Monday, July 30, 2007
Housekeeping (or, things I should have mentioned along the way)
Ok, so I've resorted to writing this myself again. Sitting in my room overlooking the cityscape of downtown Shanghai after a night of bad Chinese TV (mostly games shows that are a tragic mix of US fare, with all involved guilty of extreme overacting ... but I did stumble upon a Chinese version of QVC! Good stuff!), good dinner with the Fry family (borsch along with stir-fried beef and rice at a cozy restaurant filled with red and blue velvet seating, then an ice cream treat from a street vendor) and a treacherous journey from the hotel and back, dodging cars, bikes, scooters (at night the preferred method of travel is without lights for the scooters∑). They somehow failed to mention that the bikes and scooters (and sometimes cars, trucks) ride up on the sidewalks too, so there is no real safe place to walk. My introduction was a car honking behind me on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. I made it a whole 12 feet from the safety of my lodging before running into trouble. Another tip; if you hear a horn honking or bell ringing (old bicycle style ... rrrinnnggggg-rrriinnggg) you must ALWAYS yield if you care to survive. It seems quite clear if you possess any audible warning device, you have the right-of-way ... street, parking lot, sidewalk, wherever. It was a thrill to witness Dr. Fry nearly get struck by a car, with her saying, "Well, I had the green man," (the walk/don't walk are green man/red hand of death). I mentioned we could put that on her headstone.
Even inside things here have a new type of danger. If you think you can get an elevator door in China to stop from closing by inserting a body part, be prepared to live the rest of your days without that part. And to add to the challenge, the doors stay open approximately 1.57 seconds. They have places to go. Inside your hotel room is a nifty feature -- a room key holder. Too fancy you say? Well, this also controls all the power to the room. So, enter room, insert key and lights come on! This is also when the air conditioning kicks in too, so the rooms are pretty steamy upon arrival. Just don't pull out the key (say, to check the phone number of the hotel in case you talk your wife into calling so you can hear her sweet voice for a moment) or you'll be left in the dark.
Throwing caution to the wind, I venture out into the Shanghai night and visit a local supermarket down the block from my hotel. Another thing I have forgotten to mention is the absence of doors in most establishments, but the use of strips of plastic (ala walking into a warehouse freezer type). Perhaps the perception will be you can cool off if you walk on through, but tonight I was just people watching and picking up some basic room supplies (fruit, candy, bottles of tea and a Chinese version of Harry Potter for Franci). I avoid buying everything in sight thinking "Cool! Look at this bag of Tang with Chinese writing" (though I MIGHT really need some Tang!) and every other product I recognize, but repackaged somehow (the Oreos ARE kinda cool too!). The prices seem very reasonable (roughly 45 cents for a Snickers bar and the same for a bottle of ice tea ... my new favorite is green tea with lemon- Ummm!) and the place is packed on a Monday night. The check out is about a dozen people deep, with people buying everyday items. Like HEB in China, except for the guy at the fish tank with a net tossing fish into the air, or the hard to identify fruits and veggies, and the fact no one in the entire store understands a word you utter. My checkout goes like most transactions, a smile, and nod of the head and production of money. Questions are answered with a smile and nod (from me) or a smile, stream of loud, unintelligible phrases and a series of nods (from others). Handing over money seems to smooth all the problems, most of the time. It was nice just taking part in a common occurrence in an uncommon place.
Tomorrow, more classroom work and perhaps a trip to indoor skiing!