Future shock in Shanghai

Somebody has been busy (click photo to enlarge):


The city on the left is Shanghai, China, in 1987. The city on the right is Shanghai in 2013. It’s like a modest backwater turned into the set of “Blade Runner” overnight. In terms of construction, this may have taken 26 years, but I can’t think of an American city that has changed this much this quickly.

Did you know there are more than 160 cities in China with a population exceeding one million? Can you guess how many American cities exceed one million?


China has a population 1.36 billion. The U.S. population is 317.3 million, less than a quarter of China’s. Still, given the proportion, you’d think there’d be at least 40 American cities over the million mark.

The cities I currently live in, Washington, D.C., and Louisville, rank 24th and 27th in terms of U.S. population. They wouldn’t even make the top 200 in China. Maybe that’s one reason American cities don’t grow as fast.

By the way, Shanghai is China’s second largest city in terms of population, with 27 million people. The largest U.S. city? New York, with a paltry 8 million.

And China’s largest city? The Guangzhou metropolitan area with 44 million. I have no idea where this is. I thought Beijing was the largest city, but it ranks third.

More fun with maps

Here’s another interesting map fact that’s been my obsession for the day:


A while back, I posted a map that showed that you could fit a bunch of countries in Africa, including the U.S., China, India and all of Europe.

So if these southern hemisphere continents are so big, how come they look so small on every map I look at?


Well, it was explained years ago on “The West Wing.”

Here’s the map that freaked C.J. out (click to enlarge):


Technically, there is no reason why this map is unacceptable. There is no up or down in space (I learned that in “Ender’s Game“). Had the first exploration maps come from the southern hemisphere, this is how they would have been drawn. The North here is pretty squished. The South has plenty of room.

It’s an interesting perspective.

Notes from the underground

This is why infrastructure matters:

A hole opened up in the ground in China because of rain and a girl on a cellphone fell through the sidewalk. Things like this shouldn’t happen in a well maintained city.

You wonder how bad things can get when th ground beneath you erodes. But this has already happened in the U.S. In fact, it’s been going on for more than 50 years.

There’s a place in Pennsylvania called Centralia. When I was working in Pennsylvania, the most unusual story was about a mine fire that had been burning under the city for decades. No one knows how it started, but it was estimated it began in the early 1960s, apparently when the fire department didn’t fully put out a blaze at a landfill. The landfill was at an abandoned rock put, which was over an abandoned coal mine. Over time, the fire burned through the rock pit and went through the ground, igniting a coal seam. The town was above abandoned mines, which meant it was above a perpetual source of fuel.

So by the late 1970s/early 1980s, the fire was still burned. There were stories about the people of Centralia trying to get the state to do something to extinguish the blaze. The federal government was also called in. But nothing could be done. In subsequent years, the blaze released poisonous gas in the area. At odd times, the ground would open up. In one case, it sucked in a kid who would have died from carbon monoxide poisoning had someone not been around to get him out of the hole.

I left Pennsylvania in the early 1980s and figured that the fire surely had been put out by now. Instead, a town of about 1,000 was formally evicted in 2009. The fire still burns today.

Probably 10 people still live in Centralia. A couple of months ago, the relocated residents lost an appeal to prevent the condemnation of their land.

That’s an extreme, but it shows what can happen when a town’s infrastructure is ignored. Places become uninhabitable. People have to leave before they die.

China is a minor example of what can happen when infrastructure is left to deteriorate. Centralia is an extreme. And now, we’re fracking another energy source. The consequences of that: earthquakes. You can’t prevent the rain from falling. It looks like you can’t prevent a coal mine from burning forever. But it seems you can prevent earthquakes. If you want to.

The great brawl of China (basketball edition)

The Georgetown Hoyas basketball team got into a rumble with the Chinese army basketball team a couple of nights ago. A combination of hard fouls, bad refereeing and passive security led to this with about nine minutes left in the game.

According to the Washington Post reporter covering the game, the Bayi Rockets couldn’t keep up with the Hoyas even with the lopsided refereeing (the Chinese had 57 free throw attempts, while Georgetown had 15), so, in essence, the soldiers decided to take out the college students.

Now, we can speculate on whether each side was playing equally dirty and, in our flawed American way of waging a “debate,” throw our hands up and say both sides had interesting points, so we aren’t going to solve it here. Or we can say this symbolizes the new disrespectful attitude China has shown toward the U.S. in the wake of the current global financial crisis and the recent S&P downgrading of American debt.

Or …

We can look at this:

That’s the Chinese national team last October in a brawl with the Brazilian national team in China in another “friendly game.” The Chinese coach there was an American, and he and his players were suspended for several games, while the team was ordered to go through some “sensitivity training” (or maybe it was anger management).

Sports are huge in China. They’re also political and used as a propaganda tool to give the country recognition and respect in the world. If nothing else, the Beijing Olympics proved that. So if we want to cast blame based on the evidence that’s out there, you’ve got to lay most of it at the feet of China since it’s the host country and can’t seem to play nice with its foreign visitors.