So I’ve spent the day wondering about Shanghai, and I have some tips for you…
On what to visit
There is absolutely no question on this. I spent most of the day visiting many of the major attractions including the People’s Park, Jinmao Tower, the Huaihai shopping district, Taiking Plaza, MaoMing road, Jing’an Temple, Nanjing Road and a million other places. If you only have one day to do the city, head for the Old City. I only spent about 2 hours wandering through the Old City streets, but you could easily spend a week. It is absolutely everything and more that you would expect of “old” China. A cacophany of sounds, smells and visuals assail you from start to finish. Looking up, every square foot of view is blocked with clothesline criss-crossing the street as high as the buildings. Below, you can buy everything, and I mean everything, from the small shops. If you could imagine every food from fish to dog to pigeon to vegetables and fruit, you would pretty much have it. Buying from meat shops that hang the meat like these places was a little more than I could handle, but I did find some absolutely incredible little booths with pancake-like breads. One place to go? Old City. Don’t miss it.
On how to get there
You’re going to be walking a lot, so you better be prepared with the right shoes. Oh wait, walking … You’re going to need some tips about the rules of walking here. If you’re standing at an intersection about to cross and you hear a whistle, throw yourself backwards, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. That whistle would be the traffic assistant. They let you know when you should stop by whistling. They let you know you should go by whistling. In fact, it might be better to ignore the whistle. If you’re standing at a crosswalk and the light shows “Stop”, you better obey, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. If you’re standing at the crosswalk and the light shows “Walk”, throw yourself backward, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. If you’re walking down the sidewalk, and you hear the sound of a motor, throw yourself against a tree, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. I’m pretty sure the safest method of getting from point A to point B is to take a helicopter.
On prices to pay
When you get up in the morning, you could be like me and walk into the bank, put your ATM card into the machine, and have absolutely no idea how many dollars (Juan) you should be taking out. Instead, you cancel your transaction, walk next door, look at a small piece of jewelry, estimate what it’s worth, and head back to the bank knowing that you need X amount of dollars. Or, alternatively, you could do what I didn’t do, and check ahead of time and know the appropriate amount to withdraw. Having this in mind, don’t do an equal comparison of prices from US to Chinese dollars when you’re shopping. They might tell you that the orange is worth 15 Juan, but the person after you is only going to pay one. Everything is negotiable.
On languages to speak
Actually, english will be suffient. In fact, every individual on the road knows perfect english and is most eager to try it out on you. “Clothing, Watches, DVDs? Clothes, Watches, DVDs? Very good.” Everyone knows it. You should have no problems here. And you know what? You can get Omegas and Rolex watches for less than $5. The prices are truly incredible.
On understanding what people do
I’m pretty sure that every man over the age of 65 is sitting in the park playing cards or some board game. I wanted to get pictures of them, but I feel kind of weird taking pictures of people in their “everyday” life, so I didn’t take many at all. All mothers, grandmothers and children under five can be found in the Old City markets. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you might even be able to hear them bickering and haggling over prices. (That’s just for the deaf people, I don’t think the rest of us should have any problems.) From here, job descriptions split. There are the tens of thousands of “traffic assistants” (which assist the traffic in helping run over pedestrians) and city jobs of everything from mopping sidewalks to scrubbing light poles. (I’m not kidding, I saw both today.) How many men does it take to plant a single bush? Well, it took the 12 men I saw today at least 20 minutes to get the job done. One man to direct 10 other men how to smoke, and one man to actually plant the bush. There is no question that this is a communist country. But then the road splits because there is a high-powered section of town that seems to be business and banking. It’s still not Boston. The pace of life seems to be slower.
On foods to eat
Go with the locals. The food will come and come and come. Dishes and dishes of “things” that you have no idea what it is. And it’s like a tap, except you can’t turn it off. Hairy crab soup. Hot & sour soup. Squid. Hairy crab. Fried eel. Non-fried eel. Shrimp. Prawns. Abalones. Mandarin fish. Fish that you have no idea what it is. More fish. Beef. Wrapped beef things. Tofu. Bean curd strips. Beans. Cucumbers. Mushrooms. Local spinich-type stuff. Ummm … and those are just the things I could tell what they were. That was just supper tonight. You just need to be in for the adventure. And drink lots of tea. They say that helps. I’m not sure about that, but the way they pour it is really cool. They hold the pot about two feed back from the cup and with a long, thin spout it shoots straight forward about 24 inches and lands in the cup without spilling a drop.
On what I plan to do now
Go to bed! Smile.