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.