National Geographic : 2010 Mar
unofficial status bars them from public edu- cation. Others, like Chen, form a oating popu- lation on the lowest rung of Shanghai society. In Shanghai's early days most migrants became part of the culture, living in lilong and learning the local dialect. Today, in an era of easy travel and communication, such assimilation is rare. Chen has worked in Shanghai for two years, but he's never considered staying permanently--- and he hasn't learned a word of Shanghainese. Most of his wages go to his family in nearby Jiangsu Province. At the end of his walk down Nanjing Road, Chen heads into the workers' "dormitory"--- plywood rooms on the third oor of an un n- ished high-rise. Across the street is the 22-story Park Hotel, the tallest building in Asia when it went up in the early 1930s---and a symbol of Shanghai's earlier global pretensions. It too was built by migrant labor. Chen may not be welcome in Shanghai during Expo 2010. In those six hal- lowed months, construction will halt, and most contract workers will be sent home. But Chen will be back. "As long as Shanghai keeps grow- ing," he says, "it will always need people like me." ' playing punk rock, she's o en perched in the 24th- oor apart- ment she shares with four other single women in a new tower downtown. Back in 1987, when she was born, her 28-story building would have dominated the skyline; now hundreds are taller. Looking out her bedroom window, she points past a jungle of green-sheathed high-rises under construction. ere, across the Huangpu River, is the inverted pyramid that will serve as the central hall of Expo 2010. Shanghai's urban explosion will continue long a er the expo is over. All the tearing down and building up underscores one Shanghainese trait: its obsession with the new. Unlike other parts of China, which feel the weight of ancient history, young Shanghai is always seeking the cutting edge. Sammy's bandmates call her "the quin- tessential Shanghai girl" not simply because she looks abroad for her cues in music (rocker Avril Lavigne), fashion (the Japanese magazine Vivi), and lifestyle (her living arrangement is more Friends than Confucius). It's mainly because of the unapologetic ease with which she mixes new ideas with her Shanghainese style. When Black Luna shot some promotional photos recently, the rockers put on ouncy cock- tail dresses, with Sammy wearing a 1930s-style choker. "We wanted to capture the glamour of old Shanghai," she says. is wasn't nostalgia, though. It was a hip Shanghainese band plun- dering history for a cool new motif. In this city of constant renewal, the beat pounds so fast that the past can be turned into the future. e old can be made new again. j THE SELF ASSURANCE of migrant workers cooling o on a bridge re ects their rising status. Until a few years ago laborers from all over China were treated as invisi- bles. Now the local gov- ernment acknowledges their role in shaping the city, o cially anoint- ing recent arrivals as "new Shanghai people."