Hello! The Chinese man at the ticket counter greets us in English. Two, please. OK. Can I ask, are you Jewish? I am, I reply. Shalom! A huge grin comes across the man’s face.
Of all of the countries we’ve traveled to, China isn’t one where I expected to be greeted in Hebrew. Sure, for Jews in the States, Chinese take out and Christmas Eve go hand in hand, but that’s usually where the connection between Jews and China ends. Amazingly, it was at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum where I received this warm welcome. We have come to see the site of the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue, where Jewish refugees gathered for religious rites during World War II. The guidebooks had warned us not to expect much, but like a lot of what we experienced in China, the guidebooks were completely out of date. The Museum consists of the former Synagogue and two very recently renovated exhibition halls that describe the history of the Jews in Shanghai and testimonials of many of those who lived and worshiped there.
Ohel Moshe Synagogue
The Synagogue is at the center of the Shanghai Jewish Ghetto, an area of approximately one square mile in the Hongkou District of what was Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Approximately 30,000 Jews fleeing the atrocities in Europe found a safe haven here, one of the few places in the world accepting Jewish refugees without visas. Despite orders from the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Shanghai, the Chinese and Japanese protected this small Jewish community and most survived the harrowing wartime conditions. The stories of narrow escapes from tragedy are juxtaposed with awkward Bar Mitzvah photographs and tales of friendships and romances between the Jewish refugees and local Chinese residents that bloomed in the 1940s.
The Chinese government recently restored the Synagogue using the original blueprints, which are on display in the former sanctuary. The Museum also contains works of art celebrating the relationship between the Jews and the Chinese, including this print of two Jewish scholars deep in discussion as they stroll in front of a pagoda.
While most Jews left Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution in 1949, the brief history of the Jews in Shanghai is a small but fascinating tale of survival that is elegantly told at the Museum. It is well deserving of a place on any itinerary in Shanghai.
“We should have stopped for a couple of days when we changed planes in Germany.”
This thought kept running through my head as we walked around the Urban Best Practices Area of World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.
While the country pavilions in the main area of the EXPO can be very touristy and often have little in the way of displays that speak directly to environmental sustainability, I expected the Urban Best Practices Area to be a showcase of global thought leadership in environmental sustainability. I was looking forward to being presented with case studies from cities around the world, learning about the latest breakthroughs, newest technology, and detailed examples of past successes. There were a handful of exhibits that delivered against these expectations, many of them German. Hence the nagging thought that we should have stayed a couple of days in Germany to see some of their world class efforts towards environmental sustainability which are driven by coordinated private and public sector efforts.
What was conspicuously missing was a leadership presence from the world’s largest economy and per-capita polluter, my home country, America. There was a San Francisco case study listed in our EXPO directory but we could not find it during our day in the Urban Best Practices Area. In the main USA Pavilion (which I review in detail here), there is little attention paid to environmental sustainability. The closest America comes to addressing stewardship of the environment is in the third movie in the pavilion where a young girl works to change attitudes in her urban neighborhood about beautifying an abandoned lot into a small neighborhood park. Hardly the groundbreaking efforts America needs as a way to set an example for the rest of the world to follow. Why is it important that we lead when it comes to environmental sustainability? Because if we do there is a good chance that other countries would buy our innovations and that will create Green Collar jobs and boost our struggling economy.
The message of Green Collar jobs is one that many Americans seem to be tired of hearing about. This is evidenced by the recently increasing number that are skeptical of the negative impacts of climate change, as documented by Yale & George Mason University here, even as the scientific evidence increasingly points to the fact that we are headed towards a global crisis. There is, however, historical precedent of a solution where America can prosper versus struggle in an energy-constrained world. At minute 16 of the TED talk below by Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, he recalls a story that Bobby Kennedy Jr. related to him about visionary leadership. It is worth spending the next 19 minutes 16 seconds to hear him tell the full story.
If you are short on time (or have a low bandwidth connection) the story is that 200 years ago slavery provided 25% of the “energy” driving the British economy. Parliament debated for months about the economic impacts of outlawing slavery, an institution that was finally seen as morally repugnant. Thankfully, the British parliament had the vision and leadership to make the right decision and outlaw slavery completely and immediately. Within one year of that monumental decision the industrial revolution began and led Britain into a century of unprecedented growth and world leadership. Necessity was the mother of innovation. The private sector rose to the challenge without cumbersome rules and regulations, or marginal targets, like the U.S. Congress is currently debating. By simply banning the morally repugnant “energy” of slavery the British Parliament created the environment for private sector innovators to prosper. We can choose to do the same in the U.S. We can and must act quickly and decisively to rid ourselves of the morally repugnant energy sources of oil and other carbon based fossil fuels.
The missed opportunity at EXPO 2010 for counties like the U.S. is that with the majority of attendees being Chinese (79% of the 70 million attendees expected over 6 months) there will be many top engineers and scientists coming through. If I was an up and coming innovator with great ideas about how to create a more environmentally sustainable future I am not sure the US is where I would go to build that business. Counties like Germany, Canada and even to some extent China have projected a message through the EXPO that they value and reward efforts towards a more sustainable future. It is a shame because for the lack of a meaningful presence there is no shortage of private sector innovation in the U.S. If Congress could get its act together and pass a bill that would clearly create the right economic incentives those efforts would be magnified, as they seem to be in counties like Germany. This thought is also shared by arguably the most successful entrepreneur of all time, Bill Gates. In his TED Talk below he explains a simple formula that will ultimately be brought to equilibrium one way or another. It is simply that in the following equation one variable on the right side must equal zero, and that means that CO2 has to be brought to zero.
