Shanghai Dispatch: Shanghai Surprise

I thought China would be filled with grim-faced, machine-gun toting People’s Army types with government agents shadowing me every step. That’s very much not the case and either I was just misinformed and paranoid, or the government agents are very, very good.
Instead, Shanghai has exceeded my expectations in every way as one of the most spectacular cities I’ve ever seen. Fancy-pants skyscrapers abound and at night everything lights up like an Asian Las Vegas sans gambling. Entire skyscrapers double as electric billboards, or become electric masterpieces. Very Blade Runner.
To say that the city is enormous is an understatement. It’s filled to the brim with a vibrant and very pleasant population – most of whom live in giant apartment complexes, the likes of which I’d never seen before. No one seems to have a dryer. Laundry is everywhere, even thirty stories up.
If you need postcards, go to a tourist area and someone will try and sell them to you every three minutes.
I am tempted to purchase “Baby Urinate” for the box alone.
Beggars are aggressive and don’t take bu shi for an answer. They are predominantly situated near tourist areas and usually limited to “Hallo, money” or “Thank you, money.”
Vendors are aggressive and don’t take bu shi for an answer. They are predominantly situated near tourist areas and usually limited to “Hallo, DVD” or “Hallo, watches, bags.”
Asian tour guides all use bullhorns to address their groups, turning any tourist spot into a cacophony of different dialects competing to tell you about the vase or tree you’re looking at. A guide told me they don’t use them for Western tourists because we’re averse to having someone with a bullhorn talking to them from one foot away. Not so for the various Asian visitors who are perfectly content to have a 90 decibel lecture on the Qing dynasty delivered to their face. Even if the group numbers two, as I witnessed.
Highway crews are deposited on the road with nothing more than an orange jacket and their pruning shears. There are no flashing lights, barricades, signs, or any attempts to put some distance between them and the automobiles, trucks and cycles that could kill them every millisecond. This is part of the government’s Please Die, We’re Full policy.
You’d think a guy whose devastating economic and political policies killed so many people would be unpopular. Silly you! Merchants sell Mao’s “Little Red Book” of thoughts, Mao watches, Mao pins and statues here and there celebrate his legacy. Kudos to a state-run press for keeping that charmer’s past under wraps.
Phlegm here is the by-product of a serious pollution problem and a national love of smoking. Spitting it all over the place is the by-product of Mao’s Cultural Revolution which embraced “peasant” behavior. The government is aware that hawking phlegm everywhere is freakish to Western tourists and is making an effort to stop it. In the meantime however, watch where you’re walking – or turn it into a fun game.
The language is fairly impossible to speak, in part because of the tonal aspect. There are four tones: high, rising, falling-rising, falling. That means you’ll enjoy many exchanges like “Shizou? Shizou? Shizou?” until they realize you meant “ShiZOU.” Depending on how you use tones when saying “tang” you are either saying “soup”, “sugar”, “to lie down” or “boiling hot.” So when you thought you were ordering Hot & Sour soup you were actually telling the waiter you were taking a nap.
The Chinese characters used to indicate highway on-ramps are “enter” and “mouth” while the off-ramps are indicated by “leave” and “mouth.” The two symbols zhong and guo mean “Middle Country” – which means China. At any rate, I’m starting to understand why they move to New York and open “Funny Cry Happy Porcelain Gift Shop.”
Anything is fair game. While I’m willing to be adventurous (jellyfish) I’m not willing to be too adventurous (goose stomach). The bad news for dog lovers is that man’s best friend finds himself on the menu. The good news is they’re more of a winter thing, so you still have some time to play with your pet.
Having seen a Ferrari, Viper, Porsches, BMWs and several Lexii – as well as Rolls Royce and Bentley dealerships – one has to think that the fundamental class-equality theory of communism isn’t really working. To use a Polish expression from their communist days: “there’s even, and there’s evener.”
Foreigners aren’t allowed to drive here – so why are the road signs also in English? And in a cutlery-free society, why is the symbol for “restaurant” a fork and knife?