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.”
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:
Would that it were so, aye?
(thanks to Witty World for the photo)
American Professor in China
,Confucius Slept Here
,Just Plain Strange
,Travel in China