Friday, December 19, 2008


I arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday. Since then I've walked around my mom's residential and shopping areas, explored downtown with mom a bit and seen way too much of the inside of a classroom for a teacher on vacation.

Mom drew me a wonderful map of the local shopping areas to keep me occupied while she had to go into work. In one mall/ market shop after shop boasted the most crowded array of knock-off/ factory overruns of ugg boots, designer purses, name brand gloves, winter hats and scarves. The next floor was filled with umpteen booths covered with strings of pearls and stones of every variety. Seriously, if you're a beader/ jewelery maker, move to China.

What really amazed me about walking around is that I didn't particularly feel like I was in China. I blame this on two major factors.

1) Can we say 'appropriated'?
Everything- from the traffic lights and the pedestrian walk/ don't walk signs to the arrows, lines and crosswalk on the road are identical to those in the US. Then the road signage looked like it was pulled out of Europe. And all roads we labeled in both Chinese and the English transliteration.

In addition to appropriating western streets (seriously, you could have just picked up Chinatown and dropped it here), Christmas is everywhere. Storefronts and restaurants are decorated with fake snow imprints of Santa, the streets and shopping centers are hung with garlands, 'Merry Christmas' signs litter the entire place.

It's like some high up muckity muck in the Chinese government decided that when China was going to break free of its communist/ totalitarian mentality (well- I think totalitarianism is probably still well and alive- but that's another story) that he made a nice little checklist. European roadsigns. Check. American traffic lights- check. Commercialized Christian holiday- check.

2) Where are all the Chinese?
Mom keeps promising me that I'll see lots and lots of Chinese people on the weekend- but it hasn't happened yet. The wide pedestrian streets- virtually empty. The restaurants and cafes- empty. The major roads- only moderate traffic. The small roads- empty. Seriously, isn't this supposed to be the most populated country on earth and Shanghai it's major commerce center? Where are all the people?

Mom says that they're just worked too hard during the week to do anything besides go home. I just need to wait for the weekend. Also, okay, it's chilly out, which does reduce the tendency for taking pleasure strolls.

But I'm shocked. Coming from Dhaka where one can be run over with the teeming masses of humanity streaming to and from the factories and getting anywhere means shoving yourself, your bicycle, the rickshaw or car into a mass of people and hoping that they move and the simple fact of finding enough land to simply stand seems to be an issue- In contrast, Shanghai looks to be- ummm- empty.

Yesterday Mom scooted out of work a bit early (with her principals' blessing) and we went downtown. Not only did I get to see the my first building that actually looks like it could have something to do with China (all other buildings are straight up modern) Mom indoctrinated me into her favorite activity in China.

So we went down to a couple of markets and also to a palace that an emperor build for his wife to show her how much he loves her. (based on the structure, I'd say very.) It now houses a number of little boutiques and the most sought after dumpling stand. (Based on my drawing, pointing and mom's Chinese we ascertained that these fabulous dumpling which people line up and wait for hours to eat are pork and only pork. Alas, so we shall never know exactly what is so great to make people queue up for so long.)

But here is Mom's favorite activity: Photo Popping. This is where we, the White Foreigners, pop right into some Chinese person's photo as they stand there posing and waiting for the shutter to click. They start laughing and smiling, which causes us, the White Foreigners to start laughing ans smiling. The more random Chinese people hand their cameras over and come join in the photo with the White Foreigners. For such photos I like to put up a peace sign- which is Asian photo etiquette I learned back in high school. (Observations- When a camera is pulled out in the US, everyone pastes on cheesy grins; in Mali, the ever-smiling people dim their faces into flat inmate mug shots; in Bangladesh- well the people don't change- they stare at you, stare at you and then stare at you some more; and in East Asian countries, a camera cause a elbow-jerk reaction that throws peace signs next to the smiling faces.) This entire Photo Popping experience ends with us, the White Foreigners, being thanked repeatedly (Shea-Shea, Shea-Shea) for popping ourselves into their photos. Do I understand?-No. Is it some of the best self-made entertainment ever? -Most defiantly. :)

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