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.