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Published: February 21st 2007
Shanghai is the Chinese city for me. More than Hong Kong, more than Beijing, Shanghai has it going on. Whatever you want is here. It is much more sophisticated than anywherer else and has a long history with western peoples and cultures. The art community is fantastic, with a whole complex of galleries and studios on the edge of the city, and many more scattered throughout. The photo titled 'Island 6 Art Gallery' is a great old building that sits in a large open space, with a backdrop of looming housing development towering above. The Island 6 building is one of very few landmarked buildings in Shanghai. With the incredible amount of money coming in, everything is growing rapidly. But, you can still get a 3 bedroom spacious condo here for the price of a cramped one bedroom in Manhattan. Certainly Shanghai isn't New York, but it has the potential. There is art and culture everywhere. Fantastic shopping. Incredible buildings and skylines. An easy subway system (and much cleaner.) People spitting at your feet aside, this is a very attractive city.
Now, when I say people are spitting at your feet, I don't mean they're spitting at YOUR feet. I
just mean they're SPITTING at everyone's feet. It's just something people do here, like waving hello or throwing their garbage wherever they want. It's just a cultural uniqueness. Generally I don't mind it so much when I see someone 15 feet away spit on the street. It's entirely another thing though when someone spits on the ground in a crowd of people waiting to cross the street. It's equally bad if they're sitting next to you in the subway train, domestic plane flight, or even at a restaurant with carpeted floors. It's no wonder so many people are wearing those little white face masks to keep from getting bacteria and other junk in that can make you sick. On a side note, those same bacteria conscious people remove their masks when they sneeze, not bothering to cover up with anything else. Mmmm, thanks, I was hoping for a fresh spritz of Evian water spray, but that'll do. Wonderful. In Hong Kong it wasn't much of an issue. Apparently the British would fine people for spitting in publlic so as to curb the practice. It worked, and now Beijing is considering doing the same for the 2008 Olympics, realizing that it's
Shanghai Memorial at night
not their most endearing trait. I'm all for cultural identity and unique character, but I don't want to catch the bird flu either. On this point I debated with many western travellers. So yes, we should encourage unique cultural identities...but is spitting such a cultural heritage? The debate will rage on in travelling circles throughout China.
One thing I can het behind is wearing your pajamas in public. Wouldn't it be great to roll out of your building in New York on Sunday, stroll to the corner market, grab some snacks, maybe go for breakfast, return home, sit around on your couch, all without ever getting out of your PJs? It would certainly help the flailing PJ industry. I mean, I don't know anyone my age who actually wears PJs. But they would if they could walk the dog in them and not get weird looks. You listening PJ industry? It's time for a marketing campaign in America. And I'll be returning to New York soon, unemployed, with a very fresh and open mind. You've got my contacts.
Anyways, I suppose I should give you a little taste of what I did in Shanghai so here
Island 6 Art Gallery
with Shanghai developments looming in the background
I spent a lot of time at the Mingtown Hostel lounging my broken foot. It was a great hostel and I'd recommend it to any traveller. However, you don't want to spend 5 hours crutching around trying to find it like I did, so remember this: it's on the street directly behind the JW Mariott building (aka Screwdriver building) just west of People's Square. The taxi drivers might understand 'JW' but they don't understand 'Mariott', 'Screwdriver', or the name of the street it's on because it's only 3 blocks long. You'd think the website would give directions like this but they don't. Good luck travelers...the reward is worth it. One of the perks for me living here was that it had a tea shop and dumpling stand next door. These are both great activites for the less mobile. I drank LOTS of tea over the first 3-4 days...oolong, green, 3 types of jasmine, black, and others. I also slept LITTLE in the first 3-4 days. Amazingly it took 3-4 days to figure out why.
On Christmas I joined some fellow hostelers for some drinks around town. Christmas pretty much being an excuse to party, that's
just what we did, although quite uneventfully. New Year's Eve was a little more exciting at least. I decided China would be the place to ring in 2007 for me. China has its collective vision transfixed on the future, and at a tender 28 years of age I also am looking ahead and expecting the most. Like Christmas, January 1st is just another reason to party for the locals. The real deal around here just happened on February 18th when they rang in the year of the pig. But back on December 31st we found an art gallery throwing a shindig so we hopped in a taxi and headed over. But the streets were packed with cars and people and we were going no where fast. Being the visionary I am I brought 2 beers in the cab with us. And so with 2 strangers and a taxi driver, a toast of chinese beer, stuck in congestion just outside People's Square, I counted down the last 10 seconds of 2006. Luckily the party was on point and the music was loud when we finally arrived. For some reason there were numerous Frenchmen in skinny black jeans around. The whole thing
The scars of tai chi. (old folks slap these trees with their hands rubbing the bark raw.)
had a distinctively New York hipster feel to it so I felt right at home. With the Yuan running out I took a cab home early that morning, hoping I wouldn't get lost in a deep sleep. I still had to pack my bags and catch a plane to Japan at 9am, January 1st. What was I thinking when I booked that one?
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