Saturday, April 4, 2009

Shanghai Surprise

These Asian ports fly by faster than the Oriental Express. Two days in one place, two days at sea, two days in the next place, two days at sea, and so on and so forth....

Loved Hong Kong, but Shanghai: not so much. The people, the weather, and the culture felt cold. The sky was always gray. There was construction everywhere; it did not feel accessible and easy to navigate. Hong Kong felt much more "user-friendly". People seemed warmer. The air seemed warmer. Hong Kong was much more manageable than Shanghai. Chinatown in New York is much more manageable than China.

That said, I was still pleased to visit somewhere new. And maybe it's not fair for me to compare Shanghai to other places. Shanghai is a very modern city with buildings that belong in "The Jetsons". China is also much cleaner than Chinatown.
And I am always up for meeting new people. Among the people I met were kindergarten children. There were only about 15 Semester @ Sea students who went on this visit. As we got off the bus, the kindergarten children took us by the hand and we skipped into their classroom with them. They did a small dance performance for us and we brought them interactive activities that make sense in any language (bubbles to blow, coloring books, stickers, etc.) I also brought a bunch of child-size "I heart NY" shirts for the kids. I had originally intended to take them on my service visit in India, but I left them sitting on my bed in my cabin and remembered as I walked down the gangway. And by then it was too late. Before I left New York, someone told me that purchasing t-shirts in Chinatown for this trip would be an oxymoron, since they'd probably be going right back to China. Nailed that one on the head......
Semester at Sea is forming a partnership with China. So the first night in Shanghai there was a huge reception for some very important people. The Tung family were very huge contributors to the development of Semester at Sea and they happen to be based in China. The Tungs are leaders in the shipping industry and very innovative in the approach that "ships can carry more than just cargo- they can carry ideas!" So that evening we met the Tungs, and some CEOs of important businesses in Shanghai, University Presidents, media, and other famous Chinese people. Since I had no plans that first day, I agreed to volunteer at this event. Surf and turf were served for dinner. Creme brulee' for dessert. The wine was flowing freely. Here is a shot of my colleague Trish and me. The building near the mid-left is called the "bottle opener" building. The tallest building you see below is called Pearl Tower (I think?)
China is also known for pearls, so I went shopping. Shopping in China is not really like shopping in Chinatown. In Chinatown you can bargain in English. In China, you just hold up a calculator and punch your price onto the screen. And the vendors vigorously shake their heads "no!!!" Until you walk away.......then they chase you down and you make a deal.

Then I wandered the streets in Shanghai, which looked something like the photo below. I love walking the city streets of a foreign town where no one speaks my language, no one looks like me, no one eats what I eat, and nothing is familiar. I find a calmness in exploring foreign cities. A true stranger in a strange land.

Also during my stay in Shanghai I got a massage. It was about $8 USD and it was *not* like the massages I had in Thailand. First of all, in Shanghai I took off my clothes and the lady came into the room and freaked out! She yelled something in Chinese, which I understood to mean that she wanted me to put my clothes back on immediately! I guess they didn't learn the same naked massage technique that they know in Thailand. I was perplexed because in Chinatown at home you take off all your clothes and lie under a sheet. (I've got to stop comparing China to Chinatown.....) Anyway, it's not like I'm some sort of sicko. It's very discreet, and pretty typical. You're under a towel or sheet the entire time, except for the body part that's being massaged. I think that's pretty normal. Anyhow, it's not really like that in China. I like Thai massages better.

Alas, I will be in Japan tomorrow to see cherry blossoms and my former colleague Motoko, who moved to Kobe last autumn. Can't wait, Mo!

PS- How should I dress for the weather in Japan?
PPS- How should I dress for the massages in Japan??

1 comment:

Lynne said...

how many more days are left on you trip....?