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I Love China and other finds…

Blogroll diving today I discovered I Love China written by a 8-year tenured British Expat in Shanghai. His is a diary from one of the faithful: He is as cyclothymic/manic-depressive as the rest of us, but he states that the norm for him is a genuine appreciation for the language, culture and heart of this country; hence, the blog’s name. He must be a good guy: he has Waiter Rant on his blogroll to balance out the Time Blog entry.

I found a wonderful picture on his site of a phenomenon so common here I forget how much of a novelty it might be for my western readers.

You see, In China one can own a 3,000,000 Yuan house in an “exclusive” complex that comes with all the amenities EXCEPT a clothes dryer. Every balcony in my neighborhood has skivvies to dress shirts hanging out to dry–damned tough some days when it is 97 degrees and 80 percent humidity.

Most “high-rent” locales like mine (a wallet-slamming $300 a month!) have a special porch area that is partially hidden from view so the neighbors don’t get to peek at your delicates. It is essential because locating a washer-dryer combination in a household appliances section of a mallin China is like finding chicken feet in the snack section of an American 7-11. I Love China snapped this shot in Shanghai:

Chinese Dryer

For the record: The web-footed one’s carcass and the adjacent slabs of meat are, thankfully, not real common in my neighborhood.

I am guessing that the drawback here wold be that in a steady wind the unmentionables could end up smelling like pork or duck. Then again that could be an aphrodisiac in Canton, but I digress….

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I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….

china starbucks

Adam writes on the Lehman Law Blawg [sic] that the new ordnance in Shanghai requiring foreign businesses to add Chinese characters to their name is “misguided.” He goes on to make his case: “The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example, ‘that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu.’ As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you’re going to have to tell the driver ‘intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu’ to get where you want to go.”

Adam, I kind of expect to be reading Chinese (authentic Traditional Chinese) in Guangzhou, and even Portuguese in Macau. Just a guess on my part, but there seems to be some ethnocentrically driven historical precedence for the annoying habit of the local governments insisting on being able to navigate streets and order in eateries using their native tongue….

In China, that country bordering the country with the man with strange hair that is building a nuke, people brought up during the cultural revolution who don’t read English or Pinyin, probably don’t know the Hard Rock Cafe from a day-old bread store, but they have heard of Xingbake (the Chinese name for Starbucks) the American coffee joint or Kendeji (pronounced cun-dutch-ee) the chicken emporium. And even the Cantonese taxi divers can take you to either one if asked…

Adam gives his jury summation thusly: “Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.” Adam might have had me here if he he hadn’t introduced reasonable doubt in his argument by saying “Shanghai” and “free market” in the same sentence…But then, I lived in Chicago and did see a few businesses in ethnic neighborhoods with signs exclusively in the area’s dominant language, but most ethnic businesses in most cities have romanized names as well….The businesses intentionally wanting to appeal to immigrants left out “ease of menu translation” in their business plan to-do lists. The places looking to be cosmopolitan were smart enough to add English characters.

And if 谷哥 (Google) and 肯德基 (KFC) haven’t filed any ethnic diversity lawsuits because people here now know them better by their Chinese monikers, I doubt 星巴克 (Starbucks) is headed to court either.

By the way: “Guido”and “Boris” (their English names) from Guangzhou’s Tourism Board want to pay you a visit to discuss ways to improve on internationalizing their hick towns Hong Kong and Guangzhou… And “Makudonorudo” (the Golden Arches) in Japan wants you to represent them as they are tired of their name sounding like a morning rooster in the ads that air in the backwater town of Tokyo….

Adam is held in contempt of culture unil further notice…

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Nothing Funny Happened on the Way to Shanghai

Remember the old joke I shared with you a few months ago about the airliner flying over China with transponder and communication difficulties? Somehow the tower figured out they were trying to ask the time, and they responded with, “If you’re Singapore Air, it’s 1300 hours. If you’re United, it’s one o’clock. If you’re China Eastern, the big hand is on the twelve, and the little hand is on the one. And if you’re Dragon Air, it’s Tuesday.”chinese shanghai prostitute

There were a handful of positive things on David and my recent trip to Shanghai, and one of them was being on time for an interior China flight for the first time in two and a half years. I thought this was a harbinger of good things to come, but I was wrong.

