A listing of sixty catchphrases newly popular in Japan during 2007, at Pink Tentacle.
(Yes, I'm behind on my blogging here... need to do progress reports, and wrapups of subjects on my China trip... still on the agenda.)
A listing of sixty catchphrases newly popular in Japan during 2007, at Pink Tentacle.
(Yes, I'm behind on my blogging here... need to do progress reports, and wrapups of subjects on my China trip... still on the agenda.)
Penultimate day for exploring China. On Thursday I sit in an airplane ten hours, and Friday I may not leave the house at all. Don't think I've walked less than five miles any day the past month-plus; am often up above ten miles. My dogs are tired.
Wanted to visit Shanghai Railway Station, and see Xujiahui shopping area in the daytime. Made a side visit to Temple of Jade Buddha in the northwest on the way.
Missed hotel breakfast. Walked roundaboutly to the #4 subway line on Century Boulevard. Pudong has large commercial streets a half-kilometer apart, and inner blocks are neighborhood street life for the new apartment complexes. It's like the organic neighborhoods of Beijing and old Shanghai, but a little more listless, a lot less lived-in. As with most of my foot travel, I was the only obvious non-Chinese person I saw.
Taking the subway was pretty easy. As usual in Shanghai, people are aggressive in grabbing seats -- they don't offer them to the guy with the cane, as they do in Beijing. Even SF MUNI usually has one such offer every other trip, to which I politely demur. But it's a stark indicator of the relative self-absorption here.
Shanghai Railway Station. This area was the scene of fierce fighting during the Japanese invasion. The rail lines were a target of aerial bombers. I had lunch in a Japanese ramen chain... I guess that's not really ironic after all.
(I had wanted the Kung Fu chain, with some Szechuan food, but the only tables were up some curving stairs without a handrail... didn't trust it with busy lunchtime traffic before and behind. Ended up with comfort-food of tonkatsu and curry rice instead, although I gulped it down in the lunchtime crunch.)
A broad plaza, like in Beijing. People carrying large sacks of goods, as they arrive or depart. People seeing the big city for the first time. Very working class, felt like many rural people in an unfamiliar urban environment.
The area was packed. Saw one westerner there, and another later on a bicycle. I wasn't huckstered, propositioned, or even heard one "Halloo!" A few people blatantly stared, as if I was a dog with eyeglasses, but that's about it.
I've seen more beggars with clubbed feet the past month than I've seen throughout my life. They often sit at stairway platforms, feet and hands dirty. I read in the online newspapers that many beggars were pushed out of Beijing awhile back, but it's hard to tell how much reality is behind the publicized initiatives. Observation seems to bear this one out though. I don't know how much of their take they get to keep.
The Temple of the Jade Buddha is a quiet area in a regular neighborhood. It has the ancient Chinese curved roofs, and yellow walls, even though it was built in 1918. It's named after a particular piece of carved rock adorned with jewels, which "came from Burma", probably as forced tribute... no info about the lives of the people who made it, or supported those artisans, or why it travelled... it's just "part of China's treasure" now.
A hundred or so monks live there. They dress in yellow robes, have shaved heads, support themselves with gift shops and a vegetarian restaurant. Saw a few studying their cell phones. Locals come here to burn incense and pray for favors; one young woman seemed especially serious as she held a stalk of incense up in four directions... I hope she gets her wish.
It's also a tourist stop. Saw a half-dozen groups of westerners, but not an organized tour. One party of Indians. Toursists took photos of themselves ostentatiously praying, had competitions of tossing coins into offering boxes, that kind of stuff.
There were monks, also cleaning staff, giftshop attendants, and then a bunch of guys in black suits, with a vibe that was a cross between gangsters and Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland. Their mien implied ownership of the place. Odd.
Crossed back through the neighborhood, across another bridge on the Suzhou, and then back to the elevated #4 train line south to Xujiahui.
You cannot believe how unbelievably bad the sidewalk traffic is. Unobservant, rude, dangerous. I'm much more verbal today, in a Brooklyn kind of way. I haven't gotten punched out yet, and haven't decapitated any motorcyclists pushing through people yet either. Only a matter of time though; I'm glad I'm here only one more day. My behavior is an extreme mix of standing up for myself against the aggressive one moment, and being gracious to the normal the next. Guys on mopeds are the most full of themselves. There are enough normal people here that, one day, this society will evolve.
The most difficult part is getting caught between a normal person, for whom I'll wait or step aside, and having an aggressive person behind pushing to get through. Was waiting for an ineffectual woman to park her car, and a motorcycle came up behind, within six inches, horn blazing. Dangerous, unnecessary, a bad scene.
Motor vehicles have only amplified, not evolved, existing Chinese traffic patterns. The sudden gift of technology has not yet had time to be adapted. I see a mix of modern polite behavior and adolescent aggressive behavior. I'll be able to leave in a few days, but many good people are trapped in this dysfunctional society.
It's now 4pm. and I'm at a Starbucks above the main Xujiahui intersection -- very high-end, very wealthy. Customers here are mostly Chinese, and almost all are dressed to impress. I left one table because a guy ten feet away was incessantly loud -- three people were in his group, but this one guy pushed and did all the talking. I just moved.
I see little table-hopping at this packed high-end Starbucks; this is not a mixer, it is a place to display one's phallus with one's mates. There's also a good number of well-dressed young women here too, but they don't set the tone as the 30-year-old men do.
I've spent about an hour here, nursing a latte in the corner of the balcony, typing up notes. Time for a break. Will check out some high-end malls, then brave rush-hour traffic, head up Hengshan Lu. Wish me luck.
Well, I survived yet another traversal of the streets of Shanghai. Don't ask me how... those three mopeds barreling down the center of a four-foot fenced pedestrian walkway by a construction zone, high brights blinding and damned horns blazing, that should have killed a normal person.
Eating dinner at the hotel, even though I'm now the only person in the dining room, just because it's easier to deal with dumb innocuous stuff than dumb dangerous stuff.
Wish I had a bottle of whiskey up in my room, though.
