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Reporter's notebook - June 13, 2002
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
June 13, 2002

Shanghai 2002. Burnsville 2006?


I knew that Shanghai was a modern mega-metropolis before I got here, but I guess I wasn't prepared for just how modern or just how mega. The city is bursting out of its seams with new skyscrapers appearing every few months. The Pudong district, for example, just five or so years ago was swampy farmland. Now it's covered in steel, concrete, and glass and hosts the world's fifth-tallest building (so I'm told).

I talked to a Minnesotan named Jesse Long, who's lived in Shanghai for the past 14 years. He says when he first arrived, he had to take a ferry across the Huangpu River and bike to his farm in the Pudong. Not anymore.

The fascinating thing is how quickly all of this has taken place. Jeff Phillips, of Minnesota's Department of Trade and Economic Development, says he was here last September and was told the skyline would change in six months. He seemed to think that was bravado talking. But he says, in fact, it has changed.

Because the construction is so new, the architecture has a giddy space-age feel, almost as if the buildings had been designed by a gifted - but irrepressible- 13-year-old boy. Each one adds some new eccentricity to the skyline; the combined effect becomes some sort of Rorschach nightmare. No matter where you look, the buildings spread unflinchingly outward like a metastisizing Emerald City.

You ain't in Kansas any more.

Al Gore and Jesse Ventura must be the most unlikely pair of friends I've ever seen.


Al Gore and Jesse Ventura must be the most unlikely pair of friends I've ever seen. I simply cannot imagine what this odd couple finds to talk about during their time together, but something must have clicked since they've both taken turns (with their wives) visiting each other in Washington and St. Paul.

I suppose a cynic could say Gore is (or was) simply trying to attract the independent vote during the 2000 election and so came courting Ventura. And Ventura was simply starstruck and flattered to receive the attention of a vice president. But let's give the two the benefit of the doubt.

It's strange, though, to watch them interact in public. When Gore dropped in on the American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Shanghai to catch up with his pal Ventura, the governor seemed to do most of the talking; addressing the former VP as "Al." He relived old experiences, like the time Tipper and Terry played pool while the two men went out on the porch to smoke cigars (Al made it very clear, with the media standing around, that Jesse did the smoking).

While Ventura laughed, cajoled, and generally remained at ease, Gore seemed stiff and somber. Now, that's not really news to anyone, I guess. Gore has that reputation.

But I remember him on the 2000 campaign trail as effusive, voluble, and personable. Maybe it's time to revive that alpha-male training.

Well, let's be fair. He did have one good joke. While discussing the U.S. recession, Gore said, "I'm concerned about the economy, though. I was the first one laid off."

Yeah, I guess that's a pretty good one.