Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shanghai - Toot toot, and Beep Beep

I've been to a number of countries. And Dallas. I've seen a lot of scary driving. But NOTHING as scary (or loud) as I saw in Shanghai.

(Fix this image in your mind, and then close your eyes and add honking. Every car, bus and moped. Some short bursts, some staying on the horn. Pointless honking. Incessant honking.)

Cars do stop at red lights. Sort of. Motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians (as far as I could tell) never stopped. At one point in my cab ride to the airport, on what I like to call the autobahn, we were going about 175 miles per hour, and missed a moped-like vehicle by (I'm guessing) inches.

Naturally my cab driver (who spoke zero syllables of English), HONKEDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD. I gasped "Oh my god" from the back seat, and the guy broke out laughing. Yeah. Hilarious.

I will say this about Shanghai - The people are wonderful, helpful and friendly. I "asked" for directions probably 50 times (point to spot on map, and in turn be pointed in my general direction) and everybody was kind. The city is extremely clean; no trash, no cigarette butts, no random puddles of vomit. Cleaners are constantly picking up. The service is the best I've experienced in the world. Everywhere I went.

But I'm not the super complimentary traveler, I'm the sardonic traveler, so let's get to the good stuff.

Here's the view from my room:

The city is filled with apartment buildings just like these.
All with laundry hanging in the windows.
This was the blue roof block, but the city was filled with various roof color blocks. When I asked the significance of the roof colors I was told "It just for pretty."
Don't adjust your settings. That haze is always over the city. said it was fog, but it looked a lot like smog.

My room overlooked a school. High school or Jr. High I wasn't sure. But I did catch a couple shots of the student's morning exercise. All in matching outfits.

and leaving in an organized fashion.

Every street name in Shanghai seemed vaguely sexual (my hotel was on Dong Fang Road), and in this case, a bit True Blood-ish.

(I walked around for the next 20 minutes saying, Jingling and Fuxing over and over in my head. Also, yelling at random honkers to "stop it" or "shut up" no-one understood me so I could basically say whatever I wanted.)

How about intermission? A potty break? Shanghai ran the gamut. The women's public toilets in Shanghai were ALL like this. (In case it isn't clear, this "bowl" is in the floor.)

I didn't try it. I found a Marriott. But how does this work? Do all Chinese women walk around with pee splatters on their shoes? Toilet paper? Nope. Drip dry.

Conversely - The toilet at the airport offered the following (in addition to the HEATED SEAT!)

So yeah, you can cleanse your "rear" with some oscillating e-Coli water. For reals? Who would cleanse their rear (or god forbid, their "front") with toilet water? I didn't want to even speculate on what "wand cleaning" was.

I tried to maximize my sightseeing time, which was very limited.

I got started early and headed for the Yuyuan Gardens. I've really got to start adjusting my expectations of "garden" visits. Once again, I was expecting flowers, (see also: Gartens, Englisher)

I'm thinking maybe this was a rock garden.

Darn it! I forgot the name of this tree.
(Ginko Biloba)

After Yuyuan gardens I took a walk along the Bund.

This part of the Bund actually reminded me a bit of Chicago. (You know, if Chicago had communism)
And then I saw this sign.



Sightseeing Tunnel? Sounds oxymoronic.

With absolutely no idea what I was embarking on, I headed downward. Atomsopheric decor along the way.

I'm not quite sure about the naming of this conveyance, which was in actuality a little pod that took you UNDER THE RIVER across to the other side of the Bund. (Perhaps the name means it takes you from one sightseeing locale to another.)

I figured, "when in China" so I videotaped my "sightseeing" journey. Magma and all.

It's dark and hard to see. At about 1 minute 40 seconds you can see me reflected in the window. It's kind of cool, like the ghosts in Haunted Mansion.

Once across the river it was like a totally different Shanghai. It was SO QUIET over there I could hardly believe it was the same place. I took a close up shot of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower but opted out of going up to the top.

I enjoyed my quiet time for a bit, and headed back under the river and back to the busy side of the Bund where I snapped a quick photo of: Chinese Leader Ken Doll (anatomically correct?)

Sightseeing isn't really "my thing." I love to get into a place and walk around, but to do the full on "tourist" itinerary isn't what moves me. But I love moments like this. Finding real life in the midst of a foreign place. These are always my favorite photos and memories of a trip.

A window into the world ... Probably my favorite shot of the trip.

And THIS guy! I never got any kind of understanding of what was happening here. There was a microphone on the ground, and I guess people randomly decided to sing. (Generally, badly.) It wasn't Karaoke because there wasn't any accompanying music. Just a capella weirdness. This guy was so animated with his hand gestures, knee bending, and his tourist bag!

My walk through the city continued down Nanjing Road, one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. Fortunately for me, it didn't seem to be too busy of a day and the crowds weren't overwhelming. Unfortunately for me, I was the only Westerner in view and every 13 seconds I was stopped on the street by the following sentence: 'Lady, you want buy watch? No? Bag?' and they would hold up a fake Louis Vuitton.

My ultimate destination was the People's Square. And I have to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I wanted it to be iconic like Red Square or Tianamen Square. Instead, it was one of those rare exceptionally quiet spots in Shanghai with flowers, and peace, and children being children. OK, so I wasn't disappointed. I just wasn't what I expected.

I love the below image because of the kids faces, and because I caught so many birds in motion. A moment of childlike wonder frozen for eternity. (OK, I need to say something sarcastic: Stat.)

At this point, I had been walking for about 5 hours solid. My legs were throbbing, and something I neglected to mention was that it was HOT. I had packed for 50-60 degrees and it was easily 70 and humid and I was in jeans and long sleeves with a polar fleece tied around my waist. Also, I had to pee (see above.) I found the Marriott, answered nature's call, and caught a cab to the Jade Buddha Garden. (the 15NOV fires in Shanghai were in this part of the city)

I love the ritual of religions I don't know well enough to ridicule. There were tons of these statues, people paying homage, incense, and Monks having a service which included their singing and banging-a-gong (but not singing Bang-A-Gong.)

This is happy buddha. I rubbed his belly and made a wish. (Then longed for an antibacterial handwipe which I'd forgotten to bring with me.)

I wish I could have gotten a better shot of this one. There were carvings all the way up to the ceiling.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get a shot of the Jade Buddha. But she was magnificent.

The world has become so homogenized. It's hard to find places which are truly unique. There's Costco in Cabo, Wal-Mart in Weifang, The Gap in The Hague, Pizza Hut in Prague. If you want to experience the world, get out there quick before every place loses its individuality. Sure, there are still cultural differences in people. In China, the men are constantly hocking gigantic loogies onto the street. But they are doing it in front of a Starbucks.