Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Daily Dose July 11 2005

The Daily Dose July 11 2005

I’m back in Shanghai, a city of only 17 million people (maybe the second largest behind Mexico City…? I’m sure Bombay and Calcutta are up there too!)

Don’t’ tell me I don’t lead an amazing life!

We take a bus from Hangzhou to Shanghai, Stephanie accompanying me (so much easier to have a native speaker along) as we’re going to the PSB (Public Service Bureau) and the ‘visa-extension office’ (Department of Exit and Entry… Sounds ‘sexy’ to me!). This to get my Chinese vis-a-vis a la visa, and she is helping me with such… I really couldn’t be here any length of time without the Zhao family!

She’s called ahead to book bus tickets, but they told her just come in, no problem! Of course, there’s a problem (just as soon as someone says such you know there’s going to be…). They’ve oversold the bus and there are no seats for us. But, we rush to the gate, in this new (but empty) Hangzhou Bus Terminal in an pleading attempt. We’re ‘the show,’ this young Chinese woman with the old white man—everyone stares! Of course, we get on the bus, some Chinese having to sit on plastic stools in the aisle because of us. They give the white foreigner a regular reclining seat. Actually it’s age they respect in China—I’m here at the right time in my life!

The Chinese are very courteous and polite, at least they have been to me. The exception is on the streets of Shanghai, where you have to be very careful (like Kathmandu) as you’re liable to get run over foreigner or not!

This is a nice comfortable bus with a screen (at the front) to watch movies, TV, etc.. This is a 3.5-hour ride from Hangzhou (direct with no on/off passenger stops) to Shanghai. Thus, the movie today is ‘Pearl Harbor’ as it’s 3-hours in length.

But, what another ‘piece-of-shit Hollywood’ effort! Violent, manipulative, with all the elements to attract the unevolved (sex, patriotism, etc.). To me this does disservice to those who died in the real thing, December 7, 1941, a ‘day that lives in infamy!’ Who said that…?

The bus heads north then west which concerns me… This is the problem with a ‘compass head’ (as I was known in the Army)… I always know what direction I’m going and sometimes this causes some anxiety. Today it appears we’re heading north, then west out of Hangzhou, and Shanghai is east. But in time, the bus swings around and onto a (what we would call Interstate highway) and heads east… I’m relieved. I didn’t want to be surprised ending up in Beijing.

Stephanie and I talk, as this is the first time we’ve had in two weeks (since meeting in China) to talk away from others.

This part of China (Shanghai Province) reminds me of Holland, as it’s low, wet, green, and laced with canals. Uremqui, in far northwestern desert-like China, is looking better and better.

But today, I sit in a bus full of Chinese, watching the ‘Hollywood’ version of ‘Pearl Harbor’ (the ‘evil’ Japanese attacking forever). Outside the window on my right, a ‘Dutch’ canal full of Holland-looking canal boats laden with coal. At one point I turn and look out the window and I spy a banner that’s been hung in front of some Chinese company reading in English, ‘Welcome Syrian Delegation!’ Talk about ‘globalization!’

A young Chinese passenger (an eight-year old girl) is fascinated with me—she can’t stop staring. But, when I smile at her, she’s so embarrassed she hides her face clinging to momma! Cute, all the Chinese children—there’s something about Asian children so appealing to me.

I wish now (in retrospect of course) that I would have come here to China as a young man, married a Chinese woman, and had a child! But, too late now, thus I ‘adopt’ all!

There is no ‘WC’ (toilet) on this bus, thus I wonder what I would have done had I drank much tea prior… I ask Stephanie…? She says I would have had to make a special appeal to the bus driver (who can’t understand English). This is one reason for learning the language of the culture you find yourself in, or riding a bicycle!

