Observations from Shanghai

Day 52
Shanghai, China

With my official tour of China completed, it was nice to sleep in this morning before grabbing a map, and more importantly, a hotel card, and hitting the streets of Shanghai by myself. Most roads in this city lead to Nanjing Road, the main shopping drag, so it wasn’t hard to find my way there — even without Leah the Leader and her red flag.

An outdoor café, in prime people-watching territory, provided a good spot to set up shop for a couple of hours. Here are some observations:

  • With just a sliver of sun protruding through the clouds, hundreds of umbrellas open. This, our guide explained yesterday, is less about the Chinese people protecting themselves from harmful UV rays as it is about keeping their skin pigment as pale as possible — only lower-class outdoor laborers have dark skin here.
  • Cameras, camera-phones and video cameras are everywhere. It’s hard to look more than a couple of seconds without seeing one. The Chinese pose of choice is the peace sign, which I’m told is actually just a pose and has no significance.
  • An armless beggar hangs around outside of Starbucks to guilt those drinking their 35 yuan frapuccinos into giving him some spare change. Several comply.
  • A woman sitting next to me begins clipping her nails. Her companion follows by clearing his throat and spitting a couple of feet from my bare feet.
  • A shoe-shine boy comes by to offer his services (perhaps he saw the spitting man’s aim at my feet). He points at my flip-flops and then tries to start polishing them.
  • The Chinese have a different definition of cold. Beer is traditionally drank at room temperature, and even “cold” beers are luke-warm. Why? I’ve not got a clue.
  • A young man carries his girlfriend’s (fake?) Louis Vutton handbag. Another man walks by holding his wife’s (fake?) Prada purse.
  • No fewer than a dozen hawkers approach me to offer “watches, DVDs, clothing.” Facing international pressure several years ago, the Chinese government began cracking down on bootleggers in this city, which is the Knock-off Capital of the World. The entire operation has since moved underground, and Western tourists face a constant hassle: “Come, you look, you buy.”

If there’s one thing that sticks with me from a week in China, it’s the size and cleanliness of this country. When your population is 1.3 billion, “small” cities like Xi’an are around 8 or 9 million people — comparable to New York City, the most populous city in the U.S. Large cities, like Shanghai, are three times this size. I’ll never forget the view from Shanghai’s Pearl Tower, with buildings stretching for as far as the eye could see, or being swallowed up by Beijing’s huge train station.

With so many people, China is a remarkably clean place. Empty plastic bottles are snatched out of your hand for recycling redemption literally after the last sip and street sweepers are everywhere — including in the middle of four-lane expressways. Yesterday, a nationwide ban of plastic bags went into effect here that’ll eliminate the 3 billion used and promptly thrown away each day. The English news channel here says that the only city in the States with a similar law is San Francisco.

Unable to stomach another General Tsao’s chicken, my last dinner in China was back at the Bund Brewery. They served up a tasty plate of nachos and chicken wings. My flight to Bangkok, Thailand leaves tomorrow at 8:15 a.m.

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Comments

  1. I would be a queen in China:

    “This, our guide explained yesterday, is less about the Chinese people protecting themselves from harmful UV rays as it is about keeping their skin pigment as pale as possible — only lower-class outdoor laborers have dark skin here.”

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