David and I used a China travel service (I’m a very slow learner) to book a hotel in a location that would be reasonably convenient for all the places we would travel to in Shanghai. The hotel and the staff looked like the barnacled versions of rthe set from the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel…

Let me continue to digress. I’ve always had this impression of Shanghai as this up and coming, modern, and sleek city that would someday soon supplant Hong Kong as an economic and cultural mecca for China. Some of my favorite bloggers correspond from here. So I’m hoping that this is just a one-off, skewed view of one portion of this city. Of course, I haven’t been psychologically “right” since my trip to Thailand. I’m currently suffering from gender identification disorder (GID): I compared the women in Shanghai to the men in Thailand and damed if the women dis not measure up. Maybe it’s time for that laser surgery. (on my EYES…)

We quickly determined that there were only two English-language stations on the hotel TV, one of them being a mindless version of ESPN China with replays of snooker marathons. The other channel was Chinese HBO. My best guess is that Chinese HBO in Shanghai has a transmission lag built in for the censors. Unfortunately, it’s about a ten-year delay. If you’re into B-grade horror movies rehashed from the Scifi Channel, well-known shows from the late 70s, or formulaic teenage drivel involving monkeys gone wild, you’re in luck! If you’re a six year old, or were a six year old at the time of transmission, you’ll also be quite pleased. The most recent release we caught was Arthur, with Dudley Moore, who I’m sure would be happy to know the broadcast first started its journey to China while we was still alive.

Our next adventure was the search for that hard-to-find creature, the toothbrush. In Guangzhou, we’d pass 16 hospitals and 14 medicine stores (albeit mostly knock-off products) in the course of two blocks, but it appears that no one in Shanghai takes much for colds or considers dental hygiene a high priority. During our travels, we passed herds and packs of common urban China wildlife: beggars, the RolexDVDbagwatch man, and prostitutes, but no one hawking designer Oral Reach on the street. The nearest drug store in the direction we went was six hawkers, twelve prostitutes, and four beggars from the hotel. Since that accounted for about 7 blocks, we decided to stop at Taco Bell for a well-deserved break.

Imagine our excitement to come from Guangzhou to find a Taco Bell. Instead of finding Tacos, Bells, or the greasily satisfying goodness of its American counterpart, we found a staff of very unhappy-looking Shanghainese dressed in novelty-store sombreros and ponchos. It took me a minute to place their expression, but then I remembered: my mother’s Chihuahua looked similar after being dressed in an Afghan knitted by my mother. Some things are just not meant to be.

We never did get that toothbrush, so we decided we use toothpicks and shirtsleeves, and take a meandering route back to the hotel in hopes of discovering some cultural treasure, or at least some amusement. We passed the Shanghai Grand Theater, which visibly lives up to its name from the outside. It’s has a Maxine’s restaurant with no customers and lots of waiters in tuxedos, looking about as comfortable as the sombrero-clan in Taco Bell, and a DVD/CD emporium next to the box office filled with much better packaged, but 20 yuan bootleg versions of their 5 yuan ($0.60 USD) Guangzhou cousins.

Thinking we might take in an off Broadway show, we checked the ticket prices for Mama Mia!, which was both the current show and our reaction to cost. One seat was the price of our round-trip ticket from Guangzhou, but we assumed that these were really famous, important actors as their names were covered with umlauts.

It was roughly thirteen prostitutes, two beggars, and 11 hawkers back to the hotel, where we wondered if we should order in for dinner or venture back out into the streets. To make a long story longer, let’s fast forward to the evening meal. We did a 180 from the toothbrush escapade and headed in the direction of bright McDonald’s signs in the process discovering that at night the predators become much more aggressive: maybe it’s a night vision thing. After David got a cold milk tea literally ripped out of his hand by a very thirsty-looking man I would have strangled but for fear of contagion, we decided to be more aggressive in our stance. From that moment on, calls for massages and Singapore girls were answered with shouts: “I’m GAY!” (I am not), or “I have AIDS and I am not afraid to use it”, which does flummox these guys.

We did catch a talented street band playing in the midst of all this. But, their repertoire was mostly torch songs, which had enough pedestrians and beggars in near tears to allow us faster passage to a Hunan restaurant, where a culinary self-immolation seemed preferable to returning outside. We stayed so long they turned off the AC to turn us, the last customers, out. So it was back through the gauntlet, where one really never had to buy a massage because of all the manhandling they gave us trying to get us to buy one. We finally made it back to the shipwreck hotel, where we fell asleep watching the end of the snooker tournament.

Several good things did happen on this trip, but that is another post . All of this made me think of my last entry: so what would Buddha do if every person he met in the street was a prostitute, a beggar or fake Rolex dealer?

He’d catch the next flight out of Shanghai. And so we will…..

Just in case you were wondering, Chinglish is alive and well in Shanghai:

Chinglish in Shanghai

Would that it were so, aye?

(thanks to Witty World for the photo)

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