Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Shanghai - The Good, The Bad, and The Plain Absurd

Nin Hao*,

When one moves to a new location - whether it be a new suburb, a new city, or in my instance, a new country- the typical pattern usually occurs. The first few weeks are filled with intense jubilation, as one acclimatises himself to his surroundings. After a while however, one's observations and perceptions change: the good becomes greater; the cultural differences that were once oblivious suddenly annoy you; and, perhaps more significantly, the weird transforms to a whole new level of absurdness. And so it is in this time, that I present to you the latest in the Passenger to Nowhere series - "The Good, The Bad and The Plain Absurd - a reflection of the random idiosyncrasies of Shanghai."


The Good

Food: Yes I know, a fairly typical response that any traveller would put in his Good list. But I rate this factor more so due to the diversity of cuisine you can get here. Turkish, Japanese, name it, you got it. All at a reasonable price too.

Sherpas: Sher...what you ask? Although I could have put this in the food section, I thought it deserved a category in its own right. To put it simply, Sherpas is a takeaway service where you can order any food from any restaurant you like. That's right - so if one person feels like Thai, another like a Pizza, and another a burger, well you can do it. Unfortunately the luxury of being able to order anything from any restaurant does come at a price (excuse the pun.) Nevertheless, a perfect remedy after a big night out.

Chinese People: There are a number of cultural differences that I will not even attempt to understand, but generally speaking, I have been quite impressed by the kindness of the Chinese people. Or maybe it is just my ego growing - I kept getting remarks about how my eyes are so beautiful. At my interview, the principal remarked that Sloan, Turks and I were "very goodu looking."

Our Apartment: Spacious and simple, our apartment is very sweet. With three bedrooms, a gym, large living area, our apartment should serve us nicely whilst in Shanghai.

Ayis: Here in China, everyone has an Ayi, or maid. Our maid comes in every Sunday for four hours. She does our laundry, cleans our dishes, vacuums the floors etcetra. As I watch her do her thing, I always have this deep sense of guilt for being such a slackass. But you know what they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Shanghai itself: Whore of the Asia, Paris of East - a city does not get these nicknames for nothing. Shanghai really has everything under the sun...well maybe under the cloud of pollution. You can entertain yourself fairly easily here - whether it might be exploring the myriad of streets in the French Concession, bargaining at a local market, or sitting down watching another pirated DVD. I could really get use to it here.

The Bad

Taxi Drivers: If you are not careful, Taxi drivers here will take advantage of your lack of local knowledge and parade you through the streets, charging you a fair that might have cost you next to nothing. Then again, taxi drivers here work 21 hours straight...I guess if an loawai (foreigner) hoped into my cab on my last hour, I would rip him off too.

Homeless people: Seriously I have never seen so many homeless people in my life. They vacant every street corner, every sidewalk, even in the Zoo. I truly question the sincerity of some of them- especially when you see women in Gucci clothes begging you for a coin or two. On the other hand, some of them truly have it tough.In a country with little to no welfare, people here with any kind of physical deformity are pretty stuffed. (Read "Dissipation of Sympathy" Post - coming soon)

Road Rules: Road rules do not exist. Period. You want to get somewhere - you drive. Pedestrian stop - ah well, doesn't matter, I will just keep driving. Lanes - does that mean you have to stay inside that area? You get my point. Let's just say- I have had a number of close calls already, luckily Turks or Sloan were there to grab me.

Lack of Sanitation: Umhh, how should I put this? Here is a example: kids under the age of seven have no need for toilets. Yes that is right: for some absurd reason, children are excluded from the rules of using a toilet. If I child needs to do his/her thing, the sidewalk or patch of grass usually is sufficient.

Shanghai Zoo: Voted the best ecological Zoo in Shanghai, this zoo was anything but. I am seriously tempted to report this park to an animal welfare group, but I am sure someone has done this already. Visitors were throwing rocks and food at the tigers; the deers were enclosed in a pen caked in mud; and kangaroos, the iconic emblem of Australia, lived in this small cement cage that made me sick. I will post some photos when I get a chance.

The Weird:

Flat soft drinks: For some inexplicable reason, all the soft drinks here are flat. Well, not completely flat, but flat enough that you look at your bottle and ponder that the slight difference in taste.

The Great Firewall of China : Before arriving to Shanghai, I had heard about the infamous great firewall of China. According to a number of blogs, the Chinese government employs over 20,000 government workers to monitor the blogsphere. Moreover, in the last week, bloggers now have to register their name and ID with the government if they want to start any kind of website or blog. the freedom of speech in this country. Hopefully I won't get arrested for this post. If I do, I will ring you from jail.

Pre-school Christmas Parties: Imagine this: 200 kids and their parents singing and dancing to a techno-infused Jingle Bells anthem, whilst 4 foreigners dance on the front stage, laughing hysterically. The audience, in seeing the foreigners laughing, believe we are laughing in joy, when in reality we are laughing at the absolute randomness of the situation, which makes the situation even all the more funny. Christmas 2006 - a Christmas I will never forget.

Manners: The notion of manners here seems non-existent. I should not criticise too much, perhaps I should rephrase - the concept of what constitutes good and bad manners differs greatly. For example, it is more than acceptable to spit your food out if you do not like it, nor it is rude to eat with your mouth full. Very strange....



*Shanghai Dialect- Hello

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