I did hit the high-end malls, and saw plenty of laptop and desktop computers for sale. Their sales, and use, seem to be concentrated in the Chinese areas with more westernized economies and lifestyle. In California, computer sales and use seem dispersed through society -- in Shanghai, even more than Beijing, it seems restricted to certain areas, certain westernized classes of people. In those areas I've seen a high incidence of laptop use.
On the subway back, there was the rare American in there... a 20-ish male student, taller than me, self-absorbed in MP3, leaning against the central vertical handrail, blocking others from stabilizing themselves, including a nice young (and short) studious-looking Chinese couple. I almost lit into the guy with "not a credit to your race" lines, but fortunately I got confused enough by the PC ironies that I balked. His self-absorption would have been bad enough on SF MUNI, but seemed worse here.
Writing this late afternoon the next day, so I just remember the highlights....
Woke early; internet, exercise, shower, hotel breakfast. I mistook the cereal bowl for a coffee cup, but even that was small. Finally realized that the pickles and preserved eggs are placed next to the congee for a reason.
Walked north, hit Starbucks for a walking cup, continued north to Jin Mao Tower. Well worth a visit... elevators go to the 88th floor deck in less than a minute. View is incredible; I finally got a visceral sense of how huge Shanghai has become. It is going to become much larger yet.
Took subway south, to Science & Technology Museum, but found it was closed on Monday. Avoided many bad drivers, bad pedestrians, bad cyclists, and bad hawkers on the way. You have to see the vehicular aggression over a number of days to really realize how senseless and habitual it is.
Meandered north back to hotel, via residential streets, local commercial streets, construction blocks, the different feel of a foreigner-oriented street. (When you see signs for Carlsberg and Heineken, that's the tipoff.)
Got back to the hotel in time to avoid rush hour. Did some internet, relaxed, and got out about 7:30 for some dinner.
Local restaurant, menus all Chinese, me a bit too spaced and hungry (and pressured by waiter at elbow) to do due diligence, and took the set meal he recommended. Looked like lampchops, with sauteed peppers and onions, and a fried egg. Dug in, and only on the second chop realized they were a bit smaller, and the meat was a bit denser than lamb. Assertively spiced; chewy. uhm, I was starting to wonder. No grain -- meat, vegetables, some broth, and a meat relish -- unbalanced, meat-oriented. After finishing I checked the menu and was relieved to find the character for lamb... I've seen dog, frog and more on the menus here, and thought for a moment I had had a life-changing moment without realizing it....
Went to visit computer stores at Times Square and related malls. Foot traffic was incredibly bad, and made worse by delivery mopeds screaming through. Almost took the head off one schmuck who came at me suddenly with brights and horns and speed. Fending off watch hawkers, DVD hawkers, girl hawkers all the time.
Computers are widely available in Shanghai, if you go to the right areas. Prices seem comparable to the States, although it's hard to tell exactly what a posted list price includes. Many of the desktop towers had racing stripes and other boyish designs. The sales commission process must be a trip.
Retreated to the safety of the hotel, and listened to the lengthy honkings of horns as they passed. Pedestrians here have not yet discovered portable airhorns, but I'm not sure whether they would use them... it seems the small must accept their fate. Me, I beep right back at cars, we're all only human, nothing more, and nothing less.
Hotel transition day, from Rendervous Merry Hotel in busy Jingan district, to Eversunshine Hotel in Pudong for a four-day stay, the last stage of this trip.
Things I'm looking forward to: wearing wool and denim; good coffee without having to get dressed; tabs in browsers and less scrolling; not having to wash clothes in the sink every night; less traffic; Turner Classic Movies in the background instead of state TV. I'm already starting to anticipate the timezone change, getting my body ready for the eight-hour shift.
Cabbies have had a consistently hard time finding hotels. Part of it is because online travel services don't give intersections or maps or even the Chinese spoken or written forms of the hotel name. But I've also seen difficulties with basic street numbers, knowing the one-way streets in their city, or keeping track of the new hotels in their town. I've tried to use cabs as little as possible in Shanghai, because I cringe at the way we treat pedestrians.
On the good side, I've never felt ripped off by a cabbie here, never felt like they were driving me around to pad the tab. I've only had to ask for the meter to be turned on once, and I may have been jumping the gun there. There's a sense of ethics to the customer, even though there may be disregard for fellow citizens who are not customers.
Pudong combines the broad boulevards of Beijing with the aggressive driving of Shanghai, and adds many six-way and other odd intersections to the mix. Not a good combination, but the sidewalks themselves are much wider than in the older side of Shanghai, and the streetsigns are more westernized.
If Puxi has more beggars than Beijing, then Pudong has more peddlars than either. Despite the general wideness of the sidewalks in this "new city", sidewalk vendors find the narrowest areas and constrict them further. The pattern of intentional congestion is more pronounced than at Beijing's overpass blockages. Whether they have a moving cart, or set up a table, or just lay out things on the ground, by taking up more of the sidewalk they force potential buyers to come closer. A twenty-foot sidewalk often has a real two-way pedestrian zone of only three feet -- like walking through a doorway. This is something which will have to change, if they don't wish to be shamed when foreign visitors come in 2008 and 2010.
The wider sidewalks also foster a street-selling technique I haven't seen elsewhere -- I had four bicyclists pull around in front of me, cutting me off, and opening up wooden suitcases on their back rack to show me watches. In ten seconds one guy's quotes went from 100rmb to 2-for-100 to 3-for-100. I would have spent more in China if the sales hustle wasn't so strong.
Street sales of DVDs are bigger here than anywhere else I've seen this trip. I don't go into shops to check -- the salesclerk pressure would be too great -- but when glancing over the racks blocking the sidewalks I see varied fiction titles, cartoons and such, a blend of foreign and domestic titles. Listed prices are $2-3 US. Pudong also has a lot more sidewalk sales of porn and soft-porn titles... yesterday a young mother with six-year-old child nearby had a handful of skin flicks she was trying to sell me.
I'm at the intersection of Pudong and Weifang, in the new city's financial district. Many foreigners work in businesses here; they have their own gated compounds to the west of me, along the river. Restaurant signage includes Chinese, English, and Japanese... a little Korean, but no Russian or European. (Beijing had significant Russian signage in certain areas, and European tourists are everywhere.)
