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.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Shanghai

It's been tough finding an affordable place to use the internet here in Shanghai, which is a little ironic, given that it's supposed to be this science fiction type of city.

My overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai, the Z13, was the fanciest train I've taken so far on this trip, and the service was definitely a cut above, too. I pre-ordered a green tea for breakfast from the train attendant, Henry, and it was delivered scalding hot and on the dot at 6:30 am. I shared my compartment with three Chinese businessmen, and we had no exchanges apart from friendly nods and that kind of thing.

Yesterday morning I just rested in my room at the Baisha Hotel. I'm not sure what you'd call the neighbourhood where the hotel is located, but it's within easy walking distance of the Bund and Nanjing Road, two of Shanghai's big attractions.

Yesterday afternoon I started walking aimlessly, and ate lunch at this buffet restaurant. About fifteen minutes into my meal, the hostess came up and very haltingly read from a note someone had written for her: "Restaurant... closing... soon... please... get... any... more... food... now." She seemed very relieved when I indicated that I understood her perfectly.

I took a taxi to the Xiangyang fakes market in the French Concession, where all your Rolex and Prada dreams come true. I was only interested in DVDs, really, and I didn't have to look too hard, because people come out of the woodwork and ask you, "DVD? DVD?" If you make eye contact and agree to deal with one of these vendors, they'll take you to the back of their stall, sit you down, and drag out suitcases full of DVDs with improvised covers. You just flip through them all and pull out the ones you want. They have a lot of the most recent Hollywood releases, and essentially all the big movies from the past 3-5 years. It seems like the average final price is about 10 yuan.

After the fakes market, I went to a kungfu demonstration by Shaolin monks at the nearby Lyceum Theatre, an examples of 1930s Art Deco that has been beautifully restored. The demonstration was set to music, and had supertitles -- a large electronic display above the stage translated the voice-over explanations into (slightly weird) English. The monks went through various parts of their training regimen, acted out ancient legends like "13 Monks Rescue the King of Qin," showed their skill with weapons like the falchion sword and the 9-segment-whip, and smashed sticks on each other's unyielding stomachs and heads to show the advantages of breathing exercises and meditation. I was happy because I paid 150 yuan for my ticket but got to move up to a 280 yuan seat because of the poor audience turn-out.

One thing I've noticed in Shanghai that I didn't notice in Beijing are the large numbers of people who exercise in groups outside, particularly early in the morning. I've seen people doing exercises on the sidewalk that look like low-impact aerobics, and I've also seen people ballroom dancing in a small pagoda in a park. It looks like the elderly are most likely to do this kind of group exercise.

So far today I've strolled down the Bund, which is the famous riverside park looking across the Huangpu River to futuristic-looking Pudong. There's a lot of traffic on the river -- barges and tugboats. I'm about to make my way down the equally famous Nanjing Road, one of the big shopping venues here. I feel almost like I'm the wrong person to be visiting Shanghai. The right person would be someone like my sister, Megan, who gets a lot of pleasure out of shopping and trying on clothes, and can summon considerable energy for doing those things. It's that kind of city. It hums with commerce.

I want to tell you about one conversation I had on the Bund. I was approached by a skinny and rough-looking young man selling postcards -- that was nothing new or interesting in itself, since this has happened to me hundreds of times, it feels like. As I walked away, saying "no, than you" repeatedly in Chinese, he walked along with me -- this was also nothing new. He was outwardly very friendly, asking me where I was from and what kind of work I did. He said he was from a city far away from Shanghai, had moved here for a job, and then the job had disappeared. As he spoke to me about his life, we never stopped moving down the Bund. When it finally dawned on him that I was not going to crumble and buy his postcards for 10 yuan, he turned a bit cruel, even though the friendly smile never left his face. "You are a lawyer and I think you are selfish," he said. "You take money from people who have difficulties. You should not be so selfish. You should buy the postcards." I laughed, startled and unsure of what to do or say. He went on. "Perhaps in the next life, I will be a general and you will be a slave. Then you will wish you had not been so selfish." I replied, "You are a bad businessman. You waste time with me when there are other Westerners who might buy. Every minute you spend with me is a waste." He made a face, said "Okay," and walked off. Two minutes later I saw him tormenting another poor tourist, and he ended up closing the deal -- the tourist, with a sour look, fished out his wallet and took out a 10-yuan note.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:16 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shanghai is really about the clothes and FOOD. However, it is hard for you, a stranger, to find those decent food. Go to those restaurants which have been there for ever. Soup dumpling, fried meat bum. Yummmmmmmmy !!!

2:07 PM

 

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