Shanghai is Neo-Tokyo

When I was a kid, one of my favourite TV shows was Voltron. I preferred the Car Force series to the Lion Force, but both were great. I mean, people, piloting robots that looked like lions that joined together to form a robot that looked like a person. You can’t make that kind of thing up.

With hindsight, I realise that this was a rip-off of the various Japanese anime, loosely strung together to meet US syndication requirements, but that’s not the point.

I’ve always been a cyberpunk fan, even before I knew what it was. I didn’t get into anime until university, and weabooism didn’t kick in for a few years after that, but throughout primary and secondary school I was enamored by robots, stories of the future, computers and science in general. I was born in the same year that Tron was released, and I was named after a main character in Scanners (which made it to Australia in the same year). I played Warhammer 40,000 and Battletech, and then when computers started having games on them I was into Descent and Mechwarrior.

I will admit though that a fascination with Tokyo didn’t start until later in life. I missed the initial 1980’s Tokyo (due to being too young) and when I started paying attention, the depression of the 1990’s had already started. It wasn’t until I started getting into the Neo Tokyo of Evangelion that I started to think of Tokyo as a cyberpunk haven. I was more New-New York before then (think 5th Element).

But once I found out more about Tokyo, I was hooked. I needed to go there. That I am now living there seemed unthinkable to me, and in many ways, it still delivers on the cyberpunk promise. Lots of flashing lights, a total mix of modern skyscrapers interlaced with ancient temples and run-down houses, robots driving trains… Yup, it’s pretty boss.


But then there’s Shanghai.

I’ve been to other cities that try to capture that “cyberpunk” feeling before. Taipei has more flashing LEDs per square meter than anywhere, and there is a daily laser show in Singapore. But they seem like cheap imitations of the Cyberpunk ethos.

Shanghai, however, has it nailed. 

Magnetic Levitation train? Check

Near-fatal levels of smog? Check

Indifference to life? Check

Futuristic buildings around traditional recreations? Check

LE-fucking-Ds? Damn straight.

Oppressive Government? Viva la Communist Party! Please don’t arrest me!

So yeah, Shanghai is everything that I’ve missed in the translation from Metropolis. I was really surprised at just the level of detail that has gone into recreating the neon-soaked dreams of my teenage years.

Here are some highlights:

  • The featured image is of a highway interchange. The main arterial roads are elevated to an insane height above the city – I can’t find official figures but the highest decks would easily be above 30m off the ground below – probably more.
  • There is a section in the middle of the town that was originally brick houses for the gentry. This was all torn down, but then rebuilt a decade or so later – from the original materials.
  • Given the fact that I was there for the F1, there was an increased police presence. This included simply blocking off an 8-lane highway for “security” reasons.
  • The walls of the subway tunnels were covered in LED screens. As the train went past, virtual video screens would play ads that were synchronised to the train’s movement.  (See a crappy video here)
  • There is a huge disparity in the city. People complain about the “1%” in America, but in China the 1% owns 30% of the country. The bottom 25% own only 2%. That makes the 1% of China about 50% “richer” that the 1% in the US… and there’s three times as many of them. And the poor are poor. Think cooking un-refrigerated meat on the side of the road poor.

Anyway, it’s hard to convey in words, so here are some more images.

I wasn’t sure what this place was, but I hope it was a karaoke and black market cybernetic marketplace
There was a lot of rain, and poor drainage led to nice refelctions
Just some bank building in the middle of nowhere
This was some kind of carpark
More of the neon interchange.
Neon Church in the “Old Town”
This was the amount of smog left after a rain came through and cleared the air
The neon here looked like it was floating in the inky night
Another Police Patrol in the rain

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