The block to the north has a row of "barbershops" with a half-dozen smartly-dressed girls always try to wave me in. The block to the east specializes in massage parlors and spas. The rest of the neighborhood is dotted with karaoke parlors, as well as more barbershops and massage parlors. It would be refreshing to see an establishment labeled "brothel" or "cathouse", instead of maintaining the polite fiction of "I'm just going to get my hair cut" or whatever.
In this area, sex shops are probably equal in number to food shops, both more numerous than clothing or other shops. It's a little stronger here in this foreigner-heavy area, but the incidence of barbershops/spas/karaoke is much higher in the city in general than anywhere in the States, or even Tokyo or Seoul. (Tokyo has the most diverse set of kink shops; I've never visited the subway frottage houses, for instance, but they're too unexpected to not want to.)
These places seem to advertise solely to men-seeking-women. I have no idea what other people do, although the larger massage parlors welcome male and female customers, and have male and female staff. There's mention of gay bars on the internet, although there's also warning that they try to keep a low profile, and these tend to be male-oriented. I haven't heard much talk about transgender issues here. There's a solid emphasis on men paying women for favors.
I haven't seen many western magazines. Even titles like Newsweek or Time usually have Chinese bodytext. News stands are on many corners, and magazine racks are in most convenience stores, but even in the foreigner-heavy areas I don't see much in the way of foreign magazines. Maybe everyone's on the internet, but the disparity is a bit odd.
Another thing I haven't been able to find are good maps. The Chinese-language bookstores have good atlases, and I've seen a few detailed street maps (the size of a large book) which list property lots, but that has been rare. Foreign-language bookstores may have an older tourist map or two. I have yet to find a pocket-sized cross-street directory, which cabbies use to find intersections from street addresses.
And around here, even a map published early in the year will be incorrect in many ways, as streets disappear in some of the largescale construction.
Anyway, Sunday afternoon and evening I spent exploring the local area. Pudong, the "new city", has fewer old people, and certainly fewer old buildings and organic neighborhoods, than the area west of the river. It's growing up fast.
Woke before dawn. Destination: Zhongshan Park, out to the west of the hotel.
The parks don't get mentioned in Fodor's and other guidebooks. This may be the best for all concerned. Some people are born to shop. Others need their photos taken in front of landmarks, as proof they've lived. For me, in China, the neighborhoods have shown how people do live their lives, and the parks have shown me how they choose to.
Walking through the fringes of the French Concession west, I realized it was the wrought-iron fences which gave me the strongest feeling of New Orleans... the dilapidated mansions behind were the clearest marker to a shared heritage, but it was the nearness of the fences which made the view more visceral.
The park itself was thronged just after 7am, different groups of dancers right up next to each other. Slow Tai Chi next to faster fighting styles... some fan dancers with fluttering cloth beyond the ribs, others with crisper fans without that trailing edge, one group which used fans of various colors beside red... one group of scarf dancers, with hints of how it could be used as a weapon, as the cloth alternates between tension and relaxation... sword dancers with no tassles, some with long tassles which seemed like a second blade... ballroom dancing, Donna Summer aerobic dancing, dancing to Sam Cooke... lots of badminton, but in Shanghai I haven't seen the paddleball games common in Beijing, with either a bouncing rubber ball or a catchable beanbag ball.
Most of the groups have their own cassette recorder. It's rare to find a spot to stand where you don't hear at least three recordings simultaneously. No live musicians playing for any dancers, though... I wonder why.
Every now and then I'll see a solo erhu playing to a singer with a mike. They're often reading out of tunebooks. That's not a good combination, when you've got no steady pitch, rhythm, or tone as a foundation. Feels like karaoke, but I don't get the part about the single two-string fiddle for backup. Pattern has been in many parks, though. Some of the singers in old movies use that combination, but it's really hard for amateurs to pull it off.
Few musicians otherwise -- more people practicing their singing projection in the park than any other musicians. I saw an early clarinetist practicing once. I've seen men walking along the street with professional erhu cases, as well as a man carrying a cello case. I've seen women with Qins, in groups in certain areas. I saw an accordionist in Tiantan backing up a group of church singers. But bad cassette tapes are far more common than musicians, no contest.
I saw one guy doing some absolutely incredible staff moves... continuous single hand twirls, throws, catches, body passes... he enjoyed manipulating the weight of the stick. I have difficulty doing a continuous finger twirl with a three-foot cane, and he was doing it with a six-foot staff. Gave me a lot to practice.
Another group of staff practitioners showed the parry moves, how the hands shifted along the stick, the changing grips, the alternation of sweeps and thrusts, the way to use the legs to get body weight way, way down low. Inspiring.
One odd thing about Chinese martial arts in parks -- they use open-hand, sword, staff, short stick (fan), and rope (scarf, ribbon) -- all the "common weapons" used in Korean Hapkido -- but it's rare to see practitioners put any body weight behind it. When you entrap a limb with a scarf or chain, the next step is usually to fall or turn, using your advantage in leverage to bring the assailant down. But the motions I see in the park are a bit divorced from actual defense techniques. Maybe these are the secret teachings... you learn the forms, and then only later learn the key that makes them actually work.
In all these groups I try to figure out who the leader is, who has the most follow-through and intention in their motion. It can be difficult sometimes. I saw one woman with a sword who had absolutely wonderful followthrough in her wrist... a revelation, the way each limb expressed the basic motion of the body. In another group, it was only the solid ending of a motion which gave the leader away.
Left the park, got some noodles, then coffee, and walked back to the hotel. Slept, with the intention of finally getting out and seeing some nightlife. Didn't quite work out that way....
Headed south, on Huashan Lu, to hook up with the commercial zone at Huaihai Zhonglu and getting a nice meal. But I guess Huaihai isn't as commercial at that intersection, because I missed it and passed right by, and didn't find another street sign until Guangyuan Lu.
Propitious error. It brought me to the Orient Shopping Center, above Xujia Hui metro station, at the intersection of Hengshan Lu and Zhaojiabang Lu. Many immense buildings, all lit up... the feeling of Shinjuku, but in greater scale. Thronged with people.
