Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First reflections on Shanghai

Stepping out of the ditie (subway) you will be lucky to get 5 feet before being approached by a man who is eager to "practice" his english with you. "watch, bag?" are the only words he mutters. In his hand is a leaflet showing all his "store" has to offer. Stopping for just a second might give these guys the wrong impression so I am quick to move past while muttering bu yao (don't wont) with a gusto that decreases as the day wears on.

Yesterday, was a fabulous first day in Shanghai. My friend Denise, a Taiwanese friend from my old stopping grounds, meet me near my place around nine thirty and we started our adventure. First it was a stop off at a local stand for a quick radish and curry filled bun. For the low price of 8mao (about 30 cents) it was impossible to pass up. After that is was off to peoples square to catch the sights of capitalism in its purest form. For as far as the eye can see the streets were carpeted with signs of development and globalization. I was rather hard pressed to find a store that wouldn't be common place in the most upscale U.S. malls. Chinese stores, chinese food, those are rarities in this part of town. My only thought was: welcome to Shanghai, welcome to China, please observe how modern our city is. Everywhere you look is filled with construction, all in preparation for next years World Expo. The city is also covered in haibao figurines. The ridiculous and and tacky drop of water that is the spokestoon for the Shanghai expo.

After seeing the sites of People's square it was off to the old streets and Yu Garden, another area that has developed beyond belief. Although the place was rather beautiful I felt like some of China's wonderful history and culture has been lost in the race for further expansion. I couldn't help buy laugh at the old style buildings that were filled with Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's chain stores. Each one more packed than the last with fatter than normal Chinese children and disapproving Chinese parents who are still trying to figure out how there children can tolerate the crap food they are stuffing their faces with. I don't mean to sound harsh with my words, but I was really taken aback at just how modern this global city has become. I should also say that this city has, for a long time, been called the Paris of Asia. I suppose that modernization, and consumerism are old hat for this place. and I guess if I were to think back, Taiwan had some of these same things, but there still was a strong sense of the old co-existing.

Once we got our fill of classical capitalism we set off to grab a decent bite to eat. Denise decided to take me to a Muslim noodle bar that was really quite a treat. I couldn't resist ordering some spicy dofu and some spicy baicai. It really hit the spot. I suppose I should take the time right now to apologize for the lack of pictures. The internet is so slow here that it takes around a minute to just send an email. Tomorrow morning, I will do my best to add some proper photos to this blog and get things rolling. After lunch we headed over to the train station to fight the migrant workers for a hard sleeper (the cheaper seat) train ticket to Beijing. Well, lets just say that I came to the train station about 5 days to late because the hard sleep had been sold out for ever. I ended up settling for a soft sleeper (a nice upgrade) for about 600RMB, and so now I am officially on my way to Beijing Thursday night. It is pretty amazing to think that so many people in China are constantly on the move looking for any work that they can have. Leaving family and friends behind at the opportunity to earn a less that proper wage. Life is much different hear, I can see that already and I am only on day three.

After the train station we headed over to the Science and Technology Building, not to go inside, but to go underneath where they have a great fake market selling everything your heart desires. Since I was flat out of cash after my pricey train ticket purchase, we just went for a quick look see, but it was still quite a sight. Unlike the night markets in Taiwan this fake market was very organized, and full of all the "name brands" you would find in an issue of Vogue. We only spent a little time walking around and then it was time to head home for a quick shower before heading out for the evening.

After my shower I decided it was time for my haircut as well. I noticed a place very near my hostel that claimed to offer "beautiful hair," but I was a bit leery of wether or not the place even knew how to cut hair; it was that kind of shady. So I headed off to kedi, the local connivence store to get yet another bottle of water, and to my luck there was another hair saloon right next door. This place actually cuts hair, and I went inside and spent the best 20RMB so far. I got a full wash and head massage all while passing the time chatting with a very nice girl from SuZhou who came here looking for work. After the wash a young gentleman came over and gave me a proper short hair cut. Again, we spent the whole time chatting about everything and anything under the sun.

Last night me and Denise went out to a proper Shanghainese restaurant. Our destination was Restaurant Art Salon, a rather swanky upscale place that boasted artwork all done by the owner. The food was served in small portions and price was a little steep even for a "wealthy" laowai (foreigner) such as myself, but I forgot about all that the second I tasted the Ten Thousand Year Green veggies, the garlic baked spinach, and the amazingly delicious shrimp dish. All the food was just to die for. To top off the evening it was out to Zapatas, a hot and hip expat hangout in the French Corridor of Shanghai that had great drink specials and an outdoor seating area that was filled to the brim with the local foreign crowd. There I was exposed to the life of business in Shanghai, meeting expats from all over who are working for the banking industry, Exxon mobil and the like. It was great to mingle with them all. I of course ended up having the most fun just chatting with the locals about all things China, in Chinese of course, and ended up getting a great lesson in the difference between su yu and cheng yu the two most common types of Idioms within the Chinese language. Later in the evening I some new friends from the hostel I am staying at decided to join in the festivities and we danced the night away, taking a cab home at about 3 A.M. which isn't too bad for a Monday night party in Shanghai.

