The end of our seventh full day in Shanghai is now approaching and I am finally over the jet lag enough that I am able to start blogging. Oh, the things we have encountered so far! I am happy to say that each day keeps getting better and better! Since this is my first entry I will start from the beginning.
Upon arriving in Shanghai after a 19 hour flight (delayed due to engine problems of all things), we were greeted by Langley & Keny from the Shanghai office. We piled 4 suitcases, 4 carry-ons and 4 people into a taxi (they have special Expo taxis which are larger than the typical Volkswagen taxis you see everywhere here). On the ride to our apartment we talked about the Maglev (a high speed train that runs from the airport and travels at approximately 200 mph) and saw the World Financial Center and Oriental Pearl pass by in the distance. Blair was surprised to see a blue sky; when he was here in 2007, he said there was always smog in the air.
No surprise when we arrived at the entrance to our apartment complex… it looked just like
the pictures Langley had sent us. The roads within the complex are basically one-way because cars are parked everywhere. There are several buildings of about 15 stories and one side of the building (in Steve’s words) looks like the projects. This is the side with air conditioning units and balconies and since it is not typical to own a dryer here, everyone hangs their clothes wherever they can (I even saw some on a rack along the sidewalk while walking to the supermarket). The other side of the buildings looks very nice in fact. My first impression of the interior of our apartment was that it was sufficient and much larger than I expected for such a big city but overall looked old and sort-of grungy. Upon closer inspection I realized that the standards of cleanliness in this country are just a lot different than we’re used to. Underneath all the dirt, mold and grime is a quite modern, colorfully decorated apartment. Langley gave us a quick tour as we questioned what every button and switch was for since everything is written in Chinese characters.
Keny returned with his car to take us to dinner, the supermarket and the
police station. It is not very common to own a car in Shanghai for many reasons. For one, the public transportation system is VERY good; two, driving is crazy in this city (most traffic signals are seen as optional and there are bikes and mopeds EVERYWHERE); and three, apparently it is $6,000 to register your car in Shanghai province! Keny’s car is immaculate with not a scratch in sight… it must be protected inside a bubble We had dinner at a mall-like restaurant. It was sit-down, but very quick and very busy. We had probably 10 different dishes to share family-style, which is the norm here in Shanghai, and Langley informed us that it only cost about $13 for all 4 of us… cheap!
On to the supermarket we went. It was surprising to find a store very similar to Walmart where you could find almost anything you need. Just imagine Walmart times 10, people-wise. We found the essentials fairly easily with Langley’s help, however the biggest shock was seeing the open air bins of chicken, sorted by body part. You just reach in with a bag and grab what you want! I was hesitant, but I had
expected meat from the grocery store to be full of bones, so I was excited to see chicken breasts like we buy at home! And it was only a dollar for 2 breasts! I figured I would just cook the hell out of them (they were actually very good)! Since we appeared to be the only westerners in the store, everyone seemed to stare at us and then look in our cart to see what we were buying (maybe they were trying to figure out what we eat that makes us so tall)!
After the supermarket we drove to the police station but were excited to find it closed since we were so jet lagged. For those who are unaware, if you are not staying at a hotel during your stay, you must register with the police within 24 hours of your arrival in the country. I am not sure what the reasoning is for this, but it is odd, to say the least.
Day 1 (Thursday)…
hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go. Since Friday was the start of the weeklong Chinese National Day Holiday (basically their Independence Day), we decided it would be
good to go into the office, since it would be closed for the next week. The office is on the 25th floor of a building about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. At certain times of the day, you must actually wait in line for one of the four elevators. The office is small, but nice. When the company downsized last year, the office area was decreased to less than a quarter of the size. There is not much room for growth, but it is on the agenda to find a nicer office. We made it until about 3:00 when I discovered I could no longer stay awake.