I didn't go inside... too overwhelmed. Nothing in the guidebooks, and even a Google search this morning on "zhaojiabang hengshan orient" turns up nothing meaningful. They both do mention the Xujiahui area, but seeing the current level of development was a shocker for me. It's on the #1 subway line, and I may travel out here next week to see it more clearly. Just amazed me, stumbling across it on a Friday night.
Came back up Hengshan, avoiding the hustlers outside the ladybars near the consulate area, hunting for my last meal in Puxi.
Was hoping for Hairy Crab, but the places where I saw it weren't all that approachable. Often very well-lit and with a higher dress code than I could support.
Ended up in Shanghai Wanchai chain. Got a 500 ml bottle of Wangbaohe Shanghai Wine, black label, aged eight years, established 1744, 20% proof. I like this Shanghai-style aged rice wine, and will hunt for it back in San Francisco. But that was the easy part of the menu.
They were "mei you" on many items, but I got some seafood dumplings, Shanghai Eight Treasures and Slivered Eel, and just some plain steamed rice. The wine cost 48rmb, the dishes 28 apiece, maybe 18 for the dumplings and rice... maybe a $20 meal. Not bad for a potential feast.
Ordering in a restaurant in China is hard. The menu is the easy part. But a lot of stuff listed may not actually be available. Then, it may be different than what any translation says... I've gotten noodle soup when the translation said "noodles", and rice soup when the translation said "steamed rice".
After that, the dishes arrive as they happen to be cooked, rather than the order in which any rational person might wish to eat them. I got wine first, which you might expect, but then eel, and later the other main dish, and later rice soup (which I had to ask what it was), and then dumplings. By the time they all arrived the first were cold.
And then... napkins are hit and miss. Washclothes are fairly commonplace, but I should ALWAYS wear a bandana as a bib around here... I've stained more shirts and pants than I ever have before, with this oily stuff that even portable laundry wipes have trouble removing.
The meal had good spots, but there was no balance to it. The Shanghai dishes were unctuously oily, but well-balanced individually. Having some starch to balance that oil would have been good, and the timing was just offkey. A potential feast, but not a good memory.
Almost got into a fight tonight. I was finally going to visit a bar, but gave it up after seeing the hardsell bargirl scene outside once they opened. Stopped at a convenience store to get a beer and some juice, and was walking back to the hotel.
Four-way intersection, six-way lights (cars had a turning light). I waited it out, and at green looked around again before starting across the two sixty-foot segments. As I got past the bike lanes and into the near car lane, a car came up at speed to his red light, no turn signals, so I kept on walking. He cut me off to make a turn, and I stopped, gave him a poke of the cane in the side as he passed, and continued across. As I waited at the next corner for the light to go kitty-corner, I look back and see he pulled over, stopped, and was coming across. Wasn't sure it was the same guy, but kept an eye on him anyway. He came up just outside of arm's reach and yelled a sentence short enough to be "you hit my car" (Chinese). I kept the cane down, and said in a loud, uninflected, strange voice "You almost hit me!" (English). He repeated, and so did I. Meanwhile I'm waiting for the light to change, but these are long lights.
He was on my cane side, and had already seen me use it... I had gained some disincentive advantage, but now he was quite aware of the cane, and I wasn't in position to counter a grab, barely in position to counter a sucker punch. Fortunately I had a 500ml bottle of beer grasped by the neck within a plastic bag in my left hand... if he made a move on me I could have taken him out with a head shot. Didn't want to do that, but that was my reserve option.
Fortunately he decided he didn't want to mess with a foreigner who spoke like he had mental problems. He circled his temple with his forefinger in the universal "you're crazy" gesture and turned away. I said "*Ni* feng le!", and he was, because he was now walking into traffic against the light... guess he left his keys in his open car across the intersection. I kept hoping some other driver would act on him like he had on me, but no such luck.
I don't like altercations, but was already in the intersection, committed, and had a short span to finish the light. He didn't signal, he didn't slow, he just acted unpredictably and dangerously. Then when he got a tiny bit of harmless feedback he almost got a whole lot of more serious feedback. Guy was nuts.
I don't like being put in the position of being the feedback conveyer for morons. Until China grows up, I don't want to come back here. I decided this while in Beijing, and tonight's needless agression just strengthened my resolve.
My legs were feeling the long walking of the past few days, so I wanted to stay closer to the neighborhood, not trek so far. Decided to go to the Shanghai Municipal Planning Museum, at Peoples Square.
(Peoples Square is actually a circle, the old racetrack from the British Concession. The peoples' park itself is actually just the southern half of that oval, with the northern half taken by grand government buildings.)
Took awhile for me to get there -- was using a new map, and I made a mistake in judging distances, took a turn early, and ended up going 'way out of my way. Ended up walking a lot anyway.
Shanghai is hosting an international exhibition in 2010, and there are already signs up and countdowns posted until Shanghai receives the international attention that Beijing will get in the 2008 Olympics. I suspect this also drives the flurry of largescale construction going on here.
Biggest takeaway from the content itself was how much, much larger Shanghai is expected to be very soon. If you look at a map, there are clear rings of growth... the old Chinese walled city of a millennia ago was expanded by the international concessions a century ago... suburbs stretched west, north and south beyond this a half-century ago... recently Pudong has had the growth, on the eastern side of the river. What shocked me was how Shanghai is expected to grow eastward to the sea, out to where Pudong Airport is now. It seems to be about twice the area of Shanghai today.
But the tone of the museum was funky. Lots of bureaucratese on the displays, lots of five-year planning. Any cumberous processes we in Silicon Valley endure are child's play compared to the processes these people go through.
The place had a lot of kiosks. I recognized Director transitions on the majority of them. Some may have been Flash. PostScript and Photoshop handled the print displays, and on some pieces I could see clear signs of Illustrator stylistics. Felt a little strange.
This was the first museum I went to in China this trip, and may be the last one. I'm not really keen on knowing what I'm to think; I'd rather discover it myself. The big draw of this museum is the miniature Shanghai of the future, taking up most of one floor of the museum, with a viewing area on the floor above. I could recognize a few landmarks, but not the shape of the outlying areas. The Bund was but a tiny spec, even Oriental Pearl TV Tower was nearly lost in the plethora of newer, larger buildings.
