china: here we go

as promised, I’m back to my old habits of waking up in the middle of the night and writing blogs. But it’s a good middle of the night – my body doesn’t think it’s 2 p.m., it knows it’s 1 a.m. and as soon as I tire it out enough we’ll go back to bed.

So – I was thinking this was a “good and the bad” about China, then realized how unfair that was. Except for a side trip to Xi’an, I’ve really only been to Shanghai, and that’s like a visitor coming to New York City and then claiming familiarity with the whole U.S.

So, this now becomes a blog about Shanghai. A very self-centered blog (shocker!) as it’s All About Me: what I like, what I don’t like, how I feel the Communist Party could step things up a bit here and there … that kind of thing.

First off: What I like.
I first visited Shanghai in 2004. That may not sound like very long ago, but you can feel the difference. In 2004 the cars on the roads were old – minivans with their middles taken out. You wondered what they were running on. And they shared the road with almost as many bikes and motorbikes. Now – cars just like any Western city. Maybe more European than U.S., with a concession to smaller sizes (not for gas prices though – government subsidized and cheaper than the U.S.)

It’s a much more Western city now. Somewhere I heard that there is one skyscraper going up every 8 minutes. I’ve searched all over the Internet for that fact, but can’t find it. However, given this picture it’s not hard to believe.

And of course, with so much global attention on China and its intellectual property laws, there is supposedly much more control over the bootlegged DVDs you used to find on every corner, and you’re constantly hearing about the “copy market” (Macy’s for knockoffs) getting raided. But the watch salesmen are on every street corner, flagging tourists with their calls of “100. Automatic. Very good. Very cheap.” I admit it, I give in. Not because I so much care about owning a Rolex or a Frank Mueller, but because I go through watches like I go through sunglasses, and I like getting large quantities for little money. And they make good holiday gifts. 🙂

More specific things I love about Shanghai? The bedside control centers they have at all the hotels. Hop into bed and realize you’ve left the hall light on? No prob. Click the “master” button and all lights go out. Fumbling around for any random button in the middle of the night will turn on something, giving you enough light to move around.

Tsingtao beer. Delicious, refreshing, and one of only three Chinese words you need to know to get by in this country (“xie xie,” (thank you), and “ni hao” (hello) being the others).
Actually, come to think of it, you don’t really need those other two.

Cab drivers. I look at cab rides the way a lot of other people look at roller coasters – hang on and have fun. I remember my first cab ride alone in Boston, many years ago. I was terrified, but determined not to show it. Looking back, that ride was to Space Mountain what a Shanghai cab ride is to Sheikra. Just sit back, hang on and enjoy. The cab drivers are getting friendlier too – part of the plan to have all Beijing cabbies speaking English in time for the Olympics? Mine said “good morning!!!!!” (exclamation points his) in spite of it being afternoon, “c’est la vie” (regarding what, I’m not sure, but I smiled and said it back), and my favorite, “I LOVE YOU,” said very loud and followed by an air kiss to … well, what, I’m not sure. Traffic? The airport? He’d look back at me for approval every time and I’d smile and laugh. I tipped him the equivalent of a couple good bottles of Tsingtao – figured he could use it. “Thank you very much” he says as I walk away. I didn’t look back to see if an air kiss followed.

Then there’s the Big Bamboo. We stumbled upon this place 4 years ago, drowning in homesickness and found – well, not home, but a bar that served nachos and beer and played rock and roll nonstop, and had a good number of Westerners. A nice break. We later found it was THE hangout for expats. So we’ve been back every year. I like to sit at the bar and talk to whoever is lucky enough to sit next to me. You find out all kinds of neat things from the Westerners who call Shanghai home. Like, on this trip I found out about Zopiclone. This stuff isn’t even available in the U.S. but is an over-the-counter product in China. It may cause my children to be born with the head of a golden retriever, but since I’m not planning on having kids and it put me to sleep in 6.8 seconds, I’ll take my chances.

I’m going to have to wrap this blog up never having gotten to the bad – or maybe there is no bad? Yeah, there is – smoking anywhere and everywhere is acceptable, as is spitting in the street. And in spite of a relatively hands-off approach, China IS a communist country – evidenced by the fact that the Communist Party almost shut our show down. See, the expo center our show is in is an old, communist-era structure, built in the 50s. It’s a fascinating, labyrinthine building – maybe not the best for a trade show, but architecturally interesting nonetheless. Anyway, it was presented to the Chinese by the Russians in the 50s as part of the Sino-Soviet peace agreement. Seems there’s one just like it in Beijing, and possibly Moscow. So when the Communist party decides they want to hold a meeting, they decide this hall is the optimum – no, ONLY place, and they’re going to shut us down Thursday afternoon. Now, in spite of the turmoil, I was rather looking forward to some photos of commies with guns ushering the remanufacturers out of the building. Alas, (uh, I mean, thank God) it was not to be. Our new publisher took a trip to the American embassy with the show owner. Not sure what happened but a) it worked out and b) I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything he’d ever expected to be doing when he accepted this job.

However, all’s well that ends well. I’ll probably think of some new stuff later – but I believe this is long enough! Xie xie for sticking with me through it all.

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