But, about halfway we make a ‘pit stop,’ at a service station. By now it’s raining pretty hard. We run in the rain to the ‘WC’ some fifty meters distance. No problem as it feels good in the heat. But, mosquitoes, (‘wenzi’ in Chinese). attack me like the Japanese Zeros (fighter planes) attack Pearl Harbor in the movie. Another reason why I’m not a low and wet kind of guy--wenzi…

At some point, Stephanie is dozing and I’m watching people being blown to bits on the screen. I notice the bus stopping to let some passengers off… They turn out to be the same young Chinese men that sat directly behind me. One of them had gestured earlier that he would help me lift my backpack, which I was holding on my lap, to the luggage rack above. But, I declined, trying to explain (‘computer’) the reason I was holding it had to do with cushioning the computer inside (not because I was worried about having something stolen). But, it turned out these men were, in fact, thieves, and stole something from one of the passengers! This caused much consternation! The victim jumping off the bus and running after them, but to no avail. There was much Chinese talk about this, while in the b.g. Japanese Zeros sink the U.S.S. Arizona!

We inch our way through crowded Shanghai a part of the evening traffic rush… We’re talking millions of vehicles on the highways, in one of the largest cities in the world. It’s so large even Stephanie, who grew up here, doesn’t recognize everything and gets lost occasionally. I’m going to have to acquire an English map!

Stephanie tells me I’ll be one of 30,000+ foreigners living in Shanghai.

When we finally arrive we’re planning to take a taxi to Stephanie’s dad’s place of business. I’ve been offered one of his offices to stay (has kitchen and bathroom), he working out of another (clinic). This is very kind of him and Stephanie’s mom! All the Chinese I’ve met (so far) have been very gracious to me!

We’re 1.5 hours late ( at 1800 hours / 6P.M.) and can’t get a taxi (rush hour). Stephanie calls her dad and he comes to pick us off (another example of all their courtesies). We wait in a restaurant and have tea. The service is terrific, as they are so many servers (typical of so many people in one place) as patrons. It cost something like 2 Yuan (or ten cents). I would have left a tip, but they don’t allow!

Stephanie’s dad arrives and we’re off to his office in the comfort of his new Nissan Teanna (mentioned the massaging seat in a previous TDD). I’m alert trying to remember places, as I know I’m eventually going to have to negotiate Shanghai by myself.

We arrive at one of the many high-rise buildings (tallest in China is in Shanghai, and something like 80 stories). It’s near ‘Tibet St.’ which I feel is a good omen. I’m hoping I won’t be too far off the ground! We park in the basement and take the elevator to the 23rd floor (ah, a #5, my birth number).

I’m shown to an office suite (#2306) where I’ll be sleeping for a week (or so). It’s a cot with a bamboo ‘sheet,’ (they sleep on to be cooler). Stephanie’s mother has purchased slippers for me and a blanket for the cot. She has a watermelon in the refrigerator for me! The room has a view of Shanghai below (see images in the Gallery). I’m happier here as the accommodations at the ‘Villa’ were way too ‘soft’ and luxurious for me. Then again, this is not exactly roughing it!

This business ‘office’ has both a bathroom and a kitchen. I’m shown all the amenities, given the keys and given lessons as how to operate everything. Then we’re off to dinner.

We eat at one of Mr. Zhao’s favorite restaurants, and tonight, ‘fire pot.’ This I will explain, although most have partaken of such in the U.S. It’s a heated pot in the middle of a circular table. Various food is brought in dishes that we drop in the boiling water to cook. The only thing that comes pre-cooked is rice. I discover something I like and will order again… They mix peanut butter with soy sauce, and when I poured on my white rice… Mmmmmm good! All the other items from greens to meat are too exotic for me…

I try to explain I’m a ‘simple’ eater, but so far it’s fallen on deaf ears. We have Tsindao (sic) beer and ‘Gam bay!’ (‘drink to the bottom in Chinese’) each other many times. It’s interesting but the Chinese don’t just toast one time to the entire group, but continue individually (makes sense). I eat too much and suffer later, of course!

‘Home’ alone I get on the bamboo sheet at 2130 (930P.M.)

Don’t tell me I don’t lead an interesting life!

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