The other aspect of this museum's reputation which drew me was the recreation of a 1930s Shanghai street. This merges smoothly into a shopping mall beneath Peoples Square... I was thinking it was looking awfully tacky until I realized I had walked too far into it and had completely entered the mall. The actual "street" in the basement takes some architectural elements from Shanghai at the time, and has blown-up photos that you could pose for photos in. Felt sort of like learning about Venice by going to the Venetain Hotel in Las Vegas, except the latter has better production values. Even the cloud ceiling was similar, except the one in Shanghai doesn't move and change time of day.
The street didn't move me... instead of opium dens and brothels and trash and odors, there were waffle stands and knickknack shops and cleanly-swept floors in the basement of a large building.
Upper floors of the museum did have more on historical Shanghai, but these were mostly uncredited old photos that I could see just as well in a book in San Francisco. Not even a map to show where the old location was in today's Shanghai. It's a bit jarring to see an old photograph of an old building and to see it placed in time as "Ming (1668-1870)" or whatever... I would really like to have known in what year the photo was taken, perhaps by whom, or have it placed on a map, or juxtaposed against what the site looks like today, or see it surrounded by other photographs of the same site in different years. I'm pretty sure there weren't any Polaroid Land Cameras during the Ming reign....
Took the subway back, got a little lost in traffic coming out of the station, and got hit in a traffic accident for the first time. It was a blocked-by-construction intersection, and I was on her side of the crosswalk in the final half of the intersection... she on a bicycle, and just didn't stop. I didn't raise a fuss, 'cause she wasn't expecting anyone before the intersection, but still, you should be able to use your brakes or turn away, hon.
Got a meal and some beer trekking back to the hotel, and conked. Saturday is my last full day on the old side of the river, and I want to wake up early, see how people live before the traffic picks up.
Found significant soulfulness in Shanghai yesterday: Luxun Park, and the historic synagogue in Little Warsaw, both in the old American Concession, north of Suzhou Creek.
In the 19th century, after the Emperor's court seized the ships containing one of the rare non-silver goods foreigners could trade for silk and tea, the foreigners sent in the navy and demanded concessions of the weak royalty. The port city of Shanghai had British, French, American and Chinese sections. The Chinese kept the old walled city area in the south near the river... the British took The Bund out Bubbling Well Road to the racetrack... the French area was south of the British and west of the Chinese... the American Concession was north of Suzhou Creek and the rest. Each had its own government and police... if you were in trouble with one government, it was easy to slip into the jurisdiction of another. Wild times.
I had never been in the north-of-Suzhou area before. There are still many historic buildings, but it is undergoing rapid renovation in preparation for the 2010 Shanghai Exhibition. It shows layers of architecture, things very old standing beside things very new, with things in the middle scattered all through. Sichuan Lu was my target to see this.
After morning internet, shower, exercise and coffee, I took the subway to Nanjing Lu east, the start of the pedestrianized shopping street. I was immediately accosted by three hawkers as I climbed out of the station, and repetitions of "no, bu yao" didn't work as well as speaking harshly and carrying a big stick. You can feel them circling twenty feet away, eyeing you, sidestepping in like a pigeon might approach some bread. "Oh look, a walking wallet, let's get in close and touch it!" No thanks.
After I found a spot out of foot traffic, put on sunglasses to look tough, and aimed the cane at the chests of a few approaching hawkers to give 'em the idea I didn't need another watch, I started up a pipe. Usually takes ten minutes or so to get reliably going, gives me time to people watch and drink in the sights. Saw one older gent across the square looking at me, talking with his friends and laughing. A few minutes later I found him at my elbow, asking something, and I almost assumed him to be another peddler until I realized he was saying "Ni yan shenme?"... he was another pipesmoker, and was asking what type of tobacco I was using. Almost blew him off, all because of the overabundance of street peddlers. We talked for awhile and then I set off, to Sichuan St and north.
In the Bund/Nanjing area some streets are closed to autos. During rush hours this means a fantastic traffic procession of bikes, trikes, mopeds, scooters... I even saw one guy with a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle scooting along the sidewalk, honking at pedestrians to get out of the way. In the curvy streets in this area they come in streams, timed to distant stoplights... a quiet pedestrian street one moment, then a solid wall of bicycles coming at you from the left, soon meshing with another river coming from due left, and a third stoplight releasing its horde of riders from behind and to your left just behind that, each stream splitting off in the curvy five-way intersection. Took some photos, but I'm not sure they can reflect the reality. Standing in the safety between buildings and traffic poles, it was quite a sight to see. Glad I wasn't trying to cross it all, though. ;-)
Crossing the creek, the famous bridges of cinema, Broadway Mansions, the Russian Consulate with its big satellite dish... very historic area, many tears have been shed here. Sichuan Bei Lu takes you all the way up to Luxun Park. Some blocks are parkland, some are walled off for largescale construction, some are old and well-used residential buildings, some are western Art Deco remnants with terra cotta statues, commercial shops of all natures mixed among them all. Looking down a sidestreet shows brick Edwardian buildings, another sidestreet shows shacks, a third shows modern apartments. Clothes are cheaper here, about a third the price of similar storefronts south of the creek. I saw few westerners.
Street hawkers were concentrated outside the hotels and other likely spots. I've been training them on a certain phrase used on Bourbon Street nightly... just repeating it until they go away. Often they start repeating what I say. No beads are involved, but it should be fun, should they ever spring this phrase on an English-speaker someday.... ;-)
Stopped in at a Chinese chain for a rice bowl... I trust the chains a little more, because at least they've had some type of sanitation program set up, even if it may not necessarily have been followed. Had boiled beef in teriyaki-like sauce, corn/carrot/pea vegetables (ex-frozen?), rice, soup and a crueller. Cost about $3 US. Such pricing elasticity here.
Wandered further north on Sichuan, up to Duo Lun streets, just south of the park. This is a historic literary area, where lefty writers lived and wrote before the Communists took power in 1949. It wasn't as kitschy as the other tourist areas, and most of the visitors were from China. Streets were quiet, well-paved... many booths selling gems and other handiwork... architecture was largely preserved, but in nearby streets today's people still lived. I saw one of the few European-style churches with Chinese-style architecture... romanesque arches with tiled peaked roofs. Worth a visit, if you're here... very different feel from other parts of Shanghai.
