One hundred and ten degrees of longitude separate St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tokyo, Japan. For eight weeks in 2005, I'll be crossing this large chunk of the world solo. I've set up this blog so that family and friends can keep track of my whereabouts, my activities, and my well-being. It might also be useful for someone planning a similar trip. Please bookmark this page so you can check up on me at your leisure.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Crickets

I've added a word verification requirement for comments on the blog, in an effort to prevent further comment spam. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause readers. I'll take some time to delete comment spam from the blog a couple of days from now.

">Today was my day for visiting Pudong, the section of Shanghai east of the Huangpu River that has been aggressively developed over the past ten years or so. Locals don't seem to think of it as a legitimate tourist attraction, instead encouraging people to explore the traditional side of Shanghai, but glimpses of the future are very attractive in themselves, I think. Pudong is home to the Oriental Pearl TV & Radio Tower, probably the most distinctive building in the city with its crazy pink spheres, and to the Jinmao Tower, the tallest building in the People's Republic of China and the fourth tallest in the world at 420.5 metres (88 floors). I went inside both buildings this morning and up, way up to where the views of the river, the Bund, and Greater Shanghai are spectacular.

I paid 70 yuan, had to pass through security, and lined up for half an hour to take the express elevator to the observation deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The whole place was full of extremely excited Chinese families and groups of friends -- from out of town, I imagine. By contrast, getting up to the heights at the Jinmao Tower was quick and easy. The Jinmao Tower mostly contains the offices of big foreign banks, but it's also home to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which begins at the 54th floor. I walked right in and took three different elevators to get to this Hyatt bar called "Cloud 9," on the 87th floor. I won't tell you what two Diet Cokes cost me in there, but it was scandalous. For the view from my table by the window, however, it was worth it.

I was successful yesterday in buying stamps at a China Post outlet, and when I got back to the hotel in the evening I wrote 14 postcards. What a marathon -- it probably took me 90 minutes. I didn't write one to my sister and brother-in-law, but I did write one to their dogs. Anyway, I left the postcards with the concierge at the Hyatt to mail for me.

I should mention that getting to the Jinmao Tower from the Oriental Pearl Tower looked a lot easier than it actually was. The buildings are only a couple of blocks apart, but they're separated by an 8-lane street called Liujiazui Lu -- Pudong's answer to the Champs Elysees. I could see no crosswalk or tunnel nearby, so I assumed that it would be okay if I sprinted across. I took the wide street in stages, stopping to think and calculate at the medians and other points of safety, and I was about to start the fourth and final stage when I became aware of a small man in a beige cap and uniform, a "traffic assistant" as they're known in English, screaming angrily at me from the other side of the street. He made violent gestures with his arms. I made exaggerated shoulder-shrugging motions to signal my confusion and my simple, earnest desire to be over on his side. Finally, he came charging over and began scolding me in Chinese. Given the language barrier, I'm not sure what he thought he could accomplish so close to me that he couldn't accomplish from 100 feet away. I said to him, "I sense your anger, but I feel it could be channeled in a more positive manner." In the end, I had to turn back or face more wrath from the little man. I didn't know how much power he had to get me in trouble -- probably zero, but I just didn't know for sure, and I didn't want to be put in some jaywalkers' detention centre for several days of rigorous "criticism" and "re-education." I walked a long way down the street and crossed at a crosswalk, but I wasn't happy. There is a defect in the urban planning, and I became a victim of that defect.

After the two big buildings, I took the subway to Longyang Lu, which is the terminus of the celebrated MagLev train line that goes out to Pudong International Airport. The subway was wonderful -- easy to understand, cheap at 4 yuan, clean, and air-conditioned. The train was crowded, as is to be expected, but not horribly so. Waiting on the platform, I noticed a sign with an English translation that read, "After first under on, do riding with civility." I grasped the second part, but the first part must be idiomatic -- or maybe it's me who is idiotmatic. I rode 5 stops from Liujiazui Lu to Longyang Lu.

Originally, I thought I would ride the MagLev on Tuesday, when I actually had to go to the airport for my flight to Japan. I decided recently, however, that it would be a lot more fun and relaxing to ride the MagLev without all my baggage and without worrying about missing my flight or anything. It cost 80 yuan for a round-trip ticket. Again, there were a lot of excited Chinese people hoping to get good seats by the window, and I was amazed by the pushing and shoving that occurred on the platform when the train pulled in and the doors opened. And by elderly people, too! I thought I could count on them for a little decorum. The 30 km ride to the airport takes only 8 minutes, with the train attaining a top speed of 430 km per hour. It's the fastest I've ever moved in a land vehicle, I think, and I don't believe that any of Japan's "bullet trains" can match it. The train only stays at 430 km/h for about a minute before it has to start slowing down again. I hopped out at the airport, walked around to the other platform, and headed right back into the city on the next train, 5 minutes later. During the brief trip, I saw lots of barges going up and down narrow, muddy canals in the Shanghai suburbs, carrying loads of gravel. When we pulled into the Longyang Lu station again, the security officers on the platform all saluted the train.

