the culmination of the city’s homage to a proud modernist era.

You get to understand Tripoli in the end. You understand its “pollution”. You understand its “dirtiness”, and you like it. It is… struggling, like any authentic modern Arabic city would be.

I am a native and a resident of Beirut. My visits to Tripoli were not so frequent, but I enjoyed the rare few ones. And I loved walking and taking pictures in the old souks, on the streets and on the waterfront (Al-meena).

Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Shenzhen, and many other rising Chinese cities are not so different after all. These major cities also strive and dwell in an interesting Architectural, Sociological as well as historic blend.

After the one-child-per-family-law imposed in China, modern Chinese parents indulged their kids all the luxuries they wanted. As a result, the current young Chinese generation (women and men), is a little spoiled. They get what they want. They are getting rich exponentially, and their needs and ambitions are riding shotgun. They cater themselves any luxury their hearts desire…

Have you noticed that, again, the situation in Lebanon is pretty similar? Of course, you have to take the rich part out of the equation. Not many Lebanese are truly rich. But our current generation (i.e. the generation whose parents lived and maybe participated in the war - maybe the kids also lived the last part of the war) is also a little spoiled and is always trying to get what it wants. Their parents went through hell. Consequently those parents ended up either numb and blasé to care for the upbringing of their children, or they just … gave them everything!

Chinese-Lebanese values of family and friendship are very similar. Community life, traditions and rituals converge in so many ways.

We are very much alike; each in our own ways.

Chinese are invading the world. It is their time and their era. I think it is only natural that Lebanon (still the pearl of the Middle East in my mind) would be the next destination; the next stepping stone.

In many Chinese cities, the way-to-do “business” relies mainly on centralization (at least in major provinces and cities); so they may even have wanted Beirut at first. I also imagine that because they could not, or did not want to compete with the Saudi moneys that “engulf” Beirut, Tripoli was the only next logical destination to go to. It is still a little bit more conservative than Beirut, but Chinese are no strangers to conservatism. Although they are now manifesting everything that is new, modern, avant-garde, bold and flashy, they still know it (conservatism) well, and if case needed, they can apply it and deal with it perfectly.

Oh they will do pretty well in Tripoli I think! The question is, as Mustapha puts it, whether Tripolitanians will know how or even want to cope with this friendly invasion. I am actually glad, the city even caught up with that, and immediately acted on remedying the potential problem, with public awareness campaigns. I am impressed! I am very happy!

Good luck Tripoli! This is your chance to be propulsed into the 2000s. You are being pushed back in the race.
I hope the Tripolitarian will learn to embrace this multi-cultural change well and with ease. Economically the city will benefit tremendously (jobs, tourism, cash flow…). From an “urban” point view, there is no telling of how rich and diverse the fabric would become.

With optimism that “creative” and “honest” urban design guidelines (for the new the existing and the heritage) will be implemented, planned and well managed, the city might start to sketch itself a sexy new skyline.

The skyline of a real modern Metropolis!
(Please plant lots of trees!)

Sadly though Mustapha, gossip will remain gossip.
* Shanghai surprise the movie, came out in 1986; exactly twenty years ago.

Photo source:


At 1:49 AM, Blogger Mustapha said...

Nice post _z,

you said: "I am actually glad, the city even caught up with that, and immediately acted on remedying the potential problem, with public awareness campaigns"

Suggesting the awareness campaign on my blog is just that: a suggestion. Whether or not it will be heeded is a different matter :)

At 2:21 PM, Blogger _z. said...

I misunderstood then, I thought it was being implemented... let's keep our fingers crossed.


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