Then, after consulting the compass and the map a few times, I got my bearings and headed north to Luxun Park. Goldmine. This is where real people hang out. Late autumn afternoon, clear blue sky with leaves nearly fallen to the ground... many benches, tables and seats, all filled with friends chatting, walking... lots of card games, although park rules prohibit mah johng.
Oddest thing was the portable KTV area. Hearing cacophony, I approached. An amplified voice was just off-pitch enough to suggest karaoke rather than a recording. Closer, I saw various groups of two dozen or so, all semicircled and hiding the centers of interest.
Turns out people rigged DVD/VCD players with portable screens, speakers and a mike... sometimes they'd have this all rigged up on a cardboard box... for a small fee you could sing to the world, watching the lyrics on the flatscreen video. I counted six of these stations within a three-hundred foot circle, each with its own singers, its own crowd of onlookers. Volume was quite high. Some of the tunes were long and pedantic, too. I appreciated the novelty of the situation, but avoided taking detailed photos in respect of the apparent happiness this strange scene brought them.
On top of that, the park had its own music system, with speakers spread throughout the trees. Relatively quiet, could only hear it when nothing else was intruding. At one point there was a musicbox rendition of "To Sir, With Love". Atmospheric, in its own way.
Sounded like nothing else I've ever heard in my life, though.... ;-)
There was one section towards the north end of Luxun Park that I didn't explore as I would have wished, called "Korean Plum Garden". The plaque outside alluded to some type of reconciliation, in that artfully vague language which made me wonder what the real story was. The ticket gate was in Chinese and Korean, and I read the admission as 2 RMB, but the gatekeeper told me 40. I didn't press it, and kept onto my original agenda. Looking forward to researching it later, though.
Luxun Park is compact yet extensive, and was full to the brim with real people, just enjoying their afternoon. One of the most revealing parts of actual Shanghai that I've found yet. If you're coming here for a vist, please make time to witness it, respect it, enjoy it.
I left the park through the north gate, taking Dalian Road as it curved to the east and south. This is local commercial area... barbershop girls gave me the eye as I passed by, but pass by I did. Much construction down to the southern end, large swaths of neighborhood disappearing.
A right turn at Changzi/Changyang Road, and I enter the area once called "Little Warsaw", the Jewish ghetto established by the Japanese occupiers. Talk about an area of tears....
Jews had been forced by various pogroms from haven to haven, across most of the mideast and greater Europe. One area of tolerance was in Poland. Then the Hitler cultural delusion invaded these countries, and Jews were forced to move again.
Civilized nations took in as many as they could, but the need was too great for the largest donors. Visas and paperwork were needed to have a chance to win the lottery. But visas and paperwork were difficult to get, from the destroyed Polish government.
For those needing to leave dangerous nations, Shanghai was one of the few refuges. Its multiple governments made it one an open city, where anyone could enter. In the first decade of the century Shanghai sheltered Russians fleeing the Red Socialists, and in the fourth decade it also sheltered the Jews fleeing the Nationalist Socialists.
This safety was short-lived, however. The Japanese took their China campaign south, conducting aerial bombings on Shanghai. The Shanghai Jews were non-people, recognized by no government. Those who remained, and who remained alive, were rounded up for interment camps in Hongkou, in the old American Concession.
I don't know the whole history of why that area was chosen, or when it was built, but there are blocks of residential units around the old synagogue which still show an eastern european influence. Klzemer tunes ran through my head. I saw a cake shop with multi-layer wedding cakes... a remnant, perhaps. Food sellers were mostly Chinese, although I did notice one streetside meatcutter, speaking with that odd set of Arabic-sounding Shanghainese phonemes.
The buildings spoke to me. I wondered who looked out those windows, sixty-five years ago, and thought these were surely the last days of the world. They had good reason to believe so, chased across Europe to the Far East, oppressed there too, no place left on the planet to run or escape. The future founding of Israel would likely have seemed an impossible fantasy.
Yet still, today, we've got failed cultures blaming others for their failures, seeking to lash out at the external enemy instead of confronting their own self-inflicted injuries.
The music of the klezmorim may be the only sensible salve we have.....
Woke early, stayed inside the hotel on internet. I'm now eight hours behind the US west coast (although a day ahead), and if I wake up early I'm just a little late to the main brunt of their news cycle. Keeps me out of early rush hour traffic too. I've got juice, bananas, dried fruit, yogurt, coffee-in-a-can and tea.
The stretch in front of my hotel is particularly difficult. Sidewalk is narrow, with a high curbside fence to keep pedestrians off the roadway. Trees, lightpoles and other obstructions regularly constrict this. Sometimes it ramps up or down four to six feet; sometimes there are stairs instead. Blind driveways where cars come looming out onto the sidewalk, to see if other cars are approaching on the roadway. But the mopeds, bicycles, and electric bikes zoom along, blasting the horn to tell pedestrians to get out of their way, quick.
The electric bikes may be the worst. They're fast, and their motors make no noise. The gas-powered mopeds and motorocycles make too much noise. If you could average them out it'd be safer.
It's similar to the headlights at night. Some vehicles have super-brights. Other vehicles have underpowered lights, thin yellow beams. Retaining night vision is quite difficult. Lots of cars park or idle on the sidewalk with their headlights on.
I just keep an unhurried, careful pace, usually on the left edge of the sidewalk but sometimes on the right, constantly doing a 360 degree scan, letting others move ahead or through, but strongly asserting my own right of way when necessary. I shift the cane from hand to hand so that it's between me and other foot traffic, and have started using it as a "flying wedge" at chest height and parallel to the ground, to show the stupid that they can't walk through me and gently guide them to the rest of the sidewalk.
I've also been practicing chest pokes or side pokes to bicycle riders who come within six inches from left front, right front, right behind, left behind, or who pass perpendicularly either in front or in back. For moped riders who buzz pedestrians on sidewalks I've been practicing moving into a neck hold, moving to a two-hand grip on the shaft with a sidestep so their neck runs right into the hook of the cane rather than into me and they fall off the cycle. I hope I never have to use it, because my Chinese skills don't extend to "Let me get this straight, you're saying it's okay for him to aim this motorized vehicle at me, but not for him to run into my unmoving cane instead? Are you kidding me or what!?"
