Sunday, July 24, 2005

Five Initial Surprises from Shanghai

I'm posting this from an Internet cafe rather than my laptop computer, so I have to excuse myself for the boring non-graphical nature of this posting - I'd like to turn this into a bunch of photo-essays! That's also why I'm temporarily not answering phone calls made me over Skype. Hopefully I will get re-hooked up soon!

Anyway I've been here a week and here are five initial surprises I have with Shanghai.

There are parks everywhere!

Crikey, this is by far the greenest city I've ever been in. PArk-building obviously boomed just as much as skyscapers, and a park is never more than a couple blocks away. Most of them are obviously newly created, along with a very few parks associated with temples, Colonial Buildings, etc. They're not just unused tracts of land, either - they're right in the highly-developed center of town, and are well designed and well manicured. They're everywhere and they really add to the city.

The food is not so wack

I was half afraid and half relishing meals composed of frog brains or some such. Instead the food is very comparable to what's available in the Chinese restaurants in downtown Oakland. I tend to just ask what's good, there's been nothing odd yet. Although there's a couple caveats: Lots of foods are sweetened which is kind of weird, Shanghai-style food isn't as commonplace as I had imagined and hoped for, and I'm still new here and don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Foreign foods are definitely limited: Japanese, Fast Food Hamburgers, Italian, and Portagee (via Macau) is common, but it seems I won't be able to find other cuisines like Hawaiian or Pilipino. The highlight is that the food is high quality and cheap. My favorite so far is the manapua/bao/buns, they are maybe a nickel and so tasty!

The art of stink-eye is underdeveloped

Every time I travel I get stink-eye like crazy. This was especially true in Japan, where doing anything in public and not getting stink can be considered a major accomplishment. In China I don't think I've gotten stink-eye once. I've done more than enough to deserve it - I completely misread China's insane traffic patterns, for instance, where red and green have no real meaning. However it hasn't happened yet and I'm considering doing something really outlandish just to see people's reactions.

No Mao

OK it's kind of crazy but I was looking forward to seeing evidence of the cult of Mao. I realized it wouldn't be everywhere but I thought there would be at least some evidence, like a poster or statue somewhere. I've seen one single statue dedicated to Marx and Engels but that's the full extent of public evidence that I'm living in a glorious revolutionary state, kind of dissappointing!

Obvious stark class differences

There are parts of Shanghai stuffed with outlandish skyscrapers, botique stores, neon lights, and chic restaurants, which put anything in New York or Tokyo to shame. There are also neighborhoods with building that look like a good push would topple them, where they still use chamber pots, etc. These neighborhoods will often be about a ten minute walk away from each other. Oakland was maybe the same (rich Montclair looking over the crime-ridden flatlands) but the two environments seem to co-exist a lot more closely (and orderly) than in any other city I've been in.

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