CO2 = P(people) x S(services/person) x E(energy/service) x C(CO2/unit energy)
Gates’ argument is that to maintain our lifestyle close to where it is now, the only viable zero variable is the last one, CO2/unit energy. Meaning we must get to large-scale zero carbon energy. It is not too late for big ideas and innovators. I am just afraid that they may not come from the U.S., and our economy will suffer because of it.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Top Exhibits in Urban Best Practices Area
Freiburg in the south of Germany showcased their innovative approach to green building and urban planning. There are examples of positive energy construction of houses that create more energy than they use; environmentally neutral firehouses; and urban planning that results in car reduced areas. Our Logan Square neighborhood association back home in Philadelphia would be up in arms over this policy. At developer presentations for new buildings inevitably the first question always asked is: “What about parking? How many parking spaces will it have?”
This exhibit centers on an effort to reclaim a strip mine turned landfill on Montreal Island just northeast of downtown. What I found interesting is that this effort was in full swing during the 7 months I was living in Montreal in 2002, but I first learned about it in Shanghai. Although in talking with one of the exhibit workers I learned that it was not unusual for life long residents of Montreal to be in the dark about their city’s effort to reclaim this scarred land and transform it into an environmental technology park that is home to some of Canada’s top innovators in environmental sustainability.
While technically not in the UBP area, it is located right next to it. The pavilion is a series of 5 well produced videos and multi-media presentations that deal with key environmental challenges China is facing and what they are doing to address them. There is also an effort to engage the regular tourist in pledging their support of the environment. At the end of the 3rd movie in a futuristic theater that presents examples of individual Chinese that have made a significant effort towards creating a more environmentally sustainable future, the voiceover asks each viewer to place their hand on a glowing control panel next to their seat and pledge their support for the environment and that they have the ability through their actions to make a difference. I found this very different from the prevailing attitude in China that there are so many people and the government has such tight control, what one person does is of little consequence.
For more pictures of the EXPO and China be sure to check out our picture albums here.
After reading this article in the New York Times about the creativity and resourcefulness of the Shanghai bootleg DVD merchants, I had to see one of the stores for myself, secret door and all. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a special password needed to get into the secret section where the bootleg DVDs were displayed, but luckily just walking in the door was good enough.
Despite my anxiety that we would not be understood, as soon as we walked into a DVD shop in the French Concession area of Shanghai we were whisked to a corner of the store with a red shelf that had a couple of DVDs displayed on it. Without pausing the clerk pulled the left side of the shelf and it swung toward her allowing her to knock on what appeared to be a wall. A couple of seconds later the wall opened and we were shown to the back room where bootleg DVDs, Blu-Ray disks, CDs, books and even magazines were for sale.
In an attempt to document this eyewitness reporter style, I used my new iCamcorder app for my iPhone 3G to record the very shaky and low quality 15 second clip of how we left the back room of the store. While not very good quality, at least it was discrete.
Along with rearranging the bootleg DVD shops around town, the EXPO has had a tremendous impact on the city of Shanghai. The 300 kilometers of new Metro lines opened in the last year is just one of the many additions to the city. All of this rapid construction, however, comes at a cost. According to the Associated Press, each Shanghai family will receive a free Expo ticket and a 200 yuan ($29) prepaid transportation card from the government as partial compensation for inconveniences such as traffic and mandatory bag scans at subway stations.
And perhaps most discouraging is that all of the effort, money ($55 billion in total by some accounts) and resources dedicated to the monumental effort of putting on the EXPO may not have a lasting positive impact. We found that after being opened for only 4 days there were many examples of EXPO construction falling apart. Paint was peeling off benches and light poles were leaning precariously as they had come loose. It seems that the old adage holds true, you can have only two of the following three attributes for a project: Fast, Cheap or Good. It seems the Chinese always opt for the first two. This has created a huge branding problem that the 1.3 billion Chinese will be dealing with for the foreseeable future as they look to build an economy not solely based on exporting the cheapest, least value-added products to the rest of the world.
In other news, Amy and I contributed, along with 200 other top travel bloggers, to Tripbase’s Travel Secrets eBook that has just launched. We were happy to contribute our travel tips because there is a great sustainability aspect to the project. For every e-book that is downloaded Tripbase will make a $1 donation to the fantastic cause, Charity: Water.
Charity: Water’s mission: to help bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
Tripbase campaign target: to build 4 freshwater wells, providing clean water for an entire school for the next 20 years.
How it works: You, the GreenAroundTheGlobe reader, get a FREE ebook with travel tips from the best travel bloggers across the net (including us!). When you download the FREE ebook, Tripbase will donate $1 to the clean water project. Simple. YOU click, YOU download, YOU get great travel tips, YOU help bring safe drinking water to the world.
Click away on the icon below so that others can drink away!