Took the subway under the river to Pudong. I've been on the Shanghai subway before, but had forgotten the procedure. You go to an electronic ticket kiosk, click the "English" menu, choose the subway line, choose the station, it tells you how much to pay, you put it in, it spits out a ticket, which you use when entering and which is collected when you get off. I had trouble figuring where I should wave the magnetic card to let me in, and a nice girl helped me. Then I had trouble figuring how to use the ticket card to get out, and another nice girl helped me.
On the way there, and on the way back, no one offered me a seat. In the Beijing subway I had to fight off such offers (I'm still wearing a knee brace, for protection against over-bending, and unless I can stretch my legs it's more comfortable to stand). People were really quick to grab empty seats in Shanghai too. I'm surprised at the difference in tone between the two cities. It's a lot more "me me me" here. I can still manage to get a smile out of many people, but there's an aggressiveness in Shanghai that I didn't feel in Beijing.
Got out at Century Park, five stops in -- first time I've been east of the river here. Big area, expansive, gorgeous. Particularly beautiful weather too. Park was very quiet on a Wednesday afternoon; I took some photos of wide areas of grassland or trees with no one visible. Came up Century Boulevard, the main drag heading northwest to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The first few blocks are no-cars -- looks like it was designed as a plaza, lots of different little areas, but all together pretty sterile. Then it got into construction zones, lots of areas where the sidewalk was completely blocked off. No commercial activity; seems like real life is off of Century Blvd, rather than on it.
This area has more of a Silicon Valley type of scale... wider walkways, driving zones, lawns on medians. Their high-tech zone is just a few subway stops further out. Oddly, cars here seemed less aggressive too. Maybe it's the higher areas of congestion that prompt each player to act more strongly, to push into other people more. Makes sense; when lab rats were intentionally overcrowded they started attacking and cannibalizing each other.
It's about three miles from the park to the tower. Towards the end it got very congested with cars, heading towards the tunnel, during rush hour. This was also the time when the crosswalks stopped carrying traffic lights. Dumb, dumb, dumb... really broad streets, and car culture here doesn't respect pedestrians. I had to poke two cabs during one crossing. I was walking in front of them, and they kept on coming, rolling while within cane reach! Next time I hit a street like that I have to persist to stay in the middle of a crowd of other pedestrians, rather than on their edges, even though the pedexers drift in and out and act wonky too.
Finally made it to the riverside area, looking for the Paulaner Brewery. They served some German-style dinner, which was actually my first meal of the day. I got beef stroganoff, which might've been good, but there were four game programmers at a table twenty feet away, and they were loud, and they were dumb. Talking about their Microsoft stock options, how their new boss at Disney had too many ego problems and too many games, talking about their 4x4s, the experienced guy of the group saying how the Chinese he grew up with was southern Chinese and it's different from Mandarin Chinese, the "I programmed in Pascal!" "oh yeah? Well I programmed the Atari!" shtick... they had never been in Shanghai before, and not only were they not attending to their surroundings, they were imposing their old tired baggage on everyone else around them.
After awhile my Arnsperger-like echolalia kicked in, and I started repeating all their verbal tics in a loud voice "AND, UHM", "AND THEN, Y'KNOW", "UHM" "AND, ER", "AND AND, UHM, Y'KNOW". This has happened before when people have forced their way into my ear and I can't escape the fact that they don't actually know what they're doing.
Felt like going over and taking their photo afterwards, just because they ruined the meal and my digestion, but it wouldn't have done any good so I didn't. I just hope they meet a bunch of Shanghai cabbies during work someday.
Lots more obnoxious stuff last night. It's a gorgeous view across the Huangpu, as the classic buildings of The Bund come alive with light. But I noticed that the western shoreline kept shifting its colors... an area of about 300 yards at a time would go from cold blue, to black, to white, to redder tones. This large swath of land shifted up the river as I watched. I couldn't figure it out.
Turns out it was an advertising barge, with absolutely the largest, brightest display I've ever seen in my life. After he hit the top of the river and turned around so the display faced us, I could see video commercials for UPS and other companies on a screen that may have approached a football field in size, and which was brighter than anything else on the other side of the river. If there was ever a time for a high-powered assault rifle, this was it... absolutely the most obnoxious advertising I have ever seen in my life. Shanghai has no hopes of approaching the Hong Kong skyline if they don't revolt against garbage like this. Goodbye UPS, hello FedEx or DHL.
After throwing the dinner into me and escaping the tech buffoons I tried to find something *intentionally* kitschy: The Bund Tourist Tunnel. At least that's what one of the guidebooks called it; others gave it different English names. It's a people-mover under the river with a light show. I had four maps/books with me and none showed or told where to get it. The street mapping and guidance in Shanghai is not quite up to Tokyo standards either. I know it's "near the Riverside Promenade", and "south of the Oriental Pearl Tower", but I couldn't find even a whisper of a street entrance. Ended up taking the regular subway back.
I've been surprised by how off the maps are. I shopped everything I could get my hands on in SF, studied them, and only took the best then buttressed these with whatever I could get in China. But road names are missing, things aren't to scale, places aren't there. Lots of resources are only in one language... hard when the paper map has no Chinese and the roadside map has no English, and the landmarks differ. Still blows me away that the online hotel reservations don't show the Chinese characters, or the pronunciation, or a map. When I become Supreme User Interface Overlord of The Universe I'll put a stop to such nonsense....
Not the best day. I scoped out a little bit of new territory, but only learned that people don't have enough inside them to manage the technology they've got. I've learned that already, and it's a depressing message, and I'd really rather not have it continually pounded into my head. Next I plan to scope out the area where European Jews fled, after the psychosis in Hitler's culture started imprisoning innocent people and when other countries' cultures wouldn't accept people without visas. Shanghai, for all its faults, did help refugee Jews and Russians during their difficult days.