The next day I was suffering from the good old sore feet syndrome. That wasn't going to stop me from at least getting a bite to eat so I headed off in search of some grub. The place I went to on Monday had already closed its doors and I couldn't be bothered to head back to the Hostel so I decided to head off to People's Park for a nice relaxing stroll. As I exited the Subway station a young man by the name of Qiao Bao asked "hello, how are you?" is okay English. I replied in my mother tongue but was quick to switch to Chinese thereafter. It turned out that Qiao Bao was waiting for his friend Wang Hui Hui, a highschool student from Su Zhou who came into Shanghai for the day. When Wang Hui Hui arrived Qiao Bao informed me that the two of them were off to a tea shop to better understand China's ancient tea culture of which today's youth are not so adept. Much as I had hoped, they invited me along for the experience and I was so glad I joined them. On our walk over to the tea shop Qiao Bao gave me a 15 minute history lesson of Sun Yat-Sen and his great overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. Once we got to the tea shop stepped inside a room that seem to be from dynasties past. There we enjoyed a taste of eight different types of tea. With every new tea we were taught the proper way to enjoy the various varieties, and taught what remedies each tea was said to posses. The first tea we had, a famous Wu Long tea, was said to be used by Huang Di (the famous yellow emperor) to help his breathing and adjust his Ying and Yang.

Once we had our fill of ancient tea, and after my pocket book was considerably lighter, we headed back toward People's Park to a great restaurant from some proper Chinese food. We chatted the afternoon away while munching on various veggie dishes and a nicely prepared fish that was served head, skin, bones and all. After lunch it was time to say good bye to my new friends and head back home for the rest of the afternoon, but not before being stopped on the street by a few young girls from Hunan (Southern China) who were eager to practice their english with a "very gao (tall)" foreigner. I gave them a sentence or two in English and then launched back into Chinese for the rest of our brief encounter.

Once evening hit it was time to head out again, and Denise took me out once again to see the nightlife of Shanghai. This time it was off to VUE a hip bar on the 38th floor of a business building that was over-looking the waitan (The Bund). The view was amazing, and the drinks were stiff and cheap. We passed the night away with a bunch of her expat friends. Chatting about all things China and exchanging some of our best stories from experience's past. The night couldn't have been better, but at 11:30 my lack of sleep from the night before was catching up to me. Me and some new friends grabbed a cab and literally got taken for a ride. The trip home which should have been about 20RMB ended up costing 43RMB by the time our drive got done taking the "quick" way around town. The whole time my new friends and I were telling the cab drive how much of a jerk he was for taking us the long way, but there was nothing we could do but wait till he got us to our destination. The one nice thing about the experience is that my friend grabbed a receipt from the cab driver so that we could call in a report him for what he had done. In Shanghai, if you feel a cab driver has taken you for a ride you can call and demand a full refund for the trip. Generally this keeps the drivers pretty honest, but our cabby must of thought that we didn't know the policy. He was less than happy when we asked him for our receipt at the end of the journey.

Well, that is all I got for now. Tomorrow I am going to take it easy and get some laundry done and prepare for another night out with friends. I am meeting up with Hai Ma Gong Zhu (Seahorse Princess) a friend from Summer Camp for a nice dinner on the town. After that who know what we will do, but I am sure it will be a good time.

And now finally some pictures!!!!!!!!
(please follow the hot link) I am still working on making the photos look good in the blog so bear with me) Captions should be up as well.



  1. Wow, what a "tasty" blog entry! Lengthy, informative, detailed and amazing! Love the chronological description of "a day in the life of expat Gao Jian" and how you keep bringing things back to a Chinese focus rather than English. You've got a good eye for images and nose for adventure. You are packing an incredible amount of activity (and food--the fish decision was a good one from the looks of it!) into your first few days. Easy on the feet! Maybe you should look for some ancient Chinese remedy (or acupuncture, or foot masseuse!) Happy trails (and entrails, if you go that culinary route!) - Love, Dad

  2. dude i'm so jealous of these random people that you are meeting who showed you cool stuff :(. as a chinese dude in china, nobody would ever randomly walk up to me to ask me out for tea haha. sounds like you're having tons of fun already!

    -Zhang Qiao

  3. Interesting reading, Jake. You did good in capturing the specialness of the Bund at night. How about the Pepsi and CocaCola streets!!
    I remember feeling as you did about the number (and sizes) of the American fast food restaurants. Guess with 18 million people, they need bigger/more. Hugs, gma

  4. i can see your blog! bwahaahaahaa and i didnt get italics, just parenthetical notation

  5. Nice blog, man! China seems like a strange and wonderful place, which one could never unlock without speaking the language. Keep 'em coming.


  6. Wow, for it being all you had at the time, it's sure a lot. You've been very busy soaking up the culture!

    Thank you for letting the rest of us tag along with you on your travels through this blog!

    Imagine, if you had to write letters? You'd probably be home before they ever made it here! (okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.)