Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Food Just Lying Around

I'm swamped with work and studies over here, so while I try to update more-or-less weekly, it may take a few more days before I can make a full update. In the meantime, here's a quick update about food just lying around my apartment complex. I got a bunch of responses from my earlier picture of food and laundry drying on the line together. Well here's an alternate take at the same image:

Kind of disgusting, right? The worst thing about it is there's no clear path to get to the nearby convenience stores, or the bootleg DVD place. You kind of have to walk around the hanging meat. One of my neighbors is very considerate and although they always seem to be drying meat, they do it behind the bars on their window:

You can barely tell that's fish drying above. I hope they didn't catch it themselves as I can't imagine you'd want to eat any fish caught in Shanghai waters. The meat below is more fresh, in fact last weekend I saw this guy kill and de-feather a couple chickens, right near my front door. Not having been raised on a farm or in a Shanghai apartment complex, I had never seen that before. Me and a couple kids stood around in rapt attention. In the end I still don't know why you'd want to dry freshly-killed chicken, but it looks vaguely HR Giger:

Maybe most disgusting of all is the following, although it takes a little cultural understanding. The ground in Shanghai is tabu. There is no 5 second law. Between people spitting and the garbage on the street and a few other things I'd rather not mention, anything touching the ground is hopelessly contaminated with a large range of germs not yet studied by science. So to see somebody willfully ignoring this taboo and drying their bok choy on the ground is, to me, mind-shattering.

It's worth saying that food lying about is the highly visible exception to the rule - most people in Shanghai don't do that, and of course restaurants don't, or at least I hope they don't. As ever, click on the picture to see a larger version. Also, I'll be making some minor changes to old updates, for accuracy. Originally I wanted to keep all mistakes, as some kind of comment on what I knew and what I had wrong. However I decided that was a silly idea.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Po-lice

A pet peeve of mine is, I get the occasional mail or IRC asking what's it's like to live in a police state! People much more knowledgeable than me make the assertion, and I read about definite abuses of power involving police, but I personally don't think that criticism applies. It seems to me that a necessary feature of a police state is a lot of policemen, but instead policemen are strangely rare on the streets of Shanghai. It's entirely possible to walk across crowded areas of Shanghai and only see a couple of them. I could definitely imagine walking all day without seeing any, if it wasn't that Police are often used to direct traffic.

For the most part, the police are out of sight, out of mind. My only real interaction with them has been when I got my Visa half a year ago, I had to register where I lived with the closest police station, then have them stamp some form. On the right is the police station closest to my house. There's some hoopty cars out front, but I think it's more common for Police to use newer Suzuki motorcycles, or to stay in their station until someone calls them.

Which isn't to say Shanghai is unsafe. Shanghai is an extraordinarly safe city, a city where your wallet gets returned with the money still inside, and little old ladies take the shortcut through the un-lit alley. Supposedly the worst cities in China are the Southern coastal cities like Canton, although I hear this from people who've never been there. And even those cities don't so sound bad.

That said, there are some crimes a more solid police force would counteract. In some Muslim areas you'll be offered Marijuana every several seconds. Prostitution and selling counterfeit items are basically de-criminalized, although there are occasional token raids. And most annoyingly, traffic patterns are completely crazy, with motorcycles and scooters ignoring all traffic laws, and carts veering out onto the road. You do see the occasional person get pinched, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

Just as in the US, some of the slack is taken up by Rent-A-Cops, who can veer from looking and acting all official, to some guy in a dirty jacket listening to Chinese Opera all day. It's probably less common than in the US, but you'll see Rent-A-Cops at banks, at malls, at the entrance gates to apartment complexes, and such. Also, most of the manned intersections will have "traffic assistants," rather than full-on-police.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chinese New Year's!

It's Chinese New Year's right now, a week-long holiday marking the beginning of both Spring and China's spectacuarly complicated Lunar calendar. In the US, New Year's Day is mostly just a numerological reason to party rather than a proper holiday, but in China it's the most important holiday of the year.

It's the time of the year that everybody goes back to visit their family. In Shanghai, almost all the upper-middle-class locals I know came here from some less-developed region away from the coast. Also, the five million or so transitory workers who construct buildings and so forth are entirely gone, leaving the jobsites, usually busy, entirely motionless. In the lead-up to New Year's, the subways were overcrowded with lower-class Chinese citizens with large plastic suitcases, and supposedly the train stations were complete mayhem. Ticket prices were jacked up very high and still sold out, and a lot of people I know had to arrive on the Day of the New Year.

While I'm sure the villages in non-coastal China are overflowing with people and activities, Shanghai feels about 75% abandoned. It's very strange. The restaurant on the left is always busy, even late at night, but when I went there were more employees than customers! Of course, a lot of shops and restaurants just close their doors for the week.

The commercial areas of Shanghai are very busy, though. A lot of shops are offering sales on big-ticket items, such as cell-phones. The weather on the starting weekend was excellent, and the shopping street of Nanjing Lu was as packed as I've ever seen it.

The celebrations aren't as crazy as one might expect - I expect you have to go to one of the villages or Hong Kong for that. The highlight was the firecrackers going off. It doesn't nearly measure up to Honolulu around midnight on New Year's Eve, but it lasts all week. People light them off mostly from when it gets dark until ten, but really at all hours - I was woken up at 5 in the morning last night, by somebody lighting off a whole bunch of them. The most popular firecrackers in Shanghai don't have much light to them, but do have spectacularly loud booms. Car alarms go off, and I briefly wonder if the city is under some kind of attack. Also, fireworks are somewhat popular, miniature versions of what you'd see at a fireworks show. The firecrackers are sold around town, mostly from little stalls on the side of the street.

Another thing you see a lot of is gift boxes of fruit. There's about half a dozen fruit stands within five minutes of my apartment, and all are offering fruits in dolled-up packaging. Generally the boxes are oranges or kiwis, and the gift-baskets are a variety of fruits.

I mentioned before about Shanghai's XMas Decorations. For the most part, they remained up until Chinese New Year's. To my surprise, Chinese New Year's decorations were no more common, or perhaps even less common, than Christmas decorations - at least at the stores and in public places. On the other hand, people's homes will be decorated with some banners, or a hanging or two. Carrefour, had a large selection of New Year's decorations, just as a it had a large selection of XMas decorations. The main difference was that you could get New Year's decorations all around town, not just at the superstores.