The previous two days have been my first real gastro-intestinal problems of the trip. Think it was the icecubes in a Diet Coke I was drinking at a western place... could have had a couple of causes though. Didn't need the Imodim I packed -- mild. Not bad, all things considered. No sniffles yet either, although I've been hitting the hand sanitizer pretty hard.
Anyway, I had a late start, and scratched plans on the more modern, eastern side of the river, Pudong. Walking outside the hotel I almost got hit by four mopeds on the tiny sidewalk before reaching the corner -- no kidding, and I was looking behind me too. Nerves were on edge early.
Just ended up walking around the area, trying to find the entrance to Jingan temple, getting something to eat. To "stay off the streets during rush hour" I'd have to add "during lunch hour too" -- it's a jungle out there, and cannot stand.
Finding that YouTube had nearly 500 videos on "china traffic", and that shanghaiexpat.com echoed the horror stories, and finding some of the few Web articles on traffic fatalities in Beijing and Shanghai, all these took the pressure off me -- my sentiments on their rapid adoption of automotive technology were not alone. We gave them magic, and they have not internalized the consequences of abuse.
Lots of kids here, lots of doting parents and grandparents... seems more of a bonding than on the streets of San Francisco. One of the great incentives for the future growth of this society?
I'll miss Beijing-style street breads when I get back. From dawn to closing hour you can get meat buns, sesame buns, other small portable packages on most streets. Price about two for a quarter. Beats western donuts!
Last night I did enter one of the places I had identified as "a clip joint", but it was straight-up, Location was across from a Hilton, so prices were a bit higher. 500 ml glasses of Carlsberg draft at two for 40 RMB during happy hour, and a plate of rice fried with beef and sliced red/green bell peppers for 30. About $10 US total, during two hours of streetside peoplewatching. Girls there were just for show.
Saw a group of four German businessmen there. They first ordered from the waitress in basic English -- lingua france. But at the end, one of the guys settled the bill in basic Chinese. Very cool.
Lots more people publicly pick their nose here. At public restrooms there's maybe about 20% who handwash, and many of these are perfunctory. I try to clean my hands after handling money.
Right now I'm typing up yesterday's notes at a ubiquitous (yet wireless-less) Starbucks. I'll put this away now, get out the maps, and figure out subway transit and itinerary for my trip under the river to Pudong.
It's easier to write when things are fun.
Yesterday was mostly for exploring French Concession and Xintiandi, the famed reconstruction of original housing.
I stayed inside the hotel, on the internet, until the rush hour traffic died down. This has become a necessity. While Beijing's drivers may be more murderous, Shanghai's drivers are more aggressive.
Fell for two scams on the way to Xintiandi. On the first I used a public restroom. In Beijing these are usually neighborhood-oriented, unstaffed, and malodorous. In Shanghai they're more oriented to general passers-by, are staffed, and cleaner. In compensation you pay 50 jiao, half a Renminbi. Prices is posted right on the sign at the gate. In this case the guy didn't give change for my one yuan coin. I hung around and waited, but it felt like a "stupid foreigner" gaff. For six cents I didn't press it. Should have taken his picture, though.
Second scam took place outside the reconstruction. A shoeshine guy was following me around, wouldn't take "no". The security guards apparently wouldn't allow him inside the complex, only on the surrounding sidewalks, but he caught me on two different sides of the area, about twenty minutes apart. On the second one he kept pointing to one shoe, and I told him to stop touching me (in Chinese). Later I see there's some ketchup-like material on the shoe. I hadn't been near any food place all day. Later I saw the ketchup on the outside cuff of that trouser leg... couldn't have fallen straight down, would have to have been applied from the side the guy was standing on. I'm almost tempted to go back there today and watch from across the street, to see if he works the same ruse on other foreigners today.
Xintiandi was nowhere near as important as it has been painted on TV and in the guidebooks. The place has been gussied up, sure, but I saw similar architecture, more authentic, in various areas around town. I went to Ye Shanghai, a dumpling shop raved by various highbrows, and got mediocre SF-style chao mein, some regular fish dumplings and mini pork buns, and a small glass of Longjing tea (sans pot of hot water for refills). Stuff just cost four times more, that's all.
Walked back, enjoying the dilapidation of the French Concession, avoiding the fake Rolex and other hawkers on the larger streets. I'm transferring the cane between left and right hand to ease them away from shifting right in front and blocking me... not just a foreigner thing, I see them do it to residents too.
Got back to the hotel, took a nap and did internet during evening rush hour. It's just not worth it to be on the streets when their numbers are up like that... drivers here are simply too wacked.
About 7:30 went out to a neighborhood noodle joint, a Japanese chain... my go-to place when I don't want to be hassled. Then went walking, and found that two bar streets I had seen during the day -- Julu Rd and a block away on Changshu Lu -- had the clipjoint vibe for the nearby hotels. The Julu Rd joints had girls sitting waiting for customers... at one place they literally blocked my way, shifting as I did, grabbing. I checked my wallet after I got through. Cute, but hardsell is a definite turnoff. Went back to the hotel and had a beer instead.
Also had my first two incidents of cane-on-car contact. One was while I was crossing the far side of a lengthy intersection, in a crowd, and cab pushed into the crowd and tried to cut me off. Stupid -- the pedestrian countdown was ticking on me and the others behind me, and the cab was already in front of the stopped cars which were waiting at their perpendicular red. He made things dangerous for all of us, just for a little temporary and meaningless advantage of his own. I didn't strike his car, but just laid my cane down forcibly in front, staking my claim. Made a nice audible thwack on his plastic/aluminum hood and grill.
Second was at a hotel/KTV place. I was on the sidewalk. Guy pulled into parking lot and stopped, leaning over the sidewalk. I walked to the far side of the sidewalk, then he started backing up, right into me. He didn't turn around to look where he was going -- four attendents standing by, none of 'em told him to stop. I pressed my cane into the back of his car, twice -- audible, but wasn't a full-force thrust.
These guys are stupid dangerous. It's the biggest problem in China I see, and explains why the government runs roughshod over inconvenient questioners too. "I've got more might, so get out of my way." I'm sure there would be a double standard where I to thrust the canetip into an aggressive cabbie's face through his open window. Just because you don't see our might, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.