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Published: April 9th 2007
Well, china just goes to the head of my favourite countries visited, it is very much an experience here, something different, something great, something puzzling, something to try to adjust to, something to change how you live your life - it has everything!
Shanghai is a massive city, i think about 30 million (hold, how many people in nz???), and answers the question 'what do you get when you make a gigantic sprawling mass of humanity and squeeze it into a relatively small space?' (relative to nz of course). Its this big, sprawling, spottily stinky, spottily very beautiful, spottily very dirty, spottily very slummy, and a few places very VERY expensive and upmarket. Its awesome, you can see guys making noodles on the side of the road, its unbeleivable how many roadside food stalls there are, and shops, and places selling something (or nothing) and trying to work out how they all survive, when there never seems to be anyone in them.
Bartering is so much fun, with a little bit of danger involved... there are millions of people who accost white people on the street saying 'watcha, bags, sunglasses'. To begin with i they were saying 'watch
ya bag...' in this sort of urgent secretive way, and I'd start to look around violently to try to see where all the apparent pickpockets were. And then, hold on, why these people would be trying to warn me, ie were they just trying to distract me while their other half pickpocketed me, but that seems really weird that they would warn me to distract me...
but actually they just want to take you into their shop and sell you either good ripoffs or stolen stuff... i don't know which, but the quality was really good so i can't quite work it out. If you go, 'just look, one minute, justa looka', you get dragged along way down dark alleyways and under curtains into dark rooms which have a secret exit into another secret room where they can finally turn on the lights (after they have locked the door and left someone to guard the outside! scary stuff!) and reveal a room chockablock full of prada, louis vuitton, cartier, rolex, all the big name goods. I even got schlepped from one market to another once because there were 'many many police' around that day, and in one market more
so than the other, so we were hiding from them. (and then when i got to the other marked they tried to sell me puma shoes although we had already agreed i wanted sandals, and no, no t-shirt, pajama, dvd.... no! NO t-shirt, pajama, dvd,... NO! NO DAMN T-SHIRT PUMA SHOE DVD BAG PAJAMA WATCH NO WATCH!!!! ... ok ok you come you come i show you... here we go again)
The traffic was also something new, coming from nz where everyone follows all the rules (bar speeding, but even that only 10km/hr so that you can't get ticketed). Number 1 mortal danger in China seems to be being a pedestrian. Actually its probably a toss up between being a pedestrian and being a taxi passenger, both very harrowing experiences for the newly-arrived westerner in China! There are loads of pedestrian crossings, and most intersections in the greater town centre have little traffic-light men lights to tell you when to walk and when to wait, there are also quite a few intersections with men directing the traffic... however none of these things seem to mean a thing! Even the men directing traffic just stop and have a chat to
people walking by, and the small proportion of their time that they are actually pretending to direct traffic, they are not obeyed. Cars just go when they feel like it as a whole. NZ drivers might sneak through an intersection on an orange light. Chinese drives bowl on through when its just gone red. Also when it hasnt just gone red, ie has been red for a good while. This is where the mortal danger of being a taxi passenger comes in.
But some of the intersections do sort of seem to work. For straight traffic anyway. But when the little green man says walk, that just means there isn't (much) straight traffic coming. Turning traffic is all go, and if you are on the crossing no one is going to wait for you so you better get out of the way quick! After a week in Shanghai, I flew back to Auckland, where I arrived at 6am (ie no traffic) and walked outside the airport, to be confronted by a pedestrian crossing. Mum just wandered on out there, which gave me the biggest fright, and I started to grab at here to pull her back, having myself automatically stopped
i thought i might go metal shopping
these shops stretch as far as the eye can see
at the side of the road (well back from the curb). It took me a few seconds to work the whole thing out, and I started cracking up (inexplicably for ma). I find it interesting how quickly you adjust to relatively large changes, things that are ingrained just go out the window very quickly.
Despite all this, surprisingly, there are a hell of a lot of veeeery nice cars around, with no dings, or scratches, so I guess the system seems to work for them. And actually the 3 hours I was in Zagreb, Croatia, I saw two crashes, as compared to a week in Shanghai in which I saw absolutely no crashes. So I guess its chaos, but they all know its chaos, and all have enough self-preservation-instinct and no bull-headedness like the rest of us where if its your turn you deserve to go, so you go, everyone else can get out of the way. Which also brings a little light onto why a lot of asians seem to drive very beat-up cars and have an awful driving reputation in nz (as a massive stereotype), just driving normally and not bothering with rules except the rule of
self-preservation, none of this principles-thing where you should follow the rules and if someone else doesnt its their fault you crashed into each other not yours for not similarly getting out of the way.
Which brings me onto another hilarious topic: in Beijing, they are have lessons on how to queue, so that the westerners coming for the Beijing olympics are shocked. Chinese queueing is hilarious. Much like the driving actually. The concept as we know it doesnt seem to be valid there. Most people have the line-up thing mostly down, but I found the quickest way to queue in china is pick the longest queue. Because as soon as one queue gets a little shorter than another, all the people in the longer queue queue-hop, and run (yes run) to the shorter queue. Then a minute later another queue becomes minutely shorter, and some more queue-hopping goes on. So if you pick one, and stick to it, you most often get to the front faster than people who were there before you! Then there are the peopl who just walk in and saunter up (read, shuffle very fast seems to be the chinese equivalent of saunter) to the
front of the queue and expect to be served straight away. Now only the odd operator will serve these people, most don't. So they wait there for a minute or two to see how it will go. If they don't have any luck they push through several other lines of people and go straight to the front of another queue, and do the same. Eventually they get sick of all this pushing and waiting and pushing and waiting (by which stage they could have waited in a queue and actually got to the front) and then they seem to pick one and stay there for as long as it takes, until the operator just gets heartily sick of them trying to push all the queued up people out of the way.
To carry on my interest in funny translations, outside the park in the middle of town there was a sign that read, no kidding, 'no pissing no shitting'. Although that one was hilarious not even due just to a direct translation rather than a meaning-translation. You really have to wonder why they need to tell people not to piss or shit in parks. Although I guess
when you are used to a squat toilet the ground really isnt that different. The funniest thing about the toilets in china, is all the automatic-flush squats I found! Something about that just seems a contradiction.
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