Saturday, August 25, 2012

Shanghai Orientation, Birdsong, Blessed Coffee

Greetings, Fine Folk.

Well, I never got the opportunity to write a post while I was in Shanghai, so I missed out on greeting y'all from China. But here I am, back on my cozy little street, sitting at my deck table, even though it's a little too hot* -- mainly because it's novel. A friend who's briefly crashing at my house introduced me to the ease and wonder of wireless. Why on Earth would I NOT have succumbed to this lovely convenience before now??? Chalk it up to the same silliness that kept me from getting GPS the moment it came onto market. In any case, I'm enjoying the wealth of birdsong, the hum of insects from the undergrowth, and the valiant attempts by a dog to break the neck of his squeaky toy one yard over. I met up with Compatriot last night at local fave Casey's, for fried artichoke hearts, g&ts, burgers with blue cheese & bacon; and heckling from the waitstaff (only me, never Comp; this time he variously accused me of being socially awkward and called me a "Nancy" for being slow with my drink). Which is all to say: I'm happily settling back in.

*less, less, less hot and humid than Shanghai, most assuredly. You take a shower, make yourself presentable and then are hit with a wall of humidity upon leaving the hotel.

But what of Shanghai?? Let's start small, shall we? A few notes to orient the armchair traveller.

Things You Will Encounter:

Yu Garden Teahouse, with Jin Mao (l) and
Shanghai World Financial Center (aka the bottle opener) (r)

1.) The Juxtaposition of Old and New, natch. As we all know, China has been booming for years, in terms of pretty much everything. In some places old has been uprooted/decimated in favor of newness; in other places, the two coexist, as they do in so many places the world over. At left you have the super touristy Yuyuan Garden teahouse (Huxingting Tea House), which one arrives at by walking a wooden bridge with nine zigzagging turns (to foil evil spirits, which apparently can't do 90 degree turns, despite their vaporous form). I didn't actually go inside for tea, being sufficiently stimulated by wandering past hundreds of vendor boutiques; watching the crowds, the fish in the water, and confusing the closest stranger by telling him I was from the U.S. and from Michigan. He scowled, turned back to his fried snacks.

 2.) Construction (see also: #1).
Building in process, Pudong area, near the Lujiazui metro stop.

ALERT: Impaling Machines on Site.
 3.) Municipal Workers.

Everywhere there are guards, street cleaners, various slow moving people in uniforms. They are official in some capacity. Possibly invented, but I get the feeling for most that it's a job one will have for a rather long time, will return to it every day, and therefore what's the rush? The street and metro cleaners, especially. The street brooms always seem to be the like the one pictured, from some dried plant which is just as likely to momentarily stir dirt up as to whisk it away. (Usually older) workers walk along, with a longish metal spike or pincer-thing to pick up random rubbish. Once I saw a worker using her broom as a seat on the sidewalk, while she listened to an ancient transistor radio, intoning something from within a beaten up cardboard box. Oddly pleasing.

In the metros, expect to submit any laptop bags to a conveyor belt security scan; the guard at left, in her snappy cap, stands straight and raises her hand or gives you a pass to refrain from adding your possessions onto the belt. The guard at right peers (or gazes listlessly, depending) at the monitor, acknowledging no one. Shortly before each metro arrives, the metro line guard in his short sleeve pink shirt and stiff cap gazes toward the coming train. He blows short and sharp on his whistle once the train has stopped; and waves a green flag to signal its departure. I can't imagine standing there all day, every day. Though I shouldn't type such a thing, with train enthusiast relatives. It would be a joy, a thrill~~~!

How to reconcile this perception with the business world, where it is a workers' market~~? People schedule interviews and then don't show. "Can we just do a phone interview? I don't feel like leaving my place." People work three, four months -- just long enough to claim new job skills on the resume -- and then demand pay be doubled, or leave for greener pastures. Mystifying to hear about, given the astounding lengths Americans have to go to, to secure a job these days...

4.) Enterprise of All Kinds.

