So here I am…Sitting at a coffee shop (with a pot of tea) in the Shanghai Pudong airport. I made it to China. Literally, the other side of the planet. I like to pretend the air smells different whenever I visit a new country. Maybe it actually does. New Zealand spelled like the ocean when I stepped out of Auckland airport. Shanghai smells like…Well, cars, unfortunately. Lots of them. I got pretty well-acquainted with the roads when I found my hotel arrangements from a friendly fellow who had enough English to give me some recommendations. Frankly, I’m kicking myself for being too stingy, but it was…Educational, really. 300 YRM is about 45 dollars a night, and I wanted cheap but not too far from the airport. The advertisement he handed me was somewhat…Disingenuous though true enough to form. For one, they tinted the photos amber, just like you see in hotel ads there, for some reason, and the beds had dark covers along their entire lengths in the photos. That part was actually quite accurate. What the photos didnt show was the cracking drywall on the opposite side of the room, super-large, barred, windows and bathroom with chunks of molding seemingly hacked from the wall. At least there were no roaches, it was quiet after midnight, and the heater got things quite toasty, the way I like them. I was…In a mood last night. Culture shock’s just set in and my limited Mandarin was tested as I resorted to my phrasebook for things like "change," "breakfast," and "bathroom." But generally, I was understood. I even learned a few new words, like "lan qui" – basketball. Naturally.
First thing I’d like to mention for anyone looking to go to China: in Shanghai, at least, people drive like madmen. The lines on the roads are general guidelines, at best, and readily ignored when it’s convenient. I had to remind myself that despite the fact that we’re driving into oncoming traffic, there’s no one else on the road and if it were truly dangerous, this guy would be too dead to be driving me anywhere. Plus, everyone else is doing it, so it must make a crazy sort of sense. I guess. The fact that my airport shuttle looked like the inside of a child molester’s van did not ease my niggling worry, with its ill-fitting pirated Mickey Mouse logoed seat covers, metal floor and thick patina of dust on everything except the radio dials. Really though, I was more than a little amused by the silliness of the whole thing. Amused yet concerned are a pretty standard mix overseas, I find. I’m already giddy to be on the road again!
Sleep was fitful. Slight jet lag, plus my nerves being frayed due to my plug adapters seemingly not working left me with the notion of being out of touch with the world for potentially days. No internet + no computer (with a touch of "no english" and "scary hotel in the middle of a foreign city) make Earl something-something…Though once I realized how ridiculous I was being, I just went to bed and decided it would all sort out in the morning. And it did; here I am, typing.
So I took a walk this morning down the street, just to see the neighborhood I was in before my luxury shuttle left for the airport. OH! I just remembered that that pamphlet described it as "limousine escort from airport to hotel." AHAHA…Ha. So, I took a walk down the road, to see what was going on. The smog you hear about in Chinese cities is quite real, let me say. The watery fog-portion masks the pollution part somewhat, but I was somewhat sorry to see the bicyclists passing me by were wearing face masks as they stared at me. I walked up to a four-way intersection and watched some women frying flat bread in a pan with eggs and scallions and contemplated breaking fast on that, but wasn’t sure if they’d have change for my 100Y notes. So I walked a bit further down the road until I found a merchant stall full of stuff wrapped in plastic, but the guy just seemed a tad sketchy, so I asked for some basic directions, got little info, and plodded on a tad further.
Interestingly, nearly everyone I’ve spoken to in China knows at least a few words of English. Things like "Hello,’ "thank you," "9 o’clock," and "tall" are pretty well understood. Some don’t know a lick, but many know enough to be far more helpful to me than I would be if they started asking me in Mandarin if I knew where to find breakfast. I decided to get change from a small shop up the opposite direction of sketch-ville that looked clean inside. It was staffed by four giggling girls who kept whispering to each other in Mandarin while I pretended to look over the tea pots and worked up the nerve to test my own Mandarin. So I asked for change, while holding a large note and making chopping motions over it and they understood (YAY, I SPEAK CHINESE!!). So they gave me change, and I spent a few more moments basking in my victory and noting that some of the tea pots were actually extremely nice and veerrry cheap and would make good gifts to send back home.
Money in hand, I returned to the street corner, selected my omlette-thingy merchant, and pointed at some frying bread and smiled. She would say something in Mandarin and smile at me…I would smile back, shrug and say "I don’t really know what to say, but that smells good." Eventually a man came over, pointed at me (or my coat, or my torso) and said something with a smile that I’ll never know. The old woman said something in response, then pressed the egg between two pieces of bread, wrapped it in two pieces of plastic wrap and handed it to me as I handed her a 10Y note. I should note, I had NO IDEA how much it was, and trusted her not to outright gyp me. She handed me back 5Y which seemed right, and I thanked her. I walked on for a bit as I bit into my delicious breakfast bun, and decided part of the way to my hotel room that I wanted a drink with it. So BACK to the fourway intersection, no doubt amusing some of the locals who would watch the lost foreigner wander about the neighborhood…And over to the sketchy guy, who made no real comment as I grabbed a drink and handed him the 5Y note. He took the note, stuck it in his cash drawer, and said goodbye. No change. Hum. Maybe it really did cost exactly 5Y. But I wonder. At any rate, I paid all of $2 for that meal, so I’m really not too concerned about it. Money goes far when it comes to food!
After my meal, the rape-van was an hour early, so I loaded up with a Chinese family and made my way to the airport. Another thing: I think people who write about the "rude stares" Chinese give newcomers are just being a tad over dramatic and self-conscious. I’ve found that the staring lasts approximately 3-5 seconds and after that, they go about their business. And usually its the older generation that REALLY stares at you if you stare back and say things to their companions that just might be "look at the size of that ogre!." So yes, while I get a lot of craned necks, it really doesn’t last and is it so different from what we do in America? Difference is, we’re just quick to look away, but who doesn’t still stare out of the corner of our eyes if we think we can get away with it? The Chinese are just more honest about their curiousity.
Hum! Lots have gone on on day one…My flight to Jinan boards in another four hours. I’ve been in contact with the other teachers at ALWAYS and one couple wants to take me out to dinner. I’ma accept, so long as jet lag doesn’t sneak up out of nowhere. Tomorrow depends on the state of my apartment, I guess, but buying new power adapters, groceries and probably pots and pans n’ such are priority. Yay for new dwelling! Just hope there isn’t cracked drywall and barred windows just off-screen like my luxury hotel..