Sunday, September 23, 2007

Welcome to Shanghai.

I am officially in Shanghai. A city with over 21 million people in it, at least half a million of which are foreign. Of course, when put into perspective, half a million is really not that many. It's pretty amazing to see so many people in one place. In a lot of ways, it could be just like any other major city where you have to constantly climb over warm bodies to get into the subway car or cross the street. However, that usually tends to be at rush hour and in the busiest parts of the city. Here, it's everywhere. A neighborhood side street is teeming with people at all hours of the day and much of the night. The traffic is cluttered by literally millions of people riding their bicycles and mopeds, not to mention the millions of cars, and millions of pedestrian. (I know it sounds exaggerated with the seemingly excessive use of millions, but here it's true.)

It is extremely hard to escape here. To be alone is something that few here understand. In China, it used to be considered the highest honor to have the highest number of generations living under one roof. This is a tradition that has yet to be entirely broken.

Shanghai is a very modern city. I visited it about six years ago now, and it is almost unrecognizable. There are many high rises mixed in with the one to three story traditional family homes made of concrete, brick and mud. Chinese lanterns are strung between these buildings and these areas, strangely enough, often seem to house more people than the 20 story apartment buildings. Before, there were a few western chains in the touristy areas, and a few designer shops on the Bund, the once very upscale riverfront area that was built up by the British in the late 1800's. Now, there are more Starbucks in Shanghai than in Miami, FL, and I have never seen so many designer brands in a mall. In the nearby Plaza 66 building, there are four stories of designer shops. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Escada, Prada, Mont Blanc, Hermes, and probably any other designer you could hope for, all under the same roof. I find it interesting that the first time I have laid eyes on some of these brands in person is in Shanghai, China. Once infamous for its knock offs, it's now famous for its designer shops.

The clash between the traditional and the modern, and the rich and the poor, is ever present here. In front of a 70-story building with gorgeous Western architecture and beautiful glass all the way up, there is bamboo scaffolding. A small run-down brick and mud house sits behind it and a little to the left, with an old woman sweeping her stoop with a broom made of the brush that grows beside her house. There are thousands of internet gaming places where the younger generations gather to gamble away their newfound wealth, or to just spend a few hours relaxing. Outside, the older generations play mah-jong and other traditional games on wooden planks lain over old crates, while sitting on their stoops and boxes.

It's not as hard to get around without Chinese anymore. There are still problems getting around the city because the overwhelming majority of the 60,000 or so taxi drivers do not speak anything but Mandarin, the subway directions are mostly in Chinese or Pin-yin, and the buses are nearly impossible to understand. There are, however, an increasing amount of foreign-friendly places to visit. Most of the bars on the Bund have people that speak enough English to get a drink out of it, and many of the restaurants around town have English on their menus. I wouldn't say that the menus are in English, but there are English words on them. I say this because you can stare at the phrases for days and still have no idea what it is supposed to mean. This happens a lot here. Even 20 story high advertisements will have such bad English on them that they are almost impossible to understand. It would probably be more amusing if you didn't think of all the money wasted on those stupid ads that the intended audience is missing because they don't understand what it says, despite it being in their native tongue.

A good example of the lack of understanding of the English language is when you look at the backs of the DVDs here. Or the fronts really. I just bought the Entourage- Complete Entirety Season. I think it's actually just the first and second, but complete entirety works too... There are also the ones that advertise it as "The worst movie ever!!!" or "Do not buy this movie under any circumstance!!!". These are printed in big print on the front, as if this is something to advertise. They take online reviews and put them on the front of the DVDs, or the backs, with no idea what they say. Often, the reviews are for the wrong movie, and there are lots of cases where the wrong movie is in the case... or you get halfway through the movie and it switches to another one... or it just doesn't work at all. The upside is I bought the Entourage season, and three other DVDs for just under $11 today, if that helps to show how cheap the DVDs are here.

I'm still adjusting to things here, and will post some more personal stuff later. So far, I can't complain too much. Tomorrow I start more of my actual life here, as I think I might be starting a project with my sister's company, and will definitely be starting Chinese lessons. Here's hoping that everything goes well... Until I write again... Adieu

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