(August 27th –31st)
I arrived a couple days early in Shanghai in order to spend some time with my friend Shanshan. Together she and I tried to tear up the town, but we just found ourselves tearing up instead. Shanghai is the big city. And foreigners here are not friendly in the least. I suddenly realized how accustomed to Wuhan I had gotten. In Wuhan there are not very many foreigners, so the few expats that are there are very approachable. This is not at all how it is in Shanghai; where people won’t give you a second look or a second thought. Shanshan was having a hard time fitting in and adjusting and it didn’t take long for me to see why. Shanghai is like a never ending Mean Girls movie.
Dan landed the morning of the 29th, and to my great surprise I was there flawlessly to meet him. I usually end up finding a way to screw these kinds of things up, so I was shocked by my own level of organization. Dan walked into the arrival area visibly giddy. I expected him to be grumpy and moody, from jet lag, but he was all excitement. For me, it was surprising to see that level of feeling in anyone. Culture shock is still kicking my ass, and I find it hard to get excited about anything anymore.
On the airport train, Dan asks me to teach him some new words. I teach him the first thing I can think of, which happened to be the first thing I saw, his suitcase (xingli). I later learned it was a pretty useless word, one that could be easily substituted by pointing, and after learning it we never used the word again, as such it was just as quickly forgotten JLater on, I taught Dan to say hello beautiful girl (mei nu ni hao), that proved to be much more useful.
Dan was quick to notice the Shanghai Expo’s stupid blue mascot. The mascot is in all appearances a blue blob with arms and legs and a slanted head. Why they chose that as the mascot is beyond me. But it is everywhere; on subway advertisements, on television, on huge posters, in stores, on t-shirts. EVERYWHERE.
Dan told me his first impression was that Shanghai was synonymous with chaos. I told him that’s pretty much China in general. Our hostel was down a crowded little street with blaringly loud music and thunderous motorcycles constantly whizzing by. The first meal we shared was at a little noodle restaurant. Whenever I spoke Chinese the people at the table behind us would repeat what I said with amusement. Foreigners are like monkeys to many people here. And it sure would shock me too if I heard a monkey say he doesn’t like rice noodles he likes wheat noodles.
In Shanghai we went to a couch surfing party, drank mojitos, went to the art district, sang at KTV, ate sandwiches and rode the subway A LOT. Eight months in China have lead me to believe this is the height of sophistication and nothing else could be desired, but for Dan, it took one coffee shop that didn’t have soy milk for him to sigh in exasperation “China sucks.” I felt my stomach turn; we’re in for a bumpy ride.
On the one hand, I worried because he spent a lot of time and money coming to China so I wanted him to have the best time. But at the same time, every time he complained I felt myself relax. Having someone else confirm the way I had felt for the last couple of months felt so reassuring. I wasn’t being a baby. A lot of things in China really do suck.
Next we headed to a small water town that we just adored – Zhujiajiao. The town is a small Venice like town, with trendy water side restaurants and peaceful temples. (Personally I prefer it to Venice, which in my opinion is just too touristic and filled with overpriced and pretentious crap.) The town has gondoliers and bicycle rickshaws in abundance. So we indulged and took a bicycle rickshaw and yelled ni hao at all the passerbys. We spent the afternoon relaxing; I napped by the water while Dan played the guitar wearing his Chairman Mao hat.
Dan bought a hat with a communist red star on it that we christened his Chairman Mao hat. Dan really has a love hate relationship with this hat. When people passing by point and get a warm-hearted laugh out of seeing him wear it, he would snigger to himself and say “I love this hat!” He loved this hat because it was fun and people kept asking for photos with him while he was wearing it. Look the monkey is wearing a hat! But on the other hand, he hated it because of the plastic liner and how cheaply it was made. And so begins the Chairman Mao hat tirade and he asked me nearly every five minutes what I think about this hat. The whole dilemma was finally only resolved when the hat was left behind by mistake in the hostel. We both think it is fate and luckily it is the last I have to hear about that hat.