Contrast in cultures collides in sprawling Shanghai

A typical street in Old Town Shanghai with the clothes drying from high above.

SHANGHAI, China - If you’ve never been to China, know that it’s certainly different than anything in the U.S. 

San Francisco’s Chinatown perhaps comes the closest but doesn’t do this East Asian metropolis justice.

Shanghai is a massive city, with a 2010 population of 23 million-plus. To put Shanghai’s size in perspective, New York City has more than 8.2 million residents. Nearly three Big Apples could fit inside the largest city in the world, which sits at the mouth of the Yangtze River that empties into the East China Sea.

At 2,448 square miles, Shanghai is double the size of the state of Rhode Island but much more difficult to navigate by car, which is why everyone this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions stays at the local hotel, Le Meridien, just up the street from the Sheshan International Golf Club.

The contrast of life this week at the HSBC and for the typical Shanghai resident differs immensely. In a trip to the Old Town area of Shanghai, a visitor finds food out for display by street vendors. These little displays are in front of the places where merchants live. In the case of one merchant, he had all of his chickens caged outside the store and a customer would pick one to be weighed. The merchant would wring the chicken’s neck, then drain some of the blood before it would be plucked and dressed.

Welcome to The Simple Life: Shanghai. 

Clothes dryers are in short supply here. Many residents use long rods to hoist their clothes for drying. Even in the swanky area called The Bund, you could see clothes on hangers 10 or so feet up in the air.

With the exception of a trip on Tuesday to downtown for the players at a reception at the former British Consulate building, most will stay by the golf course before it’s time to hop a plane to the next tournament.

Conversely, most of the inhabitants of the city will not see Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke or Ernie Els hit a shot. The trip alone from the center of the city is at least an hour, no matter the mode of transportation.

But even if they could make the trip to Sheshan International, Shanghai residents comprise a city of few rich and many not so. Golf in China is a rich man’s sport, very much like it was in the early days of the U.S.

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