Thursday night we had our first language struggle. In Shanghai, people don’t drink tap water, so Langley set us up with water delivery (similar to the Culligan man!). He gave us a certificate to pay for the bottle of water and said we wouldn’t have to pay anything. Blair answered the door for the “Culligan Man” and he started speaking Chinese at 100 miles per hour. He set the bottle down on the floor and kept trying to speak Chinese to us. Blair tried Langley & Keny, but of course
neither answered their phones. He kept pointing to the bottle and saying the only word we could understand “water”. We finally broke out the Google translator and typed in “Do you need paperwork?” 你需要的文书工作? He shook his head no. “Do you need money?” 你需要钱吗？Stupid question, of course the answer was yes. “How much?” He signaled 5 with his hand. We handed him 5 yuan (less than a dollar). He shook his head no, then typed 50 into the laptop. We handed him 50 yuan (< $8) and he finally lifted the water bottle to the dispenser and left. If we were in fact ripped off, it was only $8, but I think he was trying to say that we needed to pay a deposit for the bottle. We told him shi shi (thank you) as he left, but felt horrible for not being able to converse with him in Chinese.
Day 2 (Friday)…
We worked from the apartment today, since the office was closed. Did a little laundry in the morning… they’ve got hanging clothes out to dry all figured out here! On the balcony, there are 2 rods hanging from the ceiling, but they are like 9 feet
high. How could any typical Chinese person reach that? A couple days ago I found a handle with a cable attached to it. When you turn it, the rods lower to a reachable height so you can hang your things on them and then raise them back up out of sight… amazing! I’m sure something similar is available in the US, but I’ve never seen this before.
Later on in the afternoon we decided to explore the supermarket on our own. And explore we did; we spent about 2 hours in the store. It didn’t help that we pushed a cart around. Half the time you couldn’t move, there were so many people. The walk back was backbreaking to say the least. It is only about a mile from our apartment, but feels much longer when you are carrying soda, juice, etc!
The evening was spent unpacking our suitcases into our wonderfully large wardrobe and falling asleep at 9:00 still high on jet lag. Interesting fact… the typical Chinese mattress is extremely hard; I actually thought it was a box spring when we first arrived since there was another mattress on top of it. Thankfully, Langley realized the
cultural difference and bought us a western-style mattress from Slumberland. When he bought it he told the salesperson that he has a big friend (Blair) and he must buy a large mattress. He ended up with a king size that doesn’t fit on the full size bed frame that the apartment was furnished with, so one side is supported by large wood boxes and a night stand… it works! And we sleep like babies!
After such an early night, we were up bright and early, ready to pull out those plastic gloves, bleach and scrubby brush we bought yesterday at the supermarket! Blair got to work on the bathroom and I began on the kitchen. I started on the cupboard doors, scrubbing the food splatters and worked my way to the countertops, tile walls, then to the ceiling. This is where I discovered the amount of oils the last tenants used to cook; it was caked with grease! I don’t think the floor grout had ever been scrubbed; black grime poured out with my elbow grease. Meanwhile, Blair was having the same issues with grout along with hair everywhere and mold which has grown into the caulking
around the sink. What a pleasant experience, but thank god for rubber gloves!
The day’s weather was forecast as 80% chance of rain, so we mostly hung out indoors. At about 2:00 we became stir-crazy waiting for it to rain, so we decided we would take a taxi to the Bund. We stepped outside and it was sprinkling. After going back inside and discovering how insanely bored we were, we searched the map and found a park nearby (Yangpu Park). We dug out our umbrellas and decided to tough it out. Good thing we did; the park is absolutely beautiful! In a way it felt like China at Epcot; there were plant sculptures everywhere, people singing in the background, drooping trees, small bridges, ponds everywhere with boys driving people around in boats. I even saw 2 people running (the first exercise I’ve seen in China besides the old clapping man outside our window). Instead of bringing a cooler and a frisbee to the park like we would in the US, people young and old drag out an entire karaoke set-up, complete with a TV, microphone and speakers and sing with their family and friends. Chinese love karaoke… karaoke
bars here however have many separate rooms in which only family or friends can hear you sing. Much less embarrassing than the US!
That evening we tried out the TV. There is only one English-speaking channel and it is the news, which after about 20 minutes starts repeating itself. We haven’t found any English radio and many popular American websites are blocked by the government (Facebook, Blogspot, ESPN, You Tube, etc). We resorted to playing Phase 10 and actually had a lot of fun! We will have to be creative with our free time!
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