Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Shanghai China: “Psychos or drunkards without guardians are prohibited to take taxis.”

Somehow this sign, which we read in one of our cabs, seems befitting for Shanghai, the Pearl of the Orient, Paris of the East; where anything that makes money goes. This is modern China, a go-go city that has a long history steeped in illegal, illicit and just plain illogical behavior, where communism appears to be eclipsed by capitalism. It seems that most tourists either bypass or give short shrift to Shanghai for the more historically rich cities of Beijing and Xian, yet we are not disappointed that we are spending a considerable amount of time in China’s largest city.

Shopping seems to be a favorite pastime here, and why not? With every type of market, from open air stands to the poshest air conditioned malls, anything can be had for a price, and it’s often a very low one. On our second full day in Shanghai we met Andrea, Priscilla and Roger at the Peace Hotel which sits on the Bund, Shanghai’s most famous street. During the 1930’s and 1940’s expats would hang out in the jazz bar or sip cocktails on the roof garden watching the river and, in later times, soldiers pass them by. Today we could stroll along the street, admiring the views across the river of the postmodern skyline, dominated by the Oriental Pearl TV tower, which contrasted with the art deco buildings on the Bund, built by foreigners who made their fortunes in Shanghai. Then we went to a cloth market, where you can choose fabrics and have custom-made clothes created within days. Loey found some embroidered silk that is being made into a hip length coat for mere dollars, and Andy found many people vying to make him a suit, and chose a custom-tailored wool/cashmere model that will cost about $50.

We also cruised the Xiangyang market, where any kind of knock-off product can be found for cheap. The vendors are especially aggressive and come up to you saying, “Mister, watch, Rolex, you want?” or “DVD’s, Game Boy, souvenirs, we have, you come and offer price.” We told Dylan that we didn’t want to buy anything and so she was our front person, fending off the sellers.
Vendor: “You want purse, Coach?”
Dylan: “No”
Vendor: “Pen, mont blanc?”
Dylan “No”
Vendor: trying to make eye contact
Dylan: “No, no, no, no!”
You get the picture. She was saying no before they could even ask, and we were cracking up, as well as some of the people selling stuff, at her cool ability to Just Say NO!!!

Speaking of DVD’s, it’s totally possible to get the newest releases from someone who has set up shop on the street. These are movies now in the theatres: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins, and Madagascar can be had for about 10 yuan ($1.25) apiece. We were able to check out a copy of Batman Begins at our lodging; the entire movie was in Russian, while the English subtitles were for an entirely different show! I guess you get what you pay for.

We’ve also been to a great performance of the Shanghai Acrobatics Troupe,

strolled through the Shanghai museum, visited the Yuyuan Gardens,

where we got the best dumplings in Shanghai,

and ate at a Uighur (pronounced wee-ger, in far northwest China) restaurant which featured camel’s hoof and sheeps' eyeballs on the menu!

Next to this razzle-dazzle of shopping exists some abject poverty. In Shanghai you don’t hide the poor people in poor parts of town like we can in the U.S. Right next to our very comfortable “luxury” apartment building is a semi-vacant lot. It looks like most of the buildings were razed so that a new building could be built on the lot. However, on the edges of this lot are a few half-standing buildings that look like they were bombed out or something, and people are living in these places. There can’t be electricity or water, and since half of the walls are gone, there is no insulation from the weather. We’ve watched children running around these buildings and people bathing out of buckets. We’ve seen people going through the trash the minute we threw away something and last night I gave some money to a woman who was begging while carrying an infant. What is depressing is that we know this is not the worst poverty we will encounter, and that while these buildings are totally unfit as homes, when they do build here, these people will lose even these meager structures to protect them.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been gone for just a month. On most days it feels like we’ve been traveling for years and we hope that given the length of time that we are in China, as well as on the road, we can slow down and just savor local life a bit more. We’re headed for Beijing next, and the weather is supposed to be much more comfortable there (about 22C [70F] instead of 34C [95F] here in Shanghai), so we’re looking forward to spending more time outside with local people and less time tring to find air conditioning.


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