Now for a lawyerly observation... Tort actions must be rare, expensive, difficult, pointless, or unknown here in China, or else everyone would be suing everyone else for the rampant negligence that occurs here every day on every street. No one's behaviour is being conditioned by a fear of liability, which I think is a major cultural difference between here and North America. Pedestrians are allowed to stroll through active construction sites, with cranes swinging overhead, welding torches going, and piles of jagged debris lying around. Drivers seem to believe that if a pedestrian gets hit and injured, it's their fault and their fault alone, because cars own the city -- for the crazy driver, no consequences will attach. There's a kind of terrifying absence or innocence of private law here.

I read something funny in my Lonely Planet city guide today. Apparently, there's a customs regulation stating that foreigners are prohibited from entering the People's Republic of China with more than 20 pairs of underwear. My question is, "Okay, but do the Chinese, like the Mongolians, draw a distinction between underwear and underpants?"

As I get ready to go to Japan, I am reminded of something that my law school friend Steve told me earlier in the summer during our bar exam prep course. "Never, ever kill a dragonfly," he said. "In Japan, it would be like killing a dove. Big trouble." I thought about this for a minute, and replied that the chances of me killing a dragonfly in Japan were about the same as the chances of me killing a dove in Canada or elsewhere. "Okay, but just don't do it," he urged, and I promised him that I wouldn't, unless it was absolutely necessary. Steve lived in Japan for years and worked for the CBC during the Nagano Olympics.

Speaking of insects, I visited the Fish, Bird, and Insect Market in the Old Town yesterday, after shopping for gifts for people in nearby Dongtai Lu. As the only Westerner, I attracted a lot of attention as I carried my big camera up and down the rows of stalls selling maggots, beetles, crickets, tiny crabs with bright orange pincers, turtles ranging in size from my thumbnail to the palm of my hand, salamanders, songbirds, and of course various kinds of fish in basins on the ground and in proper tanks. Everything was alive -- freshness guaranteed. The crickets were contained in little tin cans and also in short sections of bamboo sealed at the ends. A potential customer would open up a little can and poke the cricket with a pencil to see if it was still lively. I wondered, "What do people do with the crickets? Are they for eating? All of them? If so, how many cricket recipes are there?" The sound of the crickets in the market was deafening.

I left the market and walked at random in the Old Town. I was delighted to come across a stall on the sidewalk selling barbecued pig snouts as snacks. Sometimes, food is not recognizeable for what it is, and other times, as in this case, food has not been transformed in shape at all and looks exactly like what it is. They were pig snouts alright, basted with some kind of red sauce, piled up in a plastic bin.

I'm pretty sick of Nanjing Road, but I went back there briefly yesterday to buy one tie each for my father and myself at Silk King, a well-known silk retailer close to the Peace Hotel. Mine is striped blue and silver, and his is burgundy with flecks of gold and blue. I've got a good feeling about these ties. I think that they're lucky ties -- auspicious ties. I'm done all my gift-buying now, pretty much, and that's good, because my blue duffel bag is so heavy now that it's comical. Every time I carry it, I take a year off my life.

Tomorrow is my last real day in Shanghai, and I plan to walk around the French Concession and then go to the Shanghai Museum. Everybody raves about this museum, but I have no idea what it actually contains.

Oh, one more thing... I got lost yesterday, trying to find a new walking route from my hotel to the Bund. I was trying to orient myself (no pun intended) by the distant Pudong skyline, but that only got me more deeply confused. I was looking at my map when a man walked up to me -- 60-something, smiling, with long grey hair. "Excuse me, but are you Jewish?" he asked. "Excuse me?" I said. "Are you a Jewish person?" he tried, not quite getting that although I had understood the literal meaning of his words, I had also been surprised and puzzled by them. Eventually, it came out that Jewish visitors to Shanghai often come to explore this particular neighbourhood, because during WW2 it was home to many Jewish refugees from Europe. We moved on to different topics, the man discouraging me from seeing sights he considered to be "not the real Shanghai," and encouraging me to go to Yuyuan Gardens. "I will accompany you," he said. On my most trusting and open day, I might alter my plans and go to Yuyuan Gardens with a stranger, but yesterday was not my most trusting and open day, so I declined. He was disappointed, but I'm sure that someone will come along eventually and accept his offer.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

430 km/h - Jiminy Cricket, that's fast. I read somewhere that the German designers of the maglev are now angling to build a line between Shanghai and Beijing, which would cut the 14-hour trip in half. It looks a little tight for 2008...

There are no trains in Newfoundland. The last one ran in 1988. We now use the futuristic technology known as the "bus".

Matt

5:54 PM

 

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