Add to that, outside of offices or government workers, people are just trying to get by. Lots of street vendors,at the mouths of metros, prospering businesses, tourist traps, busy sidewalks. Selling anything from pirated DVDs, shady medicines, dubious bottles of water, sunglasses, windup soldiers (camouflaged, armed and shimmying along the ground), light-up spinning things, SIM cards, ipod headphones, mass-made and handmade tchotckes, wicker baskets of fruit; or, on one occasion, tiny, happy houseplants.

Outside of the -- get ready -- Shanghai Bund Soft-Spinning Material Market

also at Shanghai Bund Soft-Spinning Material Market. Tucked up shirts on men also frequently spotted. With respect to the latter, following what I assume is parallel to nudist colonies: the ones who do this are rarely those you'd like to see. That said, it's rawther hot. People deal as they can.
An esteemed colleague from work pointed a similar kind of stamping out, on a tree. "This is illegal. They are saying they can, if you haven't gone to a school or gotten a certificate, they can make the papers for you." Not reading Chinese, this may be for something entirely different. Haircuts. Babysitting.

5.) Heavy Loads. I won't lie, I wish I had snagged LOTS more photos of these... Huge loads on all conveyances. During my one failed sightseeing day, wherein I got off at a station, where none of the signs were in English and I walked in various directions for the afternoon, before giving up, exhausted, a tiny truck drove past me, with a bundle of aluminum strips lashed together with ropes. The mass was larger than shed, but smaller than a garage; the strips juttered against each other, sounding like an army of angry children's toys.

6.) Signs with Hidden Meanings: Traffic.

Many of these will look familiar. But do not be fooled.

This means: Don't Walk. You will most certainly be flattened. So far, so good.

This means: Walk.
It also means: You may not be recognized as an impediment to vehicular speed. Cars making left hand turns will not slow down. Cadres of mopeds and bicycles who don't like waiting for the red light to change will suddenly shoot across the intersection, gunning straight for you. Buses turning right against the light, will blare their horns** at you.

People hustle or stroll. I mostly hustled. By my last work day, the month had clearly taken its toll when an oncoming bus blared at me and I merely glanced at it. Whatever, bus. I did, however freeze when a moped almost ran me over; the driver stared at me as he zoomed past -- which seemed to be because I had halted my walk. His look queried, "What is WRONG with you?"

**Shanghainese drivers love their horns. Usage is liberal. Some simply lay it on, blanketstyle, as they approach intersections.

This means: Lots of pedestrians, ambling from the metro to their business parks.
It also means: periodic cars, barreling down the walkway, with people scattering. The cars barrel until they reach the cement no-outlet poles, a few blocks in. At which point they back up the entire way, going a bit too fast, causing a secondary wave of scattering. 

7.) Beloved Imagery: Dragons. Pandas.  What else to say? We all have our popular images.
Pudong, By Lujaizui Metro Stop, SuperBrand Mall

Yu Garden Bazaar Shop
I gave in to a panda backpack. Though not at this store.
Outside Huxingting Tea House. And pretty much everywhere else :)
A random place to stop, but I have been outside a while and there's simply too much to say. And so much I don't think I have processed yet. I was so very happy to be there. And grateful to be back. A few things I definitely missed: being able to easily understand those around me; the ability to make coffee in my own place; not being stared at; the luxury of personal space in public spaces; printmaking, my house, not being at a 12 hour remove from my friends and family...Not having done much beside armchair traveling, some things I didn't even realize I missed until I got back home. The sound of birds every morning. Lawns and plentiful trees; rabbit sightings and the knowledge of neighbors in their homes.

Happy end of August, Everyone.


  1. "... and the valiant attempts by a dog to break the neck of his squeaky toy one yard over." Oh how I missed your writing - packaging the quaint with the macabre.

    Also enjoyed the line about the walk sign not being an impediment to traffic.

    So glad you're back and with stories to be told!

  2. Yay, thanks SBS! Glad